Derby Dozen: 12 Top Contenders For 2021 Kentucky Derby

Posted By admin on April 2, 2021 - Last Updated on April 9, 2021

By Paul Bergeron

Updated for week of 4/9/2021

Saturday marks the final day of the Kentucky Derby prep race calendar with the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park (Race 12) and the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland (Race 9). 

At Oaklawn, top contender Concert Tour faces only five others in a race that will award 100-40-20-10 points in the Derby Point Standings. In other words, it’s a great bet that just getting to the finish line will help the horses’ cause in what figures to be a poor betting race for horseplayers looking to score.

Following are the top contenders for the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

1 Concert Tour (Trainer Bob Baffert) Last week: 1

For those wanting to see everyone’s Derby favorite be tested, you’ll have to wait until the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. Concert Tour faces a short field as the 3:5 morning line favorite Saturday in the Arkansas Derby. If you do want to see the Derby in-person, a limited number of Infield-only general admission tickets went on sale Wednesday.

2 Essential Quality (Brad Cox) LW: 2

Undefeated Essential Quality, fresh off a determined victory in the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday, maintained the top spot in this week’s National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) Top 3-Year-Old Thoroughbred Poll. He’s 5-for-5.

3 Rock Your World (John Sadler) LW: NR

His 100 Beyer, frontrunning win in Saturday’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby at 5-1 odds has him as this week’s big mover in the rankings. It was his first start on the dirt following two victories on the turf.

4 Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill/Leandro Mora) LW: 5

A close-up stalking trip would be his path to victory in the Kentucky Derby. We know he can pass horses, and if he races to an early lead, he could win the Roses.

5 Known Agenda (Pletcher) LW: 7

Pro: He’s done well against a lot of solid competition. Con: If he falls behind, he doesn’t have the greatest closing “kick” among the contenders.

6 Mandaloun (Brad Cox) LW: 8

“There really wasn’t an excuse in the Louisiana Derby (in his most recent performance March 20),” Cox said. “I hate to use the cliché of drawing a line through the race, but that is what we are doing.”

7 Highly Motivated (Chad Brown) LW: NR

A game second to Essential Quality when making his two-turn debut Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes, he could find the Kentucky Derby’s 1-1/4-mile distance not suitable.

8 Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert) LW: 4

The beaten favorite in the Santa Anita Derby, he runs a solid race every time. But based on his past couple of races, it’s fair to question if he wants any greater distance. He is, however, a stubborn runner who doesn’t want to be passed. And it’s hard to dismiss a Baffert-trained horse.

9 Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen) LW: 10

If not this Fair Grounds superstar, perhaps Todd Pletcher’s newly respected long shot Bourbonic, who won the Wood Memorial last Saturday and paid $146.50. That would cover a lot of tabs. Some suggest Derby is not an ideal race for Midnight Bourbon, but he did hold on for second in the Louisiana Derby, two lengths behind Hot Rod Charlie. He hit the board in all three of the Derby preps at Fair Grounds.

10 Helium (Mark Casse) LW: NR

Jockey Julien Leparoux, much maligned, and probably unfairly so, will be aboard 15:1 upset Tampa Bay Derby winner Helium in the Kentucky Derby. Helium is undefeated in three career starts, including two over the synthetic main track at Woodbine Racecourse last year. 

12 Proxy (Michael Stidham) LW: NR

Proxy has run competitively without winning in all three of Fair Grounds’ Derby preps, and on Saturday gets an opportunity to break through in the Lexington Stakes where he will face another hopeful Hockey Dad and Bezos (stakes race debut under trainer Baffert) with the winner earning 20 Derby points. Bred by Tapit, Proxy, last time out was fourth in the Louisiana Derby. Saturday, he has John Velazquez on board.

11 Rebel’s Romance (Charlie Appleby) LW: 12

If he can stay near the front, and find clear sailing as the field hits the stretch, his closing ability and fondness for the distance could help him to hit the board.

12 Like the King (Wesley Ward) LW: 11

Last out, his connections discovered that this horse runs better when falling back early before rallying.


Greatest Honour (LW: 3) Given 60 days off so trainer Shug McGaughey can assess horse’s ankle injury.

Prevalence (LW: 6) Poor performance in Wood Memorial.

Risk Taking (LW: 9) Poor performance in Wood Memorial.

Rebel’s Romance (LW: 12) Choosing to set sights on running next in The Belmont Stakes.

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