By Arnie Leshin
The fastest and most prestigious 1 1/4 marquee race for 3-year-old colts is back to Saturday’s first May of the year, and about 45,000 spectators are expected to turn out for this eventful Kentucky Derby.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, last year’s run was strictly a race of turtles with very limited attendance after being delayed until Labor Day weekend last fall.
Now it’s back on the course Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville with a 20-horse field expected, and for this a new 20-stall starting Derby gate will replace the standard 14-slot and auxiliary six-slot gates.
Essential Quality is the 2-1 morning line favorite and will start from the No. 14th post for the 147th running of the first of the three Triple Crowns to be followed by the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore and the Belmont Stakes in New York. Rock Your World is the second choice at 5-1 and will start from the No. 15 slot. Then there’s the No. 3 pick, Known Agenda, at 6-1 odds despite drawing the rail. Hot Rod Charlie is the No. 4 choice at 8-1 and will start from the No. 9 slot.
But the obvious focus is on undefeated Essential Quality, the reigning 2-year-old champion who has won all five races with Luis Saez aboard. Rock Your World has won all three starts this year after not running as a 3-year-old. And he did beat favored Medina Spirit by 4 and a 1/4 lengths in the Santa Anita Derby. Meanwhile, Medina Spirt will start from the No. 8 post and is at 15-1 odds.
As for the large field, Known Agenda has his work cut out for him to avoid being bunched inside and out of contention in this crowded field.
Said homegrown trainer Brad Cox in regard to his prized horse. Essential Quality: “The hardest part is the target firmly. on his back. It can get a little nerve-wrecking even with the rail still standing there, but I think it will be a good spot for him. He’s got good tactical speed that he’ll be able to get into a good position from there. It is a good field though.”
Cox, who also trains Mandaloun, who is a 15-1 picks from the No. 7 post, grew up a few blocks from Churchill Downs and will make his Derby debut and trying to become the first Louisville native to win this big race. Cox has been the Eclipse Award winner and arrives here with his horse trying to bring the victorious bed of roses and a huge celebration his way.