Kentucky Derby List of Top Contenders Taking Shape

By Noel Michaels

Another round of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager [KDFW] is complete and with 10 weeks to go until the first Saturday in May we have an even clearer picture as to where we currently stand on the road to the Triple Crown.

The favorite in the KDFW — as it always is at this stage of the game – is betting interest No. 24: “the field of all others,” meaning that most people continue to think we still have not seen the eventual Kentucky Derby (G1) winner make his mark through the middle part of February.

In a way, this gravitation to some unknown horse makes sense since the secondary round of Derby prep races only just began last weekend with the Risen Star (G2) at the Fair Grounds – the first to offer 50-20-10-5 Derby points to the top four finishers. Nevertheless, betting on “all others” this year seems to be a bit of a cop out in a season where we have seen several good-looking 3-year-olds arise in all parts of the country.

There is, in fact, a good chance that we have already seen the 2021 Derby winner somewhere, and there’s also a good chance that he is one of the following top contenders:

Baffert, of course, has top prospects for Derby

The individual horse favored in the latest Kentucky Derby is the Bob Baffert-trained winner of Santa Anita’s Sham Stakes (G3) with a 101 Beyer speed figure, LIFE IS GOOD, who was 7-1 in the KDFW and is listed at 12-1 on the extensive list of Kentucky Derby future odds.

With Baffert’s penchant for winning Triple Crown races, who could blame someone for jumping on the bandwagon? There are also at least three other Baffert trainees currently worth mentioning, including San Vicente winner CONCERT TOUR (12-1 at, Robert Lewis Stakes (G3) winner MEDINA SPIRIT (16-1), and FREEDOM FIGHTER, who was second behind his stablemate in the San Vicente last time out. Life is Good is heading to the San Felipe (G2) on March 6 for his next start, while Concert Tour likely will go to Oaklawn’s Rebel (G2) on March 13. The next races for the other two remain undecided as Baffert awaits the fate of races such as the Sunland Park Derby (G3).

Baffert isn’t the only game in town. So many other 3-year-olds have been impressive this year in what is shaping up to be a very strong sophomore crop in 2021.

Essential Quality among several Brad Cox Derby contenders

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner ESSENTIAL QUALITY is set to make his 3-year-old debut at some point in the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn. The Brad Cox-trainee is also listed as a 12-1 co-favorite at There’s nothing to indicate he won’t be a major player this spring based on anything he showed as a 2-year-old. Also heading to the Southwest for a rematch will be BC Juvenile runner-up KEEPMEINMIND for trainer Robertino Diodoro, who is currently 16-1 in’s Derby future odds and will only get better as the distances get longer.

It’s also worth mentioning that the BC Juvenile’s third-place finisher, HOT ROD CHARLIE [20-1 at], already made his 3-year-old debut for two-time Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill with a solid third in the Robert Lewis and is headed to the Louisiana Derby (G2) for his next start, where he should prove tough to beat.

Joining Hot Rod Charlie in the Louisiana Derby will be several out of the Risen Star, including winner MANDALOUN (20-1), trained by Brad Cox. Speaking of Cox, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer, he’s got yet another talented 3-year-old on his hands at Oaklawn with his 10-length Smarty Jones Stakes winner CADDO RIVER, who will stay at Oaklawn and is headed next to the Rebel.

Don’t forget about Chad Brown

Not to be left out, trainer Chad Brown also has a major player on the road to the Derby in RISK TAKING, who blew away Aqueduct’s Withers (G3) in his last start, which is notable because the Withers is one of the earlier major preps at 1 1/8 miles. Risk Taking will run all day and is likely headed to the Wood Memorial (G2) for his next start.

Florida’s Derby contenders

Finally, there is the all-important Florida route to the Triple Crown, which has yet to come into focus. This will change dramatically with Gulfstream’s running of the Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 27, plus the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 6. Three horses worth watching are impressive maiden winner PREVALANCE trained by Brendan Walsh [16-1 at], the Todd Pletcher-trained winner of the Mucho Macho Man Stakes MUTASAABEQ, and Shug McGaughey’s Holy Bull Stakes (G3) winner GREATEST HONOUR (16-1).