How to pick a horse in the 2021 Kentucky Derby

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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 NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.