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The Kentucky Derby Betting Guide, Odds & Picks (2021)

by May 1, 2021

In what seems like an eternity since last year’s mid-pandemic Triple Crown run, we are back at it again, but this time in proper formality without the asterisks of unfamiliar event adjustments. We haven’t seen a Triple Crown winner since Justify pulled it off in 2018, with Larry Collmus’s send-off in the stretch, “he’s just perfect, and now he’s just immortal.” It all starts again with this year’s Kentucky Derby, right here and right now, with some key horses you won’t want to miss on your tickets.

If you followed my 2020 Kentucky Derby article, you know I had Authentic as my top horse to best Tiz the Law in the stretch — easily fulfilling said role as champion. This year the field of horses is much more interesting and proving difficult to discern. That being said, I’ll be utilizing the same reliable factors to weigh my selections, albeit slightly modified with a deeper dive into Pace versus Running Styles, Jockeys & Trainers (including their Connections), and of course, Pedigree.

Check out our guide to betting on horse racing here >> 

M/L Favorites [15/1 or less]

As I mentioned above, this field is unorthodox and could lead to some surprising outcomes.

Let’s take a look at the early-bet favorites you must have on your tickets and why…

Known Agenda [#1]
If he patiently rides the rail without exhaustively battling for the lead, he should have enough gas left in the tank by the stretch to make a winning bid. Todd Pletcher has been doing well this year prepping his horses for big events on the road, and while the horses pedigree is a questionably balanced one, I think Irad Ortiz Jr. will know just where to position him for success.

Medina Spirit [#8]
This is the only Bob Baffert trained horse in the race, with the bonus of John Velazquez taking mount — sound familiar? This is the same jockey/trainer combination that saw Authentic victoriously across the finish line in the 2020 Kentucky Derby. This horse really has everything going for it, including a nice post position, even if his speed figures, pedigree, and workout times aren’t “jumping off the page” of your racing forms.

Essential Quality [#14]
Here you have it, the overwhelming favorite to win the Kentucky Derby this year. Everyone will have him at the top of their tickets because he is elite in every category you can imagine — speed, class, he’s unbeaten, he has an amazing jockey & trainer, etc. Even though I believe him to be beatable based on his pace figures alone, if any horse were bred to win this race, it would be him. His pedigree is a level above all of his competition, indicating that his good (but not great) recent races didn’t require him to push himself beyond simple victories. Genetically speaking, he’s a motorcycle, and the other horses are bicycles.

Rock Your World [#15]
I believe this horse to be superior to Essential Quality in every way, outside of his pedigree. I am banking on this horse’s ability to compete and win against this field of lesser horses. There is nothing I don’t love about him, as he’s already proven himself with his 2.83 average length of victory in only three starts. He was worth every penny of the $650,000 that was paid to acquire him in 2019.

Could hit the board

Mandaloun [#7]
This is a contending horse mostly due to a great jockey and trainer but ultimately should end up out of the money. I don’t see this horse accomplishing anything that half a dozen other horses around him couldn’t do better. You could add him on the bottom of your tickets if you have a little extra cash on hand because I can’t rule him out entirely, as slipping into 4th at the last second is not impossible for him.

Favorites to skip

Hot Rod Charlie [#9] & Highly Motivated [#17]
As much as I would love to see these two horses succeed, their inconsistent performances in 2 & 3 Grade Stakes coupled with average-at-best pace figures won’t get them into the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle. They’ve had great trainers and jockeys for the entirety of their careers thus far, so the Kentucky Derby won’t change anything for them. It’s a capability problem, plain and simple.

M/L Longshots [20/1 or greater]

There are a few longshots this year that could easily slip into your winning tickets, leading to those lucrative, life-changing exotic payouts we have sometimes seen in the Kentucky Derbys of old.

Don’t miss these horses on your exotic bets, especially Superfectas or the Super High Five…

Bourbonic [#20]
This horse is the best longshot to steal the victory, hooves down. He has a beautiful pedigree for this distance/surface, an incredible trainer and jockey situation, and the physical ability to be truly competitive in this race. All you need to do is watch his most recent performance in the Wood Memorial (Grade 2), for which he closed 8.25 lengths from the 2nd Call to move from 9th to 1st at a staggering 72/1 odds. I really hope this horse wins because he will be undervalued again, guaranteed.

Midnight Bourbon [#10] & Super Stock [#18]
The two Asmussen trained horses in the race, both at such large odds, it’s really a bit of a surprise. I favor Midnight Bourbon over Super Stock in every category, but I just can’t let go of Super Stock given his finish in the Arkansas Derby. At best, I would suggest putting Super Stock at the very bottom of your tickets, giving a much greater nod to Midnight Bourbon to surprise with a sneaky 2nd or 3rd showing.

Ticket Structures

Last-minute changes often occur in these races, so here is the baseline of how I will structure my tickets for the Kentucky Derby. Good luck!

Top of my tickets

  • Known Agenda [#1]
  • Essential Quality [#14]
  • Rock Your World [#15]
  • Bourbonic [#20]

Middle of my tickets

  • Medina Spirit [#8]
  • Midnight Bourbon [#10]

Bottom of my tickets

  • Mandaloun [#7]
  • Super Stock [#18]

Check out our guide to betting on horse racing here >> 

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Whether you’re new to sports betting or a betting pro, our Sports Betting Strategy and Advice page is for you. You can get started with our 101 section — including 10 Sports Betting Tips for Beginners — or head to more advanced strategy — like Key Numbers When Betting Against the Spread — to learn more.

Spencer Weston is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Spencer, check out his archive and follow him @WestonPicks.

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