Kentucky Derby Predictions & Betting Analysis for 2021 Race

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Changing pace picture in Kentucky Derby favors Rock Your World

There is speed and then there is California speed. And that looks like the key to predicting the winner of Saturday’s 147th running of the Kentucky Derby 2021. Check the best offers and free bets on the race offered by the best horse racing sites in the USA here.

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The Run for the Roses, as it’s known, is a 1 ¼ mile race for 3-year-olds and the first leg of the Triple Crown. It’s also the most famous horse race on the planet.

The $3 million Grade 1 race is expected to again draw a full field of 20 horses, which makes it unique in American racing as far as providing big payoffs, even when the favorites are in the mix.

The winning 10-cent superfecta last year, for example, returned $792.58. Not a bad return on one thin dime.

So without further ado, let’s get down to predicting the winner, the logical horses to fill out the exactas and trifectas and the bombs that could lead to a life-changing score. 

The final crucial pieces of information fell into place on Tuesday, when post positions for race were drawn and the morning line set.

At the moment, these are the 20 likely starters for the race, though scratches remain possible before the race goes to post at approximately 6:57 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 1. It will be nationally broadcast by the NBC TV network and will be available for betting at just about every sportsbook and online wagering service, though you should check with your provider to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Kentucky Derby 2021 Horses & Predicted Odds

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey (if known)

Morning line odds

1

Known Agenda

Todd Pletcher

Irad Ortiz Jr.

6-1

2

Like the King

Wesley Ward

Drayden Van Dyke

50-1

3

Brooklyn Strong

Daniel Velazquez

Umberto Rispoli

50-1

4

Keepmeinmind

Robertino Diodoro

David Cohen

50-1

5

Sainthood

Todd Pletcher

Corey Lanerie

50-1

6

O Besos

Greg Foley

Marcelino Pedroza

20-1

7

Mandaloun

Brad Cox

Florent Geroux

15-1

8

Medina Spirit

Bob Baffert

John Velazquez

15-1

9

Hot Rod Charlie

Doug O’Neill

Flavien Prat

8-1

10

Midnight Bourbon

Steve Asmussen

Mike Smith

20-1

11

Dynamic One

Todd Pletcher

Jose Ortiz

20-1

12

Helium

Mark Casse

Julien Leparoux

50-1

13

Hidden Stash

Vicki Oliver

Rafael Bejarano

50-1

14

Essential Quality

Brad Cox

Luis Saez

2-1

15

Rock Your World

John Sadler

Joel Rosario

5-1

16

King Fury

Ken McPeek

Brian Hernandez Jr.

20-1

17

Highly Motivated

Chad Brown

Javier Castellano

10-1

18

Super Stock

Steve Asmussen

Ricardo Santana Jr.

30-1

19

Soup and Sandwich

Mark Casse

Tyler Gaffalione

30-1

20

Bourbonic

Todd Pletcher

Kendrick Carmouche

30-1

Predicting the pace

Let’s begin our Kentucky Derby 2021 betting analysis where I always begin: by projecting the pace.

It initially appeared that the Derby field would be loaded with speed, but that no longer appears to be the case after the defections of Caddo River and Concert Tour, both of whom would have been expected on or near the pace.

As a result, a more moderate tempo now seems likely, which should benefit horses capable of racing within a few lengths of the leader in the early stages of the race. Those horse include 2-1 morning line favorite Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie, Super Stock, Rock Your World, Medina Spirit, Midnight Bourbon, Highly Motivated and Soup and Sandwich.

That’s still nearly half the field, but what’s interesting in my pace analysis is that one horse in the bunch appears to have the early gas to control the pace if his connections decide to employ that strategy. That horse is Rock Your World, the undefeated winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in his last start and possibly the morning line second-choice at 5-1.

While Rock Your World could rocket to the lead as he did in the Santa Anita Derby, his draw toward the outside of the starting gate (post 15) gives trainer John Sadler and jockey Joel Rosario some options, as the colt already has shown the ability to stalk and could sit right behind the early speed if other horses or riders are hell-bent on making the lead.

If Rock Your World gets to the front, expect most of the other front-runners and early pressers to be in close pursuit, within two or three lengths of the front-runner in the early stages, barring poor breaks or serious trouble during the cavalry charge into the first turn.  

Under this scenario, one or more of the pursuers will probably attempt to pounce on the California invader turning for home or at the top of the stretch.  

When the posse came a calling in the Santa Anita Derby, the rider simply let out a notch on the reins and Rock Your World quickly opened several lengths on them and then held them safe during the stretch run. The 1:49 final time wasn’t scintillating, but the winner appeared to have more in the tank as he coasted through the last 1/16th mile to the wire. 

Of those who figure to be in hot pursuit by the top of the stretch, Essential Quality is definitely the one to fear most. The son of Tapit, trained by Louisville native Brad Cox and ridden by Luis Saez, is unbeaten in five starts and also has shown a good deal of versatility, staying close to the pace or running from farther back as the situation dictates. 

He’s also got a street fighter’s mentality, including a gritty neck victory in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes over Derby rival Highly Motivated. 

I feel pretty good about those two running one-two in the Derby, but will mix in logical contenders Hot Rod Charlie, Known Agenda and Highly Motivated in exactas and trifectas, the latter available in 50-cent base units.  

Live long shots and a real stretch

I’ll also include a few of those bombs on a couple tickets, particularly in 10-cent superfectas. That list will include Midnight Bourbon, Mandaloun, O Bezos and a horse I guarantee you no one else touting – Helium.

The latter, winner of the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 6 despite a wide trip, is taking a most unorthodox path to the Derby. He has not raced since that race, which was his first start of the year, and will thus enter the starting gate in Louisville off an eight-week layoff.  Few horses have won the Derby off that long a break, though last year’s winner Authentic came off a six-week layoff.

That said, there are a few reasons I will include Helium on a couple tickets:

-First is that his trainer, Mark Casse, is a winner of 13 Sovereign Awards as Canada’s outstanding trainer and is ensconced in both the Canadian and U.S. Halls of Fame. If he decides a layoff is the best way to bring the son of Ironicus up to the race, I’m going to assume there’s a good reason.

-Second, Helium’s victory in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby was visually impressive. He raced five wide on both turns and then, after grabbing the lead in the upper stretch, turned back Hidden Stash when that one tried to mow him down in the middle of the track. Hidden Stash appeared to have all the momentum to go by, but Helium fought back when headed and prevailed in a duel to the wire.

The race came up very light on speed figures, with the winner earning an 84 Beyer figure, apparently because the track was lightning fast that day. But the final time was a respectable 1:43 2/5ths for the 1 1/16th miles, especially considering the scenic route he took to the winner’s circle.)

-Third, the colt picks up the services of Julien Leparoux. The French-born rider has not won the Derby in 12 tries – his best result being a fourth in 2017 aboard the Casse-trained Classic Empire. But he does own nine riding titles at Churchill Downs, so he certainly knows his way around the track.

Helium will definitely have to improve quite a bit to even hit the board, but with a master horseman calling the shots I’m not going to just ignore what my eyes told me.

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