Chet Fussman for

By Chet Fussman | | 11 mins

Kentucky Derby Odds, Picks & Complete 2021 Handicapping Guide

Kentucky Derby Odds, Picks & Complete 2021 Handicapping Guide

The Kentucky Derby on Saturday returns to its traditional date on the calendar (first Saturday in May) and will be run in front of a limited number of fans (about 40,000) at Churchill Downs.

A full field of 20 is entered in the 1¼-mile opening jewel of the Triple Crown. Three are unbeaten: morning-line favorite Essential Quality, Rock Your World and longshot Helium. As always, pace of the race, running styles and racing luck will determine how the race unfolds.

The Kentucky Derby is not only the most famous race in the world, it’s also one of the best horse racing betting races. With such large fields, payouts on exotic wagers are generally lucrative. And even if the favorites win, at least you’ll be able to say you hit the Derby.

Kentucky Derby 2021 Odds

PP, HorseOddsJockeyTrainer
1 Known Agenda 6-1 Ortiz Jr. Pletcher
2 Like The King 50-1 Van Dyke Ward
3 Brooklyn Strong 50-1 Rispoli Velázquez
4 Keepmeinmind 50-1 Cohen Diodoro
5 Sainthood 50-1 Lanerie Pletcher
6 O Besos 20-1 Pedroza Foley
7 Mandaloun 15-1 GérouxCox
8 Medina Spirit 15-1 Velázquez Baffert
9 Hot Rod Charlie 8-1 Prat O’Neill
10 Midnight Bourbon 20-1 Smith Asmussen
11 Dynamic One 20-1 Ortiz Pletcher
12 Helium 50-1 Leparoux Casse
13 Hidden Stash 50-1 Bejarano Oliver
14 Essential Quality 2-1 Sáez Cox
15 Rock Your World 5-1 Rosario Sadler
16 King Fury 20-1 Hernandez Jr. McPeek
17 Highly Motivated 10-1 Castellano Brown
18 Super Stock 30-1 Santana Jr. Asmussen
19 Soup And Sandwich 30-1 Gaffalione Casse
20 Bourbonic 30-1 Carmouche Pletcher

Kentucky Derby morning line odds via TwinSpires


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Kentucky Derby 2021 Field

In order or morning-line odds

Essential Quality (2-1): Deserving favorite is 5-for-5 lifetime and was 2-year-old champion last year. Game but narrow victory in Blue Grass Stakes last time out. Hard to knock but hasn’t run faster than several others in the field.

Rock Your World (5-1): Set fast fractions and was never threatened in Santa Anita Derby. Potential Kentucky Derby pacesetter has not lost in three career starts (only one race on dirt) and will have to overcome lack of seasoning.

Known Agenda (6-1): After mixed early results, addition of blinkers has turned Florida Derby winner into serious race horse for two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Todd Pletcher. Rallies from off the pace. Drawing No. 1 post position less than ideal.

Hot Rod Charlie (8-1): Visually impressive winner of Louisiana Derby for trainer Doug O’Neill, who has won this race twice. But trend not his friend: Last Louisiana Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby was Grindstone in 1996.

Highly Motivated (10-1): Lost to Essential Quality by only a neck in Blue Grass Stakes. If pedigree allows him to stretch out, worthy of attention at potentially double-digit odds.

Mandaloun (15-1): Disappointed in Louisiana Derby, fading to sixth after wide trip. Draw a line through that race and he’s a legit contender. Top trainer Brad Cox also saddles race favorite Essential Quality.

Kentucky Derby Odds, Picks & Complete 2021 Handicapping Guide 1

Medina Spirit (15-1): Not your typical royally-bred Bob Baffert Derby horse. Santa Anita Derby runner-up is a hard-trying overachiever who has never finished worse than second. Baffert seeking record seventh Kentucky Derby win.

