Kentucky Derby: Essential Quality Hopes to Make History for Local Trainer

Posted on: May 1, 2021, 08:07h. 

Last updated on: May 1, 2021, 04:46h.

It’s one of the most unbelievable stats in all of sports. In the previous 146 runnings of the Kentucky Derby, a Louisville-native trainer has never won the race. Brad Cox is hoping to change that.

Kentucky Derby Essential Quality
Essential Quality gets an early morning workout at Churchill Downs on April 20. On Saturday, he’ll likely be the favorite in the 147th Kentucky Derby. (Image: Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)

Cox will have two entries in Saturday’s Grade 1 Derby, including the likely favorite, undefeated 2-year-old champion Essential Quality. He’s won several Breeders’ Cup races in his career, but never a Triple Crown race. In fact, Essential Quality and Mandaloun are his first Derby horses.

“I’m not too nervous yet, just getting excited,” said Cox, who grew up just blocks away from historic Churchill Downs. “This week is a lot of fun, and I’m really excited to be a part of it in this role.”

Expect that to change as it draws closer to the 6:57 pm ET post time.

Essential Quality isn’t the only undefeated horse in the field of 19, but he’s the most accomplished. He won two Grade 1 races last year, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This year, he won 2 Derby prep races, the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes in the mud at Oaklawn Park and the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

The Blue Grass is one of seven Derby prep races where the winner gets 100 points toward qualifying for the Run for the Roses. The Tapit-sired colt is the only betting favorite to win one of those races.

Luis Saez will ride Essential Quality, who will break from the 14th gate Saturday evening.

“I think it’ll be a good spot,” Cox said. “He’s got good tactical speed that he’ll be able to get into a good position from there.”

Three Likely to Challenge Essential Quality

Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia made Essential Quality the 2-1 morning-line favorite. But his odds will likely drop once Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale bets his millions on him. He already put in $500,000 of his planned bet on Friday.

The large field means pretty much anything can happen. But the top rival to Essential Quality is likely in the gate next to his. John Sadler trains Rock Your World, another undefeated colt coming off an impressive win in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. It was only his third race, and his first on dirt.

However, Sadler also chose to switch jockeys, going with Joel Rosario over Umberto Rispoli.

Make no mistake, Umberto Rispoli is a terrific rider,” said Sadler, who also seeks his first Derby win. “He’s won Santa Anita’s stakes the last two weekends for me, and we’ve won a lot of races together. But the analytics with Joel are so strong, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I’m hoping, of course, it all works out.”

Rock Your World breaks 15th and has morning-line odds of 5-1.

Another top contender is Known Agenda, who has 6-1 morning-line odds. However, the Todd Pletcher-trained Grade 1 Florida Derby winner drew the inside gate. That means he’ll need a strong start to avoid getting crowded at the rail by his 18 competitors.

“Obviously it’s not what we were hoping for,” Pletcher said. “But, of course, this is one of the things you can’t control. With the new (20-stall) gate, we’re hopeful that things will be better than they were in the past and the post won’t be that bad.”

Irad Ortiz gets the mount.

Breaking from the ninth post is Hot Rod Charlie. He has just two career wins in seven starts, but won the Louisiana Derby back in March. Flavien Prat will ride the Doug O’Neill-trained colt, whose morning-line odds are 8-1.

Value in Next Tier of Derby Horses

The next tier of horses are ones who may be able to pull off an upset win in the Derby, and should be considered for exotic wagers as well.

Highly Motivated led the entire way during the Blue Grass, until Essential Quality caught him in the final strides. Trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Javier Castellano, he’ll break from the 16th post after King Fury was scratched and has morning-line odds of 10-1.

Mandaloun, Cox’s other entry, comes off a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby. But he has three wins, including a graded stakes win, in his five career starts. Ridden by Florent Geroux, Mandaloun’s morning-line odds are 15-1.

Lastly, you can never count out Bob Baffert in the Kentucky Derby, especially since he’s won the race six times. He’ll go for his record seventh with Medina Spirit, who placed second to Rock Your World in the Santa Anita and has been in the money in all five starts.

John Velazquez gets the call on Medina Spirit, who will break from the eighth post and has 15-1 morning-line odds.

The full field can be found here.