The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) is here, back in its familiar spot on the first Saturday of May and there will be as many as 50,000 fans in attendance.
We all want to forget 2020, the pandemic wiping out most sports and delaying the Run for the Roses by four months and turning the Triple Crown upside down. The Belmont Stakes was the first jewel of the Triple Crown last year, the Preakness Stakes the last.
We are seeing fans in the stands at NHL and MLB games and the ladies came out in full force for Kentucky Oaks Day. Churchill Downs will likely only be at about 30% capacity on Saturday, but that still mean between 40,000 and 50,000 fans will be drinking Mint Juleps and wearing those awful seersucker suits.
A field of 20 was entered in this year’s Kentucky Derby, reduced to 19 with the scratch of King Fury, who came down with a fever on Friday.
Essential Quality is the 2-1 morning line favorite for the Brad Cox barn. Last year’s Eclipse Award winner for top trainer, he will be starting his first Derby contender.
The colt is perfect in five starts, winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last year and he won his two preps this year, taking the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park and the Toyota Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland.
The colt will be carrying the hopes of plenty of fans that purchased a mattress from Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale of Gallery Furniture. If the favorite wins the Kentucky Derby they get a full refund on their mattress purchase or a 150% store credit.
To hedge the bet, Mattress Mack has wired Churchill Downs $4 million and is going to wager on the favorite to win, and perhaps in other pools. There was $41 million bet into the win pool in 2019, so a $2 million win wager or more would certainly move the needle.
I estimate fair odds on the colt to be 3-1 to 4-1, and I am not sure we are going to see it if Mack pulls the trigger on a big wager.
Essential Quality Wins Toyota Blue Grass
The Derby is a wide open race and it would be no surprise to see Florida Derby (G1) winner Known Agenda, Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Hot Rod Charlie or Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Rock Your World pick up the Roses.
It would also be no surprise to see another longshot win this year’s Run for the Roses as not much separates the top half of the field.
There are six supporting stakes on an outstanding 14 race card that gets underway at 10:30am ET. The action from Churchill Downs will be broadcast from 12:30 to 2:30 ET on NBCSN and 2:30 to 7:30 ET on NBC.
The stakes action starts with the sixth race, the $500,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2). The race drew a field of seven fillies and mares that will go one mile on turf. The Mark Casse trained Got Stormy is the 8-5 morning line favorite. The mare won the Honey Fox (G3) at Gulfstream Park in her lone start this year.
The $500,000 Derby City Distaff (G1) drew six and all eyes will be on the Bob Baffert trained Gamine, the 1-5 morning line favorite. She has won six of seven career starts, her lone loss coming in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) last September. She was later disqualified from purse money for a drug positive.
Former Derby Favorite Goes in Pat Day
The $500,000 Pat Day Mile (G2) drew a competitive field of 12 including Jackie’s Warrior (3-1) who was the early betting favorite for the Kentucky Derby after reeling off wins last year in the Saratoga Special (G2), Hopeful (G1) and Champagne (G1). He was the beaten chalk in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and knocked off the Derby trail after a third in the Southwest (G3) in his last start.
A full field of 14 will go in the $500,000 American Turf (G2) at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for three-year-olds. The Bill Mott trained Annex is the 7-2 morning line favorite and is undefeated in three career starts.
The grizzled veteran Whitmore headlines the $500,000 Churchill Downs (G1). Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) champ has come up short in two starts this year, both times behind C Z Rocket.
The $1 million Old Forrester (G1) drew a field of nine led by the Todd Pletcher trained Colonel Liam (3-1), who won the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Muniz Memorial (G2) this year. Among his foes is the Chad Brown trained Domestic Spending (9-2), winner of the Hollywood Derby (G1) in his last start and Ride a Comet (5-1), the runner up in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1).
You can purchase my Belmont Park, Kentucky Derby Day and Best Plays Report by clicking here.
Let’s head out to Churchill Downs for the first of seven stakes on today’s card:
Churchill Downs Race 6 The Churchill Distaff Turf Mile G2 (1:14 ET)
6 Blowout 7-2
5 Got Stormy 8-5
4 Zofelle 2-1
3 New York Girl 8-1
This mare is one of two in here sent out by the Chad Brown barn. The mare makes her first start since last November where she was beaten just a tough nose in the Matriarc (G1) at Del Mar going a mile. This mare has run second in four starts in a row and has come out on the wrong ends of photos in her last three. Two back at Belmont Park she set the early fractions and got clear heading for home but got run down by Viadera, who got the best of her last out as well. The barn is 27% winners with runners coming back off a 61–180-day layoff. She owns solid early and mid pace numbers, and she may have found a spot where she can end her tough streak. She has landed in the exacta in 10 of her 11 career starts and has won two ungraded stakes. Among the top three here she seems likely to offer the best value for the top spot.
The Mark Casse trainee chased the early pace and finished gamely to win the Honey Fox (G3) last out at Gulfstream Park on the stretch out to a mile and off a 3 1/2-month break. She took on the boys two back in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) where she was fifth beaten two lengths. She ran well sprinting, but a mile is her best distance, a winner of 9 of 18 at the distance including the 2019 Matriarc (G1). She only won 2 of 8 last year but did take on the boys in four of her outings. She is giving no indication she is losing a step as a six-year-old and fits well in this spot as the likely short priced favorite.