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.

Preakness winner National Treasure has final workout for Belmont Stakes

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — Preakness winner National Treasure breezed five furlongs in his final workout for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes this weekend.

Working on the main track at Belmont Park with exercise rider Erick Garcia aboard, National Treasure was timed in 59.55 seconds and galloped out six furlongs in 1:11.20 and seven furlongs in 1:25.20. It was the second workout on the track for the Bob Baffert-trained colt.

“He worked very well this morning,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s top assistant. “It’s a big track and you can find yourself lost out there. Erick did an excellent job working him and now we’re just waiting for the race.”

National Treasure was fourth in the Santa Anita Derby before the Preakness on May 20.

Trainer Steve Asmussen’s Red Route One also posted his final work for the final jewel of the Triple Crown, breezing a half-mile in 50.20 seconds over Belmont Park’s dirt training track.

“I thought he went beautiful,” said Toby Sheets, Asmussen’s Belmont-based assistant. “It was nice and fluid and he came back with good energy. I’m very happy with him. We wanted to be out on the track before it got really busy.”

Red Route One finished fourth in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course, almost five lengths behind National Treasure.

Kentucky Derby winner Mage is not running in the Belmont Stakes.

Churchill Downs moves meet to Ellis Park to examine protocols following 12 horse deaths

churchill downs
Michael Clevenger and Erik Mohn/USA TODAY NETWORK

Churchill Downs will suspend racing and move the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park in order to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of 12 horse fatalities the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

No single factor has been identified as a potential cause for the fatalities or pattern detected, according to a release, but the decision was made to relocate the meet “in an abundance of caution.”

“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in Friday’s release. “We need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”

Racing will continue at Churchill Downs through Sunday before shifting to the CDI-owned racing and gaming facility in Henderson, Kentucky. Ellis Park’s meet was scheduled to start July 7 and run through Aug. 27 but will now expand with Friday’s announcement.

Ellis Park will resume racing on June 10.

The move comes a day after track superintendent Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit called this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Meetings took place in Lexington, Kentucky, and at the Louisville track.

The head of the federally created oversight agency suggested ahead of the summit that it could recommend pausing the meet and that Churchill Downs would accept that recommendation.

Churchill Downs’ release stated that expert testing raised no concerns and concluded that the surface was consistent with the track’s prior measurements. Even so, it chose to relocate “in alignment” with HISA’s recommendation to suspend the meet to allow more time for additional investigation.

“We appreciate their thoughtfulness and cooperation through these challenging moments,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We will continue to seek answers and work with everyone involved to ensure that horses are running safely at Churchill Downs again in the near future.”

Carstanjen insisted that relocating the remainder of the spring meet to Ellis Park would maintain the industry ecosystem with minor disruption. He also said he was grateful to Kentucky horsemen for their support as they work to find answers.

Rick Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the move, especially since there’s no conclusive evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface is the problem.

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses,” Hiles said in a statement. “However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns.

“Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

The latest development comes a day after Churchill Downs and HISA each implemented safety and performance standards to address the spate of deaths.

HISA will conduct additional post-entry screening of horses to identify those at increased risk for injury. Its Integrity and Welfare Unit also will collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities for use while investigating a cause.

Churchill Downs announced it would immediately limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period and impose ineligibility standards for poor performers. The track is also pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses and limiting purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.