The Run for the Roses is back to being the first weekend of May after last year’s diversion. The 2021 Kentucky Derby still won’t have the traditional pomp and circumstance, the hats, or the mint juleps, but at least there will be some fans in the stands for this year’s event. We will have 20 horses running in the 147th Kentucky Derby, yet this is one of the most difficult races to cap in a long time due to COVID wreaking havoc on the traditional schedule.

The Horse to Beat – Essential Quality

Trainer Brad Cox had five horses win at the Breeders’ Cup last November. He is the hottest name in horse racing right now, and he might be poised to win his first Triple Crown race. Cox has the overall favorite in this year’s Kentucky Derby in Essential Quality, and Mandaloun is a legitimate contender as well.

Essential Quality has won all five of his races. He claimed the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last October, and he went on to beat a field of other contenders in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November. Essential Quality cruised to a 4 ¼ length win over six other horses at the Southwest Stakes in late February thanks to a strong finish, and he was even more impressive at the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes four weeks ago. He posted his highest Beyer figure (109) yet in running down Highly Motivated to win one of the last Derby prep races.

The Contenders

There are four main contenders for Essential Quality. Known Agenda, Hot Rod Charlie, Rock Your World, and Highly Motivated are all quality horses that have a decent chance of besting the favorite in order to win the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Known Agenda disappointed at the Remsen Stakes and the Sam F. Davis Stakes, but he posted a sizzling 112 Beyer figure in winning the Curlin Florida Derby at the end of March. However, he had the misfortune of drawing the No. 1 gate, so he needs to get out to a fast start to avoid being boxed in at the first turn.

Hot Rod Charlie finished second to Essential Quality at the Juvenile last November, and he won the Louisiana Derby in mid-March. However, he has yet to post a Beyer rating higher than 100 in any of his seven races.

The potentially aptly named Rock Your World is starting in the gate to the right of Essential Quality. Rock Your World didn’t run his maiden until New Year’s Day, but he upset Medina Spirit to win the Santa Anita Derby by 4 ¼ lengths. He is a frontrunner that will look to lead from start to finish, and he will push Essential Quality from the gate.

Highly Motivated proved that Essential Quality could be beaten although he finished just short in the end at the Blue Grass Stakes. He finished third at the Gotham Stakes in March and second at the Blue Grass Stakes, and he has posted a Beyer rating of 102 in each of his last three races. There’s a good chance he finishes in the top three.

Longshot to Watch

One of the horses that might surprise on Saturday is Medina Spirit. The horse has finished in first or second place in all four of his graded stakes races, and he posted a 109 Beyer rating at the Sham Stakes in early January. Medina Spirit has been pretty consistent with a minimum 97 rating in all five of his races.