Kentucky Derby 2021: Top Contenders to Watch in Triple Crown Comeback

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The Kentucky Derby resumes its regular schedule in May 2021 when the race for this year’s Triple Crown gets underway, and the usual suspects feature among those tipped to train the winner.

The Run for the Roses ran uninterrupted for a Triple Crown-record 144 years prior to 2020, when Authentic earned a sixth Derby win for Bob Baffert’s stable (its second in three years).

Churchill Downs will host the 147th edition of the race with limited fans permitted (via the Courier Journal), a welcome return to some normality ahead of American racing’s most celebrated series.

Road to the Kentucky Derby standings leader Essential Quality features among the more obvious candidates to vie for the win come May 1, but there’s steep competition for the Godolphin-bred gem to consider.The odds available on several US horse betting platforms.

2021 Kentucky Derby Info

Date: Saturday, May 1

Time: 7:01 p.m. ET

Location: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky

TV: NBC Sports Network

Essential Quality

Trainer: Brad Cox

Last Jockey: Luis Saez

Winner of two Grade 1 races in his first three races—the Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile—Essential Quality is at worst a joint-favorite to clinch this year’s Derby:

Both of those wins were held at Keeneland over a mile and half a furlong. The Brad Cox-trained entry will be tested climbing to a mile and four furlongs, but there’s good reason thus far to believe he’ll maintain over the distance.

Cox hailed his prospect as “probably the best (two-year-old colt) I’ve had as far as talent goes” after he edged Hot Rod Charlie at the Breeders’ Futurity in November, via Daily Racing Form. Essential Quality blazed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by three lengths and a quarter one month prior to that, just one of those signs he’s ready to ascend.

Life Is Good

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Last Jockey: Mike E. Smith

The other most fancied frontrunner ahead of this year’s race, Life Is Good has the momentum to finally make Baffert the most decorated trainer in Kentucky Derby history. Anticipation is rife after the colt only debuted at Del Mar in November, winning there and once more at Santa Anita on January 3.

There are similarities apparent between Life Is Good and last year’s Derby winner, Authentic, both trained by Baffert who went 2-0 in their early career after winning the $100,000 Sham Stakes:

The two colts also share a sire in Into Mischief, which the superstitious may deem one coincidence enough to buy the hype surrounding this horse.

As well as breaking the all-time trainer record for Derby wins, Baffert can become the first to defend the trophy since he won two successive races in 1997-98.

Prime Factor

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Last Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

The odds tumbled in Prime Factor’s favor after the three-year-old made his debut with a win at Gulfstream Park in December, coming into Kentucky contention as a relative outsider:

Irad Ortiz Jr. rode Prime Factor to a massive maiden victory by eight and three quarter-lengths, leading bookmakers Circa Sports to cut his Derby odds from +20000 down to +3000. WinStar Farm have two exceptionally athletic challengers to the Derby throne in Prime Factor and Life Is Good, with the former’s fast form likely to have surprised even trainer Todd Pletcher.