2021 Kentucky Derby Top Picks


The time for the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby has just about arrived. On Saturday, May 1, 2021, the best three-year-olds in the world will take off from the gates at Churchill Downs in Kentucky to try to capture the Run for the Roses. Bettors are already well-invested in the action through futures betting, which means it’s a good time to take a last look at where futures betting stands on the top contenders.

The Kentucky Derby stands alone in the sport of thoroughbred racing in terms of the excitement it garners in even casual racing fans and the intense betting interest it receives around the world. That betting has been going on for months, as bettors have been trying to take advantage of futures odds at top Kentucky Derby betting sites. Those sites have created a picture of who the fans think are the horses to beat.

This has been a more traditional run-up to the Derby as opposed to last year. For one thing, the Kentucky Derby is once again taking place on its traditional spot on the first Saturday in May. And the full contingent of prep races was able to be run this year, which means that bettors should have a clearer idea of the participants.

From Futures to Pari-Mutuel Odds

On Tuesday morning, the draw will take place for the 147th Kentucky Derby, at which point post positions will be assigned and the morning lines will be drawn up. This will let people know what the win odds are for the up to 20 horses in the field. But those odds will start changing once people begin to bet and the betting pools are created.

What that means is that most real money betting sites will be putting their focus on the pari-mutuel odds. You might not have too many more chances to lock in odds like you can over the weekend. That’s why it’s a good time to assess the field to see if there are bargains to be had.

With that in mind, we’re going to look at the top 20 contenders in the potential Kentucky Derby field, based on their current futures odds. We’ll go through each horse’s record and give you some ideas why they may or may not be prime Derby material. At the end of it, you should be ready for both the last round of futures wagering and the pari-mutuel wagers to come.

The 2021 Kentucky Derby Contenders

Get Her Number (+6600)

This colt’s prospects seemed a lot stronger when he was a two-year-old, but he now looks like one of the biggest long shots if he slots in as the 20th entry in the field. His races this year have been a pair of up-the-track finishes at Oaklawn Park. Get Her Number was a little more engaged in the Arkansas Derby, but still finished behind three others who will likely in the field.
Get Her Number Horse
If it weren’t for a win in the Grade 1 American Pharaoh last September as a two-year-old, Get Her Number would not have made the field. In other words, it’s been a while since this one looked like he had a real Derby chance. As a result, he’s not one that looks like a value-earner for you, even at futures odds of 66-1.

Dream Shake (+6600)

This colt’s name is reminiscent of one of the featured moves of former NBA great Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. Whether or not is that kind of wiggle in its game remains to be seen, as he is only three starts into his career. After a win in his debut at Santa Anita, Dream Shake has picked up back-to-back shows there in his last two.

There’s obviously room for improvement since he is still so early in his career, having been unraced at 2. But the concern is that Dream Shake was tiring at the line in each of his races at 1 1/16 miles. That doesn’t bode well on May 1 when he has to stretch it out to 1 ¼ miles for the Derby.

Hidden Stash (+5000)

This colt by Constitution is still looking for his first victory as a three-year-old. If you’re taking a shot at Hidden Stash, you’re probably looking at his racing style as a recommending factor. He has proven in his three races this year that he’ll start slow and come on late, which means he might enjoy the extra distance.

There are concerns however that he doesn’t have the kind of power to hang in here, since the speed figures haven’t been anything special. Plus, Hidden Special hasn’t won anything higher than an optional claimer to this point in his career. At best, you might be able to squint and see him getting a minor award in the Derby.

Sainthood (+5000)

Coming from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, this colt wasn’t on too many Derby radars until his last start. Unraced at age 2, he picked up his maiden victory at Fair Grounds his second time out in a gate to wire effort at 1 1/16 miles. Still, there wasn’t any indication the he was ready to step up for the Grade 3 JR Steaks at Turfway Park the next time out.

Yet there he was, overcoming a roughed-up journey to come up just short in second by a length. The idea is that, when you put continued improvement together with the extra distance, which should suit him, there is a shot here. Throw in Pletcher’s reputation, and you might have something with Sainthood at 50 to 1.

Helium (+5000)

Here is one of three potential Derby entrants with a shot at winning the Derby as an unbeaten performer. His three victories in three races have come in somewhat offbeat fashion, which is why he probably won’t get as much betting love as the other two. Helium won the first two starts of his career last year in Canada at the distance of seven furlongs by comfortable margins.

He finally returned to action last month as a 15 to 1 shot in the Tampa Bay Derby. Despite a five-wide journey, Helium just kept coming on until he had passed everybody to win it over Hidden Stash, another Derby hopeful. The rest of that field wasn’t all too daunting, but it was still an impressive springboard victory for him.