O Besos (20-1): Stretch runner will be rallying from back of the pack and is likely to be passing horses late. Hasn’t won a stakes race but may be worth considering on bottom of trifecta and superfecta tickets.

Midnight Bourbon (20-1): Never off the board in seven starts at four different tracks, including a second at Churchill Downs. Could be “wiseguy” horse sent off several points lower than morning-line odds.

Dynamic One (20-1): One of four horses in Pletcher contingent continues to show improvement. But resume is a little light with only one win in five lifetime starts.

King Fury (20-1): Has two victories at Churchill Downs and punched Derby ticket with win at nearby Keeneland in Lexington States in first start of 2021. Was beaten double-digit lengths in his two previous Grade I races.

Super Stock (30-1): One of two horses in the field for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who is 0-for-21 in the Derby. Took big step forward to win Arkansas Derby last time out. Will need to take another to win the Roses.

Soup and Sandwich (30-1): Solid runner-up in Florida Derby, his first loss in three lifetime starts. Hasn’t won a stakes race and will need to overcome lack of experience.

Kentucky Derby Odds, Picks & Complete 2021 Handicapping Guide 4

Bourbonic (30-1): Rallied from far back to spring 72-1 shocker in Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. While capable of outrunning odds again from No. 20 post, no Wood Memorial winner has won the Kentucky Derby since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

Like the King (50-1): Will have to prove he can run as well on dirt (no wins) as on polytrack (two wins) and grass (one win). Kentucky-based trainer Wesley Ward has won four Breeders’ Cup races but yet to break through in the Derby.

Brooklyn Strong (50-1): Last horse to qualify in the field was well-beaten fifth in Wood Memorial last time out. He did win a pair of stakes in New York last year, including the Grade 2 Remsen.

Keepmeinmind (50-1): Last five races were against top Grade 1 and Grade 2 competition but finished well-beaten sixth in Rebel and wide fifth in Blue Grass. Removes blinkers for Derby.

Sainthood (50-1): Is the least experienced of the foursome trained by Pletcher, with one win in three lifetime starts. Sub-par speed figures. Would need to take a major step forward.

Helium (50-1): A little unusual for an undefeated horse (3-for-3) to be one of the longest shots in the field. But hasn’t run since winning the Tampa Bay Derby six weeks ago at 15-1, and this is only his second race beyond seven furlongs.

Hidden Stash (50-1): Had a win at Churchill Downs last year but was non-threatening fourth in Blue Grass last time out and is 0-for-3 in 2021.

Check out our handicappers’ exclusive Kentucky Derby picks, only with bookiesEDGE

Kentucky Derby 2021 Betting Storylines

Welcome Back: The race is back at its traditional date and fans are back in the stands. Wagering is expected to easily surpass last year’s betting handle of $79.4 million but not likely to approach the 2019 all-time record of $165.5 million.

Chance at Redemption: Jockey Luis Saez, who is aboard unbeaten and morning-line favorite Essential Quality, has never won a Kentucky Derby. He did cross the finish line first in this race two years ago but was taken down aboard Maximum Security in a controversial disqualification. It was the first stewards disqualification of a winner in the race’s nearly 150-year history.

Kentucky Derby Odds, Picks & Complete 2021 Handicapping Guide 2

Bet on Baffert?: Trainer Bob Baffert had a handful of top Derby contenders a few months ago, but potential favorite Life is Good suffered an ankle injury and Concert Tour was pointed toward the Preakness after a disappointing third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby. Baffert, who won last year’s Derby with Authentic, will be represented Saturday by Medina Spirit, who has two wins and three seconds in five lifetime starts. If Medina Spirit wins, Baffert will be the only trainer in history with seven Kentucky Derby victories.

