Godolphin’s Kentucky-bred Essential Quality will put his unbeaten streak on the line as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in a field of 20 in Saturday’s 147th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs. Seventeen of the 20 Kentucky Derby entrants are Kentucky-bred.
The Champion 2-Year-Old Colt of 2020, Essential Quality is perfect in five starts for Louisville native Brad Cox who will be saddling his first Kentucky Derby starter in the race. Essential Quality will be attempting to become the first reigning juvenile champion since Nyquist in 2016 to win the Run for the Roses.
Winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and the Breeders Futurity (G1), Essential Quality added victories in the Southwest Stakes (G3) and the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) this season. Essential Quality drew post position No. 14 at Tuesday’s draw, and the gray or roan son of Tapit will be ridden by Luis Saez who has been aboard the champion in all four of his stakes triumphs.
Cox will also send out Mandaloun for Juddmonte Farm. The Risen Star Stakes (G2) winner will be ridden by Florent Geroux and will break from post position No. 7.
“It got a little nerve-wracking with both horses still to go and the rail still being out there,” said Cox, following the draw. “I think it’ll be a good spot (for Essential Quality). He’s got good tactical speed that he’ll be able to get into a good position from there.”
Second choice on the morning-line is Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Rock Your World. Owned by Hronis Racing and David Talla, the undefeated son of Candy Ride (ARG) is trained by John Sadler. Bred in Kentucky by Ron and Deborah McAnally, Rock Your World won his first two starts on the turf, taking a maiden special weight a Santa Anita on Jan. 1 followed by a 2 ¼-length score in the Pasadena Stakes at one mile on the grass. He defeated Medina Spirit in wire-to-wire fashion in the Santa Anita Derby in his initial start on dirt. Rock Your World will be piloted by Joel Rosario and will break from post position No. 15.
Third choice on the morning-line is Florida Derby (G1) winner Known Agenda. The St. Elias homebred son of Curlin broke his maiden last season at two and then finished third in the Remsen Stakes (G2). He won the Florida Derby going away by 2 3/4 lengths in his most recent start. The handsome chestnut is trained by Todd Pletcher who will be seeking his third Kentucky Derby victory. Irad Ortiz Jr. has the call and will break from post position No. 1.
“Obviously, it’s not what we were hoping for,” Pletcher said of Known Agenda’s rail draw. “But, of course, this is one of the things you can’t control. With the new (20-stall) gate, we’re hopeful that things will be better than they were in the past and the post won’t be that bad. He had an inside trip in the Florida Derby, and he handled it very professionally.”
In addition to Known Agenda, Pletcher will also saddle Calumet Farm’s Burbonic, Repole Stable, Phipps Stable, and St. Elias Stable’s Dynamic One, the one-two finishers in the Wood Memorial (G2), and WinStar Farm and China Horse Club’s Sainthood who finished second to Like the King in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park in his stakes debut.
Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Hot Rod Charlie has been installed at odds of 8-1. Owned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, and Strauss Bros Racing, Hot Rod Charlie is trained by two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill. A son of Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Oxbow, Hot Rod Charlie finished second to Essential Quality in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Bred in Kentucky by Edward Cox, Hot Rod Charlie will be ridden by Flavien Prat, winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby aboard Country House. Hot Rod Charlie drew post position No. 9.
Kentucky-bred Highly Motivated will break from post position No. 17 and has been listed at odds of 10-1. Javier Castellano has the call for trainer Chad Brown. The Klaravich Stables homebred son of Into Mischief just missed to Essential Quality in the Blue Grass, leading most of the journey and settling for the runner-up spot, beaten just a neck.
“I’m OK with it (the post),” said Chad Brown. “Certainly, when it was late in the process and the one was still out there, I would’ve paused and put 17 back on my wish list. Like the Oaks, it’s a little farther outside than we would have liked but there’s a long run into the turn and this horse clearly has a lot of natural speed. Hopefully, we’ll be forward enough to come over and get some position into the first turn.”
The approximate post time for the Derby on Saturday is 6:57 p.m. ET. The Derby will air on NBC from 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET and will be on the radio on Horse Racing Radio Network from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET.