How to pick a horse in the 2021 Kentucky Derby


Not sure who to root for in the 2021 Kentucky Derby (Saturday, May 1, 2:30-7:30 p.m. ET, NBC) but still looking for a reason to cheer? Here are some contenders to consider, for one reason or another:

The favorite

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and Champion 2-Year-Old Male Essential Quality looks to stay undefeated as the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the 147th Kentucky Derby. An Essential Quality win would be the first Kentucky Derby victory for all of his well-known connections.

His trainer, Brad Cox, looks to become the first Louisville native to win the Derby. He is owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin, which has never fielded a Derby winner despite its illustrious list of prestigious wins from Europe to the Middle East to Australia.

Jockey Luis Saez is looking for redemption after his last Derby mount: 2019 contender Maximum Security who led wire-to-wire but became the first horse in Derby history to cross the finish line first and then be disqualified on the track.

This versatile runner is also a stunning dappled grey with black points if you want to pick a horse solely on looks or ability to easily find them in the 20-horse field.

RelatedHow to watch the 2021 Kentucky Derby: Live stream, TV Channel info

The best name

The Thoroughbred industry is known for some wild names, and this year, Soup and Sandwich takes the cake. Owner Charlotte Weber, who races as Live Oak Plantation, is the granddaughter of condensed soup inventor and revolutionary former Campbell’s Soup CEO John T. Dorrance.

The 30-1 longshot comes from soon-to-be Hall of Famer Mark Casse’s barn and will have third-generation jockey Tyler Gaffalione in the irons.

The upset underdog

Bourbonic shocked the racing world with his massive 72-1 upset in the Wood Memorial on April 3 at Aqueduct and enters the Kentucky Derby at (30-1) odds. He’s a dramatic closer and has Triple Crown victors on both sides of his bloodlines in sire Bernardini (2006 Preakness) and dam sire (maternal grandfather) Afleet Alex (2005 Preakness and Belmont).

His jockey Kendrick Carmouche is set to become the first Black man to ride in the Derby since 2013 and has a chance at becoming the first Black jockey to win the race since 1902.

Bourbonic is owned by Calumet Farm, which was one of the most prominent titans of American horse racing throughout the 1900s. Calumet boasts eight Kentucky Derby winners (most by an owner), including two Triple Crown winners. But Forward Pass was Calumet’s last Derby winner in 1968, and the farm fell into disarray because of financial issues until being purchased by billionaire Brad Kelley in 2012.

Related: Kentucky Derby 2021 post positions, odds

The Baffert barn

Last year’s winning trainer and jockey team up again with Medina Spirit (15-1). Hall of Famer Bob Baffert looks to break his tie with Ben Jones for most Derby wins by a trainer.

In five starts, the Giant’s Causeway descendent has never finished worse than second, but that included a 4 1/4-length finish behind Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has the ride.

The record-breaker

Midnight Bourbon’s jockey Mike Smith will ride in his 27th Kentucky Derby, breaking his tie with the legendary Bill Shoemaker for most Derby mounts of all time. If he were to win, he would also become the oldest jockey to win the race at 55 years old.

The 20-1 colt has never finished off the board in his seven career starts. He is trained by Steve Asmussen, who is looking for his first Derby win after 21 previous attempts. Asmussen also fields Super Stock (30-1).

Expect Midnight Bourbon to find the front of the pack early and hang tight.

The Yankee

Most Thoroughbred race horses are born and raised in the state of Kentucky, so New York-bred Brooklyn Strong is a rarity. Funny Cide (2003) is the only New York-bred horse in history to win the Derby.

Trained by Danny Velazquez and ridden by Umberto Rispoli, both Kentucky Derby newbies, Brooklyn Strong is a longshot at 50-1, but with over $200,000 in career earnings, he’s far surpassed his $5,000 auction price.

Watch the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Full coverage is also available on and the NBC Sports app.

Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

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BENSALEM, Pa. – Taiba won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby by three lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Taiba ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.67 and paid $4.80, $3 and $2.60.

It was Baffert’s fourth win in the Grade 1 event at Parx Racing. He also won in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Smith won the race for the third time, all aboard Baffert horses.

Zandon returned $3.80 and $2.60. Cyberknife was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third and paid $3 to show.

Taiba was coming off a second-place finish in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in July. The colt was 12th in the Kentucky Derby under Tim Yakteen, who took over training him while Baffert was serving a 90-day suspension.

“He had a little bit of a rough trip in the Haskell, but we had some time to get him ready for this one,” Baffert said from his base in California. “He proved today he is a good horse. He is getting better and better.”

Baffert Taiba will be pointed toward the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The colt has three wins in five starts this year.

Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs has modified paths to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, awarding points to the top five finishers in qualifying races and increasing significance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and late prep season events.

Most Derby prep races during the qualifying series for 3-year-olds will award points on a 10-4-3-2-1 sliding scale after using a 10-4-2-1 system since 2013. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, run during the season-ending championships on Nov. 4 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, will increase points from 20-8-4-2 to 30-12-9-6-3 to differentiate the Grade I event from others during prep season.

Select prep races for the 20-horse Derby field have elevated points from a 10-4-2-1 scale to 20-8-6-4-2 to increase their importance and motivate hopefuls to begin their 3-year-old campaigns earlier in the season, track officials stated in a release.

“We believe these modifications adhere to and amplify our goal of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the classic distance of 1\ miles on the first Saturday in May,” Churchill Downs vice president/general manager Mike Ziegler said.

The 149th Kentucky Derby and Oaks for fillies will be held on May 5-6, 2023. Derby qualifying season begins with Saturday’s $300,000, Grade III Iroquois for 2-year-olds at Churchill Downs.

The point changes apply to Oaks qualifiers.

Elevated Derby preps include the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in Louisiana; Southwest at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Withers at Aqueduct in New York; Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in Florida; Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in California; Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky.