Before we delve into the results, let it be known that since the Derby points-qualifying system began in 2013, the Derby favorite has won American’s most famous horse race six times, from 2013-2018. The winners were Orb, California Chrome, American Phaorah, Nyquist, Always Dreaming, and Justify.
In the DQ Derby of 2019, favorite Improbable ran fourth, with runner-up Country House declared the winner after first-place finisher Maximum Security was guilty of interference involving several horses.
In last year’s COVID-19 pandemic delayed Derby on Sept. 5, Authentic defeated 7-10 favorite Tiz the Law, who had won the Belmont Stakes and the Travers prior to the Derby.
We’re back to the first Saturday in May for the 147th edition of the Run for the Roses, with unbeaten Essential Quality the 2-1 morning-line favorite in a field of 20 3-year-olds. The BC Juvenile (G1) winner, 2- year-old champion, and Blue Grass (G2) is trained by Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox.
Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Rock Your World, also unbeaten, is the second choice at 5-1. Six horses are 50-1, three at 30-1, and four at 20-1.
Essential Quality departs from post 14, which has produced two winners from 64 runners since the use of the starting gate in 1930. Rock Your World breaks from post 15, which has produced six winners from 59 runners.
Maybe the results will revert to 2013-2018 form, but it is the Derby, where 50-1 longshots have pulled off huge upsets – Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009 come to mind. And yes, we should add Country House at 65-1.
With that intel, and a whole lot more examining of past performances, most of our selectors are picking the favorites, but not everyone. However, none of our selectors believe trainer Bob Baffert will win a record-setting seventh Derby with Medina Spirit, who is 15-1 on the morning line.
Here’s the tally from our 10 contributors
Essential Quality and Rock Your World each were picked to win by three contributors, with the remaining four picks going to Hot Rod Charlie, Highly Motivated, Super Stock, and Midnight Bourbon.
Kentucky Derby Picks – Top 3 Finishers
Ed McNamara / 1. Rock Your World 2. Essential Quality 3. Known Agenda
“I’m going with Rock Your World, who could lead throughout or sit just off the pace before making his move entering the stretch. Joel Rosario has been riding brilliantly and is a top big-race jockey. I think Rock Your World has a forward move in him, and although he went wire to wire in the Santa Anita Derby, his dirt debut, he stalked and fired big on the turf in his first two races
Noel Michaels / 1. Essential Quality 2. Hot Rod Charlie 3. Rock Your World
“Essential Quality is clearly the best and most accomplished horse in the field. Hot Rod Charlie exits a strong effort in the Louisiana Derby and seems to be the rest of the rest. He might be a better win bet since Essential Quality will be 2-1 or less.”
Lynne Snierson / 1. Rock Your World 2. Essential Quality 3. Highly Motivated
“It’s hard to pick against the perfection of a colt who’s done nothing wrong and answered every question in Essential Quality, unless you’re picking another colt and his perfect record, and that would be Rock Your World. He’s raced only at Santa Anita, a bit of a concern, but his pedigree says he’ll stay 1 1/4 miles. And his numbers say he’s the fastest one and he appears to be peaking at the right time.”
Ray Wallin / 1. Highly Motivated 2. Essential Quality 3. Know Agenda
“The curse of post 17 is over. Highly Motivated will benefit from the speed that breaks inside of him, allowing him to run the race he wants from off the pace instead of inheriting the lead like he did in the Blue Grass. Javier Castellano finished third in the 2018 Derby aboard Highly Motivated’s half-brother, Audible.”
Margaret Ransom / 1. Super Stock 2. Essential Quality 3. Rock Your World
“Super Stock’s Arkansas Derby was a strong performance, perfect running style, improving horse being largely overlooked.”
John Furgele / 1. Hot Rod Charlie 2. Essential Quality 3. Medina Spirit
“A large field and horses running 10 furlongs for the first time scare me. That said, I always start with those who are 6-1 or higher on the initial odds. And, this year, that leads me to Hot Rod Charlie. His Dad, Oxbow, ran a decent Derby and then made me money by winning the Preakness, so I like the pedigree.”
Mike Farrell / 1. Rock Your World 2. Medina Spirit 3. Essential Quality
“In reviewing all the Derby prep races, one contest stands out: the Santa Anita Derby (G1). It produced the highest speed figure, and an undefeated winner in Rock Your World, who brilliantly transitioned from turf to dirt and handled the added distance. He’s the “now horse” with the ability to dictate the pace or sit a stalking trip.”
Julie Basso / 1. Midnight Bourbon 2. Hot Rod Charlie 3. Rock Your World
“I like Midnight Bourbon because he’s been feeling great all week. That’s all I needed to hear.”
Richard Rosenblatt / 1. Essential Quality 2. Medina Spirit 3. Rock Your World
“With 13 of the 20 horses at 20-1 or higher, the field narrows to only a few, and Essential Quality has done everything right, even winning the weather delayed Southwest in his 3-year-old debut. And wouldn’t it be nice for the local guy – trainer Brad Cox – to win it in his first Derby.”
Jenny Kellner / 1. Essential Quality 2. Rock Your World 3. Helium
“Why go against the unbeatens?”