Like The King (+5000)

It’s been quite a rise for this colt from when he started his career running for tiny purses at Belterra Park in Ohio. A win at the end of his two-year-old season at Turfway Park suggested some promise. And Like The King has cashed in on that with a place and win in his two starts so far this season.
Like The King Horse
His win in the JR Steaks last time out was set up by a hot pace, allowing him to come rolling up late for the victory. That might not have been the most daunting tune-up in the world. But Like The King is definitely on the improve, even if he will probably only be a factor is he gets a certain kind of race style on the 1st of May.

Dynamic One (+3300)

Todd Pletcher sends out another hopeful here whose fortunes seemed to have changed all in a single race. Dynamic One burned money in two of his first three career races before finally breaking his maiden at Aqueduct in March. That propelled him into the Wood Memorial, where he went off at 15 to 1 but found himself on the lead late.

Alas, his huge move from seventh to first was a bit early, leaving him ripe to be caught at the line by Bourbonic by a head. Still, it was a vast improvement from what he’d shown in previous races. The question now become whether that was a sign of things to come or a fluke which will have Dynamic One bouncing the wrong way for the Kentucky Derby.

O Besos (+3300)

This colt sired by 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb has improved its speed figure every start in his career to this point. Still, even if O Besos can do that again for the Derby, his sixth career race, it might not be enough. The results he has managed at Fair Grounds this year have been promising but not exactly overwhelming.

While he has maneuvered his way to fourth and third in his last two Grade 2s, the big move that a Derby winner has to have has been noticeably absent. Whether or not he can reach back for that remains to be seen. Most likely, O Besos finds himself somewhere adrift in the middle of the pack hoping for small change in fourth or fifth at best.

Caddo River (+3300)

Trainer Brad Cox might be basking in Derby glory come next Saturday, but that would be most likely with Essential Quality. Caddo River has the look of one who might not be ready for the prime-time talent in the Derby. He did open some eyes at the turn of the new year with a pair of wins by significant margins, which can could be a good indicator of Triple Crown talent.

But his move up into graded stakes action brought disappointment. He was favored in the Rebel, but aimlessly roamed to fifth. The Arkansas Derby was better, as he set the pace and stayed on for second, but the extra distance of the Kentucky Derby could have Caddo River fading into oblivion.

Bourbonic (+3300)

Nobody saw Bourbonic coming in the Wood Memorial until it was too late. The Todd Pletcher trainee  was still dead last out of nine horses as he entered the final turn. That’s when he uncorked and passed them all for a stunning victory at 72 to 1 to punch his Derby ticket.
Bourbonic Horse
Now the obvious question is whether he can do that kind of thing again. That Wood field doesn’t look that good on second glance, which means that Bourbonic will be much harder-pressed to do it again.

Still, he has proven those who underestimate him before, right?

Soup And Sandwich (+2500)

Two wins to start his career gave this colt the chance to step up into tougher company. He did just that in the Florida Derby, and he acquitted himself pretty well. Soup And Sandwich set the pace before eventually succumbing to Known Agenda, not a bad effort at all considering his 12 to 1 odds.

As a front-runner, it’s going to take every bit of skill from jockey Tyler Gaffalione to keep this horse afloat. After all, if he was tiring in the Florida Derby at 1 1/16 miles, how he will hang at 1 ¼ miles when there are several others gunning for the front. Soup And Sandwich seems to have good things in his future, but he just might not be ready to peak at Churchill.

Super Stock (+2500)

Sometimes persistence paid off, as this steady campaigner found out in the Arkansas Derby. Up to that point in his career, he looked more like the journeyman type than the superstar. Super Stock had amassed two shows and a fourth in his three graded stakes efforts to that point, and it was understandable if many believed that was his peak.

But he looked like a different horse at Oaklwan, stalking the pace and then pouncing to go away from the field in a comfortable victory at 12 to 1. Did the light suddenly come on for Super Stock, or was it just a one-time thing. In any case, he has stamped himself as someone you have to consider.

Mandaloun (+2000)

Brad Cox has a full deck of Derby contenders, and Mandaloun can certainly be in the mix if he can get back to his former form. Two starts ago, he put together one of the best performances of the Derby prep season with a victory in the Risen Star. Maybe it took too much out of him though, because he came back and stiffed as the favorite in the Louisiana Derby.

Obviously, a bounce-back is possible, as he could easily come out at the Derby firing on all cylinders. When you look at his career, the Arkansas Derby looks more like the outlier than the Risen Star. Watch the post position for this one, as he didn’t like getting pushed wide in his last race at all.

Midnight Bourbon (+2000)

The consistency of this Steven Asmussen trainee is quite admirable. He now has seven races under his belt, all at a mile or over, all on the dirt, and he has been in the money in every one of them. Midnight Bourbon has a win, show and place in his last three races, all graded stakes.
Midnight Bourbon Horse
That consistency comes somewhat from his ability to get away from the gate and into the mix each and every time. But it is a bit concerning that Midnight Bourbon was passed late by others, especially when you consider that the Derby will have many more horses coming up from behind. He might not be on the level needed to do anything more than get into exotic contention.

