Kentucky Derby Picks: Hot Rod Charlie, Medina Spirit on top

Trainer Doug O'Neill could have another Derby winner on his hands with Hot Rod Charlie
Trainer Doug O'Neill could have another Derby winner on his hands with Hot Rod Charlie

It is time for the big one. The Kentucky Derby - or the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve to give it the full sponsored title. The biggest race of the year in the US.

Our in-house handicapper is here with his full preview of the race. Our Race Card is at the bottom of the page where you can bet on the race with any of our betting partners and get all the Morning Line Odds.

The team here have all made selections for the full card at Churchill Downs. You can see them below and for Free Horse Racing Picks from all tracks across the United States then please click on the Gold Button below.

Ok time to pass it over to Sean - our in-house handicapper - for his full preview of the 147th Kentucky Derby...

Free Horse Racing Picks

The 147th running of the G1 Kentucky Derby doesn’t feature a particularly strong group of 3-year-olds (thanks in large part to the defection of Life Is Good) but it does make for an interesting betting race, primarily because I’m not overly keen on the heavy favorite Essential Quality (#14), which is where any discussion of this race must begin. Let me start by saying I don’t hate this horse at all; my distaste for him is largely a matter of price. There’s no doubt that Essential Quality is near the very top of this division and a legitimate contender in this race, however he’s done little to separate himself from his peers this year even though he continues to sport an outsized reputation for being last year’s 2-year-old champ and a perfect 5-for-5 in his career. He’s yet to face any true adversity, which is partially a testament to his adaptable running style, but it’s also reason to be skeptical of him as he’s going to be a very short price in this spot — undoubtedly the toughest test of his life. I have no illusions about his actual chances of winning, which aren’t insignificant, but I can’t in good conscience play him in the vicinity of 2-1.

Just to Essential Quality’s outside we find a short-priced entrant I have even less interest in. Rock Your World (#15) burst onto the Derby scene with an authoritative win in the G1 Santa Derby last out (his first and only dirt start), but I have a hard time seeing him replicating that effort here. As a speed figure acolyte it may seem somewhat hypocritical of me to play against this horse as he does own the highest last-out Beyer in this race by a fair margin, however he may have taken advantage of a strong rail in the Santa Anita Derby and I have zero faith that a runner this inexperienced is going to be able to repeat such a performance as he ships cross-country for a trainer that struggles outside the state of California. He feels like a total paper tiger to me, and if just one thing goes wrong I suspect he’ll fold.

So now that we’ve discussed a couple horses I don’t like, let’s examine the two that I’m most interested in. I’ve long been a fan of Medina Spirit (#8), and for the life of me I can’t understand why so many people are still sleeping on this horse, who has quietly compiled one of the strongest resumes in the field. Yes, he was soundly beaten by Rock Your World in the G1 Santa Anita Derby, but as stated previously it felt like the inside might have been the place to be that day at Santa Anita and Medina Spirit was wide throughout while chasing a rapid pace. At this point it’s safe to say he’s no superstar, but he just keeps plugging along with quality effort after quality effort, with the kind of tactical speed and grinding style that play very well in this race. I think he’s a strong contender in this renewal of the Derby, and it’s not often you get a Bob Baffert horse at double-digit odds.

I like Medina Spirit quite a bit, but he’s been eclipsed in my heart by Hot Rod Charlie (#9), who in my mind has been the biggest winner in recent weeks as others have sputtered around him, either taking a step back or just failing to progress. I’ve always had an affinity for Hot Rod Charlie. Even at the beginning of the year I had him ranked above the horse who beat him in the 2020 G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, none other than Essential Quality, and I’m happy to keep it that way following his convincing victory in the G2 Louisiana Derby. He did get a very good trip in the Louisiana Derby, however he again proved he can be effective shipping and also seemed to relish the added ground of that race, which bodes well for this 1 ¼-mile test. I think he has the versatility to work out a very good trip from this post and he’s already proven capable of overcoming some adversity; as such, he’s my top pick.