Jockey Karma: Rock Your World is unbeaten in three lifetime starts, and jockey Umberto Rispoli was aboard for the last two. Yet Rispoli, one of the leading jockeys in Southern California, won’t be aboard on Saturday after trainer John Sadler opted to replace him with Joel Rosario, who rode Rock Your World in the horse’s debut and is considered one of the top jockeys in the sport. “These are agonizing decisions and not easy,’’ Sadler said in a Los Angeles radio interview. “… But I had to make a call, and this is the call I made. History will tell whether I’m right or wrong.’’ Rispoli has picked up the mount on longshot Brooklyn Strong.

Kentucky Derby Betting Trends

  • After betting favorites won the Derby for six consecutive years, the last two winners were sent off at 65-1 (Country House via disqualification) and 8-1 (Authentic).
  • Bad news for Known Agenda: No horse has won the Derby from the No. 1 post since Ferdinand in 1986.
  • Of the last 10 Derby winners, nine had at last four lifetime starts and raced at least once a 2-year-old. The lone exception in both cases was Justify, who went on to win the 2018 Triple Crown.
  • Nine of the last 10 Derby winners won their final prep race. If Maximum Security had not been DQ’d in 2019, it would be 10-for-10.
  • The Derby is the 12th race on Saturday’s 14-race Churchill Downs card.

Our 2021 Kentucky Derby Picks

1. Rock Your World

The Santa Anita Derby champ does not fit the profile of a Kentucky Derby winner. Only three lifetime races and did not race at age 2. But he appears to be 1) the fastest horse in the race and 2) the controlling speed. If others want the lead, Rock Your World has proven he can rally from just off the pace. His inexperience is a concern, but Rock Your World may have the talent to overcome it.

2. Medina Spirit

Finished second to Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby, and it’s not far-fetched to think it might happen again on Saturday. Consistent colt shows up and runs hard every time (never worse than second). Jockey John Velazquez and trainer Baffert teamed up to win this race last year, and Baffert is attempting to win it for the seventh time.

3. Mandaloun

His sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby creates significant value for a horse that offered no value in all five career races (favored in all of them). Trainer Brad Cox said he couldn’t find an excuse for the Louisiana debacle. If you’re willing to ignore that effort, Mandaloun’s previous races put him squarely in the mix.

4. Essential Quality

Can’t dispute his talent or record (5-for-5). His speed figures are consistently solid, though not spectacular, and others in the field may have a higher ceiling. Win wouldn’t be surprising but offers little value at his morning-line odds of 2-1 or less.

Kentucky Derby Longshots Worth a Look

Not sure Midnight Bourbon is good enough to win, but he should be forwardly placed and has run three solid races in 2021 that stamp him as a legit contender. A far bigger longshot to consider is Bourbonic, who won the Wood Memorial a month ago at 72-1. He won’t be that long again, but his consistent pattern of passing horses late makes him a viable candidate to fill out trifecta and superfecta tickets.

Our Kentucky Derby 2021 Betting Strategy

Kentucky Derby Odds, Picks & Complete 2021 Handicapping Guide 3

Last year Authentic led wire-to-wire. In the recent years before that, horses with a stalking style, who ran just behind the early leaders, dominated the Derby. It’s reasonable to believe the bias toward forward runners will continue Saturday in a race that isn’t loaded with early speed.

Strange things happen in a 20-horse field, but Rock Your World, Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon are the most likely candidates to be on the lead or close to it. Essential Quality, Mandaloun, Medina Spirit, Soup and Sandwich and Highly Motivated are the likely stalkers. The rest may need a pace meltdown to rally late and win the Roses.

Win bets at TwinSpires Rock Your World (5-1 morning line) and exotic bets that will also include Medina Spirit and Mandaloun (both 15-1) on top. Will limit favored Essential Quality to bottom of exotic tickets.


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Kentucky Derby TV Info

Post time: 6:57 p.m. (ET), Saturday

Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky


About the Author

Chet Fussman for
Chet Fussman
Chet Fussman is a former horse racing writer and longtime sports editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville is a poker and blackjack player and frequent sports bettor.