Medina Spirit (+1200)

It seems like Bob Baffert usually has three or four contenders for the Kentucky Derby each year, but this time around, Medina Spirit is the one left standing. And that means that the Baffert tax will be extremely high, as punters try to find some way to back the sport’s most successful trainer. This colt would probably have longer futures odds otherwise.

On a good note, his stalking style is usually the kind that produces the most Derby winners. But there are others with that style that have better resumes to flaunt. His distant second-place finishes in the last two graded stakes efforts don’t bode well for the chances of Medina Spirit at Churchill.

Hot Rod Charlie (+1000)

The breeding and the connections speak well of this colt’s chances to emerge at the Derby. As for his record, Hot Rod Charlie is coming off his best effort, a frontrunning victory in the Louisiana Derby. That race was only a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby, and he was sprinting away from his foes at the end.

On top of that, the speed figures are where you’d like to see them for a race like the Derby. Remember that he put a real scare into the likely favorite Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year as well. There is a lot to like here, as Hot Rod Charlie should definitely be one of the horses you consider.

Highly Motivated (+900)

Nobody has come closer to defeating Essential Quality than this Chad Brown trainee. It came at the start of the month in the Bluegrass, when Highly Motivated went out and set the pace only to come up and neck short in a tough stretch battle. It was a change in style for him, as he had previously been doing more stalking.

Versatility like that always bodes well for Derby contention, as that race can turn out in any number of ways and horses have to be ready for anything. Highly Motivated also can boast consistently excellent speed figures from even before he got to the graded stakes level. This is definitely one that would be worth a 9 to 1 stab on the futures board.

Known Agenda (+700)

It’s Todd Pletcher’s year to flood the Derby field, and here is his best shot at glory. Known Agenda has improved steadily but still impressively from start to start this year. Florida Derby winners are often big factors in the Derby, and this colt made that win look easy at 5 to 1.

With the exception of a clunker to start the year at Tampa Bay, Known Agenda has given reliably solid efforts in every race. And in the last few, he has upped his game to another level. Beating Essential Quality won’t be easy, but he might just have the stuff.

Rock Your World (+550)

This is another horse who has taken a somewhat unorthodox path to being one of the top contenders for the Kentucky Derby, but it doesn’t matter how you get there. Rock Your World didn’t race at two but won back-to-back turf races to start his career at Santa Anita. His connections rolled the dice by moving him to the dirt and the much tougher competition of the Santa Anita Derby.

At 5 to 1, he went out and dominated the field gate-to-wire for a 4 ¼-length victory. And it wasn’t a case of him getting away with a slow pace that he then milked all the way home, as he burned through the early portions of the race and didn’t show any letup late. It should be interesting to see what happens when he leaves his environs, but he just picked up a Derby-winning jockey in Joel Rosario, which can’t hurt his chances.

Essential Quality (+300)

When you go out and win the first five races of your career, four of them for graded stakes, chances are you’re going to get some betting attention. Essential Quality has the chance to not only be a Derby winner as an unbeaten, but also to pull off the rare Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – Kentucky Derby double feature. If he can do that, he would immediately ascend to near the top of the ranks of most accomplished horses even at this stage of his career.
Essential Quality Horse
That’s a lot of weight to carry, and it is interesting that trainer Brad Cox kept him out of the bigger Derby Prep skirmishes this year, opting instead for the Grade 3 Southwest and Grade 2 Bluegrass. To his credit, he took care of business in those races, but he barely got up in time in the latter. Essential Quality is capable but not invincible, although all signs point to him having the peak effort he’ll need to win the Kentucky Derby.


As you can see, there are many top contenders for this the 2021 Kentucky Derby. This year it seems like, more than ever, they’re coming into this race from all directions and with different levels of experience. On top of that, this seems like a year where there are a lot of horses who have taken somewhat unusual paths to reach the first Saturday in May, which makes bettors’ jobs tougher as they decide which are worthwhile.

In terms of your last-minute futures bets, go for the value you can find in horses like Hot Rod Charlie and Mandaloun. If you’re more of a chalk player, wait until the pari-mutuel odds open up on Tuesday and look to pair the favorites in some exotic combinations. That combination should provide you with the best possible profit potential on your 2021 Kentucky Derby wagers at top horse racing sites.

Jim Beviglia

Jim Beviglia joined Gamblingsites.org as a staff writer in 2018, parlaying his years of freelance writing into contributions on a number of different topics. He handles the sport of horse racing for GamblingSites.org and the intersection between the worlds of cryptocurrency and online gambling in a weekly blog.
For his full-time job, Jim handles the television and track announcing duties at a h …

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