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Keeneland Select Pick of the Day | May 1, 2021

April 28, 2021

Race 12 at Churchill Downs | Saturday May 1 | Post Time 6:57 PM Eastern

Kentucky Derby – Grade 1 | Purse $3 Million | One Mile and One Quarter | Three Year Olds


With 20 horse field, there are a number of horses with a legitimate chance to win the Kentucky Derby. Some will have a larger chance to win than others, but some of those with a lesser chance may offer a lot more return for the risk when betting and are certainly not out of the question.

Top Contenders in preference/probability order, with program numbers:

#15 Rock Your World

#1 Known Agenda

#14 Essential Quality

#17 Highly Motivated

#16 King Fury

#18 Super Stock

Main contenders and analysis:

Rock Your World started his career on the grass, winning the first two races of his career. Trainer John Sadler has stated, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, the reason for this was to avoid many of the top three year old colts trained by Bob Baffert which quickly become talked about as Derby contenders early in the year. In any event, Rock Your World transitioned to dirt for the third start of his career in the Santa Anita Derby and it was a career-best effort in which he earned a 103 Equibase Speed Figure (a number measuring time). That’s not yet in range of the top contenders in the Derby field, for example Essential Quality (109) and Known Agenda (112), but considering Rock Your World has raced two-three fewer times as compared to those other two horses, it is very likely he can run even faster than he has to date. In the Santa Anita Derby, Rock Your World led from the start and widened in the last quarter mile, but he does not need the lead to win as evidenced by his off-the-pace rallies in the first two starts of his career. Since the Santa Anita Derby, Rock Your World put in two sensational workouts in preparation for the race so there can be no doubt he’s in tip-top condition. Add to that he has a physical presence, as when getting off the van at Churchill Downs earlier this week and noisily announcing “I’m Here” to anyone who was within earshot. Last but not least, it must be noted that after he crossed the finish line in the Santa Anita Derby, Rock Your World was not eased up as most horses are. Instead, he was ridden further as if the race was longer in order to remind him of his task in the mile and one-quarter Kentucky Derby.

Known Agenda has been a new horse, a phenomenal horse, since blinkers were added one race before last. He won the first race in the new equipment by 11 lengths with a 103 (stakes quality) Equibase Figure though it wasn’t a stakes race. Then one month later in the Florida Derby Known Agenda showed a quick burst of speed with a quarter mile to go when moving from fourth, two and one-half lengths back, to lead entering the stretch. That effort earned a career-best 112 figure which is the best in the field and his pattern for improvement can continue. Historically, that is the type of burst of speed which wins more editions of the Kentucky Derby than it does not. This is because it’s critical to go past a number of horses quickly before many of them will be able to react. At that point in the Derby, there’s not usually a lot of passing as many horses have hit the proverbial wall human runners know about very well. The rail draw has historically been problematic in the Derby, and so it might be for Known Agenda, but given 2020 North American leading jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. knows him so well after those two wins, I suspect they may be able to hold mid-pace position in the early stages in spite of a number of horses coming closer to the rail to save ground. If that happens and Known Agenda gets a ground saving trip without losing too many positions out of the gate, and if able to repeat the acceleration he showed with a quarter mile to run in the Florida Derby, he could win Kentucky Derby 147.

It is difficult to disregard any undefeated horse, especially one like Essential Quality who won the Breeders’ Futurity last fall in only the second start of his career, then won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and who has won both starts as a three year old. The pattern is unmistakable for an improving athlete, with Equibase figures of 88-95-101 and 105 before a new career-best 109 in the Blue Grass Stakes. In the Blue Grass Essential Quality looked like he would never go by Highly Motivated¸ who had led from the start, but as the finish line came nearer his determination took over and he prevailed by a neck. As he is making his third start following nearly four months off, Essential Quality likely has more improving to do and if he peaks in the Kentucky Derby as is certainly possible he could become the 10th horse to exit the Derby undefeated.

