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When looking for horses who represent likely winners of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, one should look no further than the morning line favorite, Essential Quality. Trained by Brad Cox, the three-year-old colt is the reigning Two-Year-Old Champion and a perfect 5-for-5 lifetime, making it perfectly reasonable to consider him the most likely winner of this race. Throughout his brief career, Essential Quality has demonstrated the ability to adapt to numerous race shapes and pace scenarios, something that is typically the hallmark of a thoroughbred that is all class. Given this is the Kentucky Derby, however, there is no such thing as a sure thing. Twenty young three-year-olds traveling a mile-and-a-quarter is a recipe for chaos, potentially creating a scenario in which the most likely winner is vulnerable. Add to the mix that, strictly from a speed figure standpoint, Essential Quality is not head and shoulders above his contemporaries, and it becomes understandable why gamblers may want to look for logical alternatives to the favorite in Saturday’s race. If you are one of those brave souls looking for a reasonable alternative to the favorite who is not going to be a hopeless longshot, here are three contenders to consider.
ROCK YOUR WORLD
Perhaps the most polarizing horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby, Rock Your World enters Saturday’s race as the horse who has run the fastest race to date as far as Beyer Speed Figures are concerned. The 100 Beyer Speed Figure earned in the Santa Anita Derby makes the John Sadler trainee a fascinating entrant in this spot for many reasons. For starters, Rock Your World is a horse that is bred to be a turf runner. After starting his career 2-for-2 on grass, Rock Your World’s connections chose to take a swing at the biggest prize for three-year-olds in California and were immediately rewarded, as the son of Candy Ride won the Santa Anita Derby in convincing fashion, scoring by more than four-lengths. Mentally, this colt still has some maturing to do, as he can get goofy with his mechanics (something which could prove problematic against a massive field in the Derby). Aside from that, there is not a great deal to knock about this horse; Rock Your World can be forwardly placed throughout the race and has already run a race faster than any other horse has to this point in their careers. As the likely second-choice, Rock Your World offers plenty of intrigue in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Trainer Todd Pletcher knows a thing or two about what it takes to win a Kentucky Derby, as he has prevailed on two occasions: in 2010 with Super Saver and again in 2017 with Always Dreaming. In Known Agenda, Pletcher brings a horse to the table who still seems to be figuring out what it means to be a racehorse – but the potential is obvious. A son of 2007 Preakness winner Curlin, Known Agenda had raced erratically in his first four lifetime starts while still producing decent results, simply due to his talent. Prior to his start at Gulfstream Park on February 26, Pletcher decided to add blinkers to this colt, and the difference was immediate; Known Agenda trounced a field of allowance runners by 11-lengths, a performance which propelled him to the Grade 1 Florida Derby the following month. After racing inside for much of the race, jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. was able to split rivals aboard Known Agenda rounding the far turn before exploding down the lane, winning the race by nearly three-lengths in the end. There is no denying this colt appears to be improving by leaps and bounds entering the Derby, however the elephant in the room is the dreaded #1 post position which Known Agenda drew on Tuesday morning, potentially compromising his chances at success.
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HOT ROD CHARLIE
Speaking of trainers who have two Kentucky Derby trophies to their credit, trainer Doug O’Neill saddles Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie in Saturday’s race, and he could be the colt to deliver his trainer his third victory in the Derby with a win. O’Neill won the Kentucky Derby in 2012 with I’ll Have Another and again in 2016 with Nyquist, so he is familiar with what it takes to get a horse primed and ready to run the race of their life on the first Saturday in May. Hot Rod Charlie announced his arrival as a horse to be reckoned with in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, finishing second behind Essential Quality at odds of 94-1. Following a strong comeback race to kickoff his 2021 campaign in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in late January, O’Neill chose to send the son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow to the Fair Grounds in New Orleans for a try in the Louisiana Derby. In the Louisiana Derby, Hot Rod Charlie went straight to the lead and never looked back, winning by a final margin of two-lengths when all was said and done. Not only did the Louisiana Derby come back as a fast race (Hot Rod Charlie earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure in victory), but the race came at a mile-and-three-sixteenths, which is the longest prep race of them all. While most of the three-year-olds in this year’s Kentucky Derby will be stretching out in distance from a mile-and-one-eighth to a mile-and-one-quarter, Hot Rod Charlie (as well as the others exiting the Louisiana Derby) will only be tasked with navigating an extra sixteenth-of-a-mile. With some fast races and a versatile running style to his name, look for Hot Rod Charlie to be in prime position as the field turns for home on Saturday afternoon.