What to know about the 2021 Kentucky Derby

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The Kentucky Derby is one of the most iconic sporting events in the world. Every year, millions of fans tune into NBC to watch top race horses from around the globe compete in “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports.”

The 2021 Kentucky Derby will air on May 1 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Coverage is also available to stream live on NBCSports.com and on the NBC Sports app.

NBC Sports will also air the Kentucky Oaks the day before on Friday, April 30 from 12 to 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Related: How to watch the 2021 Kentucky Derby

Fans are expected to return to Churchill Downs after the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted last year’s race. The 146th Kentucky Derby was moved from Saturday, May 2 to Saturday, Sept. 5 and was run without fans in the stands. Several top jockeys were also noticeably absent, choosing to stay at their home tracks due to quarantine rules.

What is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby, historically on the first Saturday in May, is one of the most well known Grade 1 Thoroughbred stakes races in the world. First run in 1875, this 1 1/4 mile—or 10 furlongs—race kicks off the American Triple Crown of horse racing.

Related: Kentucky Derby post positions, odds

When and where is the 2021 Kentucky Derby?

The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, May 1, 2021. Watch NBC Sports’ coverage from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 on NBC, or on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Post time for the 2021 Kentucky Derby is set for approximately 6:57 p.m. ET.

The Derby is run on the dirt track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, where it has been held since its inaugural running in 1875.

Related: Recipes for traditional Kentucky Derby foods

How can I watch the 2021 Kentucky Derby?

NBC is home to the 147th Kentucky Derby, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app before, during and after. NBC will also broadcast the 2021 Kentucky Oaks, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup.

How are horses picked for the Derby?

Only 3-year-old Thoroughbreds can qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Eligible horses compete in the Race to the Kentucky Derby, a series of 35 races around the world. Horses win points for finishing in the top four spots, and the 20 horses with the most points at the end of the series gain entry into the Derby. (However, sometimes horses will scratch, giving another the opportunity to run in the Derby.)

Which horses should I watch for on Saturday?

  • Undefeated Essential Quality enters the First Saturday in May as the early favorite with 2-1 odds. The stunning grey colt breaks from the No. 14 spot out of the gate. In 2020, he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was named Champion 2-Year-Old Male, and he most recently took the G2 Blue Grass at Keeneland. All of his high-profile connections are seeking their first Kentucky Derby win. Trainer Brad Cox looks to become the first Louisville native to saddle a Derby champ. Jockey Luis Saez seeks redemption after his historic Derby disqualification aboard Maximum Security in 2019. And famed breeder/owner Sheikh Mohammed of Godolphin is hoping to finally take the race that has eluded the racing operation for so long.
  • Rock Your World comes in behind Essential Quality at 5-1. The John Sadler trainee busted out a wire-to-wire win in his prep race at Santa Anita in April. His first two starts were on the turf, but he remains undefeated in his three career races. He enters the Kentucky Derby with a new jockey in the irons: Joel Rosario, who is seeking his second Derby win (Orb, 2013).
  • Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert looks to break his tie with Ben Jones for most Derby wins by a trainer. In five starts, Medina Spirit (15-1) has never finished worse than second, but that included a 4 1/4-length finish behind Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert teams up again with last year’s winning Derby jockey, John Velazquez.
  • Wood Memorial upset winner Bourbonic could make history with Kendrick Carmouche, who becomes the first Black jockey to ride in the Derby since 2013. A Black rider hasn’t won the Derby since Jimmy Winkfield went back-to-back in 1901 and 1902. Though a 30-1 longshot, a Bourbonic victory would also be huge for owner Calumet Farm, which holds the record for most Kentucky Derby wins but hasn’t taken the race since 1968.
  • Vicki Oliver becomes the first woman to saddle a Kentucky Derby contender since Carla Gaines in 2015. No woman has ever trained a Kentucky Derby winner. Oliver’s horse Hidden Stash hasn’t had much luck on the track this year, going 0-for-3. With Rafael Bejarano in the irons, he sets off as a 50-1 longshot.
  • If you enjoy picking horses just by their names, then consider Soup and Sandwich (30-1), trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Tyler Gaffalione. His name comes from owner Charlotte Weber, who is the granddaughter of John T. Dorrance, the inventor of condensed soup and former CEO of Campbell’s Soup.

Who won the 2020 Kentucky Derby?

Authentic shut down Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law’s run at a Triple Crown when he outdueled the favorite to win an unusual September Kentucky Derby at a spectatorless Churchill Downs. This was the sixth Kentucky Derby victory for his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and it was jockey John Velazquez’s 200th Grade 1 stakes win.

He went on to place second in the 2020 Preakness Stakes behind filly Swiss Skydiver in October and won his final start in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November. He then retired to stud and was named the 2020 Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male.

Related: Enter to win a #DerbyAtHome Mint Julep kit

What are the biggest Kentucky Derby traditions?

Bold formal outfits for both men and women are synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. Celebrities and fans a like go all out, donning creative and colorful hats, bright colors and wild patterns. In fact, hats and outfits are such a big part of the Kentucky Derby that the Derby Museum has a whole exhibit for the most lavished fashions.

The Mint Julep, made with Kentucky bourbon, is the signature drink of the Derby, and Kentucky’s state song “My Old Kentucky Home” is played during the pre-race post parade. After the race, the champion horse is given the iconic garland of roses in the winner’s circle.

Betting and horse racing go hand in hand. There will be a whole weekend of stacked racing cards at Churchill Downs, but the Derby takes the betting cake.

Related: Recipes for traditional Mint Julep and other Kentucky Derby drinks

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.