Highly Motivated did everything right in the Blue Grass except come out on top in the photo and there is nothing to be ashamed of in finishing a head behind undefeated Essential Quality. After improving throughout his two-year-old campaign with 87, 89 and 104 figures including winning the Nyquist Stakes in his last start of 2020, Highly Motivated took four months off to grow up. Returning to finish third in the Gotham Stakes in March with a 102 figure, Highly Motivated went to the front from the start in the Blue Grass and kept Essential Quality at bay until the final strides, improving to a career-best 108 figure not to be trifled with when compared to the other top contenders in this field. Although not showing the explosive kick at the quarter pole similar to Known Agenda, it must be noted that both Highly Motivated and Essential Quality both quickened their stride with about a quarter of a mile to run in the race and opened up many lengths on the rest of the field. This leads me to believe that in the 20 horse Kentucky Derby field, Highly Motivated may be able to change gears nicely at the critical stage of the race and have a say in the outcome.

King Fury and Super Stock are both likely to be longshots (20 to 1 or more) and although both have less chance to succeed as compared to the four horses previously mentioned, I for one would be kicking myself if I did not at least have a small wager to win on both of them and watch them win at very high odds. King Fury won the first and third races of his career last year. Both happened to be at Churchill Downs and the latter of the pair came in the Street Sense Stakes. Following poor seventh and fifth place efforts in stakes to end 2020, King Fury was given a good deal of time off, four and one-half months to be exact. Returning just three weeks ago in the Lexington Stakes, King Fury closed from eighth of nine like a flash to make the lead at the top of the stretch and open up to win easily. The 103 Equibase figure is the same as Rock Your World earned in the Santa Anita Derby and definitely can be improved upon in the colt’s second start off the long layoff. As a son of Curlin (the same sire as Known Agenda), who himself finished third in the 2007 Derby and who has sired the most winners at this 10 furlong distance of any sire of an entrant in this year’s race, there is little doubt King Fury should be able to run the distance successfully. Super Stock put it all together for the 12 to 1 upset in the Arkansas Derby last month, earning a career-best 106 figure which puts him in the top group of win contenders. He had finished fourth in the Rebel Stakes one month earlier, but that followed four and one-half months off and he may not have been fully cranked up for the Rebel. Having finished third behind Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Futurity last fall and second behind King Fury in the Street Sense Stakes in October and now back in top form with room to improve, Super Stock should not be ruled out as a contender to post the upset in this year’s Kentucky Derby.


Betting Strategies –

Win bets – starting in order, consider win bets at or above the minimum odds. There is nothing wrong with betting two or three horses to win in a 20 horse field.

Higher odds horses can be bet for smaller amounts, yielding the same gross return:

#15 Rock Your World – minimum win betting odds 7 to 2

#1 Known Agenda – minimum win betting odds 4 to 1

#14 Essential Quality – minimum win betting odds 4 to 1

#17 Highly Motivated – minimum win betting odds 6 to 1

#16 King Fury – minimum win betting odds 10 to 1

#18 Super Stock – minimum win betting odds 15 to 1

Note about Essential Quality. Although his starting 2 to 1 odds may be too low for a win bet in my opinion, one strategy may be to bet an exacta with Essential Quality in the win (first place) position and take a number of horses in the second position, therefore taking the same money you might wager on him to win and trying to get an average 4 to 1 or 5 to 1 return as compared to 2 to 1 on a win bet. For example:

14 over 1, 15, 16, 17, 18 (and even using a few other horses as well).


Box Known Agenda, Essential Quality and Rock Your World. (Cost is $6 at the $1 minimum).

Also box Known Agenda, Essential Quality, Rock Your World and Highly Motivated. (Cost is $12 at the $1 minimum)

Also box Known Agenda, Essential Quality, Rock Your World, King Fury, Highly Motivated and Super Stock. (Cost is $30 at the $1 minimum) (This way we win twice if two of the top four finish first and second and we win three times if two of the top three finish first and second).

Trifectas: (strictly optional)

Box Known Agenda, Essential Quality, Rock Your World, King Fury, Highly Motivated and Super Stock. (Cost is $60 at the $0.50 minimum. Although this bet contains 120 possible combinations for first, second or third, there are a total of 6,840. That means the probability of winning is slim but the probability for a good return is reasonable.)

Option 2:

Known Agenda, Essential Quality and Rock Your World over Known Agenda, Essential Quality, Rock Your World, King Fury, Highly Motivated and Super Stock over Known Agenda, Essential Quality, Rock Your World, King Fury, Highly Motivated and Super Stock. (Cost is $30 at the $0.50 minimum).