Hot Rod Charlie and Medina Spirit are the two I’ll be focusing on in the win pool, but this is the Derby, so let’s talk about a few underneath possibilities. My favorite such runner is Mandaloun (#7), Essential Quality’s stablemate and one of the major buzz horses in the lead-up to the ‘Run for the Roses.’ Ordinarily I avoid these types, but Mandaloun is one I can somewhat get behind, or at least see the logic of. He was running some fast races at Fair Grounds over the winter before he inexplicably threw in a clunker in the G2 Louisiana Derby. That wasn’t exactly a good time for him to go off script, and he has no excuse for that dismal effort, however by all accounts he’s doing very well at Churchill and feels like one that will rebound. The speed figures he was earning prior to his Louisiana Derby debacle absolutely put him in the mix, and he’s already had some success over this track.

I don’t really think he’s a viable win threat, but O Besos (#6) is exactly the type of horse that could hit the board in a wide-open and relatively weak edition of this race. He’s made steady strides throughout his career for trainer Greg Foley, and his latest outing was his best yet — a third-place finish in the G2 Louisiana Derby that earned him a competitive 96 Beyer Speed Figure. O Besos’ late-running style relies on getting some pace to run at and avoiding whatever mayhem unfolds in front of him, but if things break his way I could see him closing late to get a piece of this, maybe even a significant portion at that.


*You can bet on the Kentucky Derby with any of our betting partners via the Race Card below...

Churchill Downs Picks, Entries and Results

Kentucky Derby 2021 Racecard

PP 14

Essential Quality

  • Age: 3 /
  • Jockey: Luis Saez /
  • Trainer: Brad Cox /
Morning Line Odds

Brad Cox finally has a Derby horse (two actually) but he rolls into Churchill Downs with the favorite. Undefeated and oozes class. 2-1 is short for me but our turf-man has him as his selection.

PP 15

Rock Your World

  • Age: 3 /
  • Jockey: Joel Rosario /
  • Trainer: John Sadler /
Morning Line Odds

A very very impressive winner of the Santa Anita Derby. Installed as the 5-1 second-favorite. Has only run once on dirt and blew away a good field. Not entirely sure if he's the real deal but I know he's got a real chance.

PP 1

Known Agenda

  • Age: 3 /
  • Jockey: Irad Ortiz /
  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher /
Morning Line Odds

Tricky inside Post Position. Arguably the most effected by the PP draw. 6-1 on the Morning Line should drift. Not heavily fancied by the team

PP 9

Hot Rod Charlie

  • Age: 3 /
  • Jockey: Flavien Prat /
  • Trainer: Doug O'Neill /
Morning Line Odds

A California invader who impressively took out the Louisiana Derby. He may well provide the early speed. Win contender.

PP 17

Highly Motivated

  • Age: 3 /
  • Jockey: Javier Castellano /
  • Trainer: Chad Brown /
Morning Line Odds

Plenty of buzz surrounding this Into Mischief colt. Went stride for stride with Essential Quality at the Blue Grass. He will be our editor's pick.

PP 7


  • Age: 3 /
  • Jockey: Florent Geroux /
  • Trainer: Brad Cox /
Morning Line Odds

If you are looking at a value play from the middle of the odds then Mandaloun may well be it. That clunker at the Louisiana Derby has people worried but if was just one of those days - 15-1 could be long.

PP 8

Medna Spirit

  • Age: 3 /
  • Jockey: John Velazquez /
  • Trainer: Bob Baffert /
Morning Line Odds

Bob Baffert's only Derby horse. Was at #1 with our in-house handicapper for the final few weeks of the Prep season. Our editor likes him too. Real game horse who won't let anybody down. 15-1 screams value.

PP 11

Dynamic One

  • Age: 3 /
  • Jockey: Jose Ortiz /
  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher /
Morning Line Odds

If Dynamic One is in the mix for the Derby then it'll be quite the surprise. Runner-up to stablemate Bourbonic in the Wood Memorial. Real long-shot.

PP 16

King Fury

  • Age: 3 /
  • Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr. /
  • Trainer: Kenny McPeek /
Morning Line Odds

Kenny McPeek is a darn good trainer. This horse is getting better with every race. Can he get in and among the front-runners coming down the stretch? I'm dubious but you can't just rule him out.

PP 10

Midnight Bourbon

  • Age: 3 /
  • Jockey: Mike Smith /
  • Trainer: Steve Asmussen /
Morning Line Odds

Plenty of tactical speed for a nice horse who seems a step below the top contenders. Could win if everything - and I mean everything - falls his way. Most likely to be in the mix for the exotics if anything however.

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