Not sure who to root for in the 2021 Kentucky Derby (Saturday, May 1, 2:30-7:30 p.m. ET, NBC) but still looking for a reason to cheer? Here are some contenders to consider, for one reason or another:
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and Champion 2-Year-Old Male Essential Quality looks to stay undefeated as the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the 147th Kentucky Derby. An Essential Quality win would be the first Kentucky Derby victory for all of his well-known connections.
His trainer, Brad Cox, looks to become the first Louisville native to win the Derby. He is owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin, which has never fielded a Derby winner despite its illustrious list of prestigious wins from Europe to the Middle East to Australia.
Jockey Luis Saez is looking for redemption after his last Derby mount: 2019 contender Maximum Security who led wire-to-wire but became the first horse in Derby history to cross the finish line first and then be disqualified on the track.
This versatile runner is also a stunning dappled grey with black points if you want to pick a horse solely on looks or ability to easily find them in the 20-horse field.
The best name
The Thoroughbred industry is known for some wild names, and this year, Soup and Sandwich takes the cake. Owner Charlotte Weber, who races as Live Oak Plantation, is the granddaughter of condensed soup inventor and revolutionary former Campbell’s Soup CEO John T. Dorrance.
The 30-1 longshot comes from soon-to-be Hall of Famer Mark Casse’s barn and will have third-generation jockey Tyler Gaffalione in the irons.
The upset underdog
Bourbonic shocked the racing world with his massive 72-1 upset in the Wood Memorial on April 3 at Aqueduct and enters the Kentucky Derby at (30-1) odds. He’s a dramatic closer and has Triple Crown victors on both sides of his bloodlines in sire Bernardini (2006 Preakness) and dam sire (maternal grandfather) Afleet Alex (2005 Preakness and Belmont).
His jockey Kendrick Carmouche is set to become the first Black man to ride in the Derby since 2013 and has a chance at becoming the first Black jockey to win the race since 1902.
Bourbonic is owned by Calumet Farm, which was one of the most prominent titans of American horse racing throughout the 1900s. Calumet boasts eight Kentucky Derby winners (most by an owner), including two Triple Crown winners. But Forward Pass was Calumet’s last Derby winner in 1968, and the farm fell into disarray because of financial issues until being purchased by billionaire Brad Kelley in 2012.
The Baffert barn
Last year’s winning trainer and jockey team up again with Medina Spirit (15-1). Hall of Famer Bob Baffert looks to break his tie with Ben Jones for most Derby wins by a trainer.
In five starts, the Giant’s Causeway descendent has never finished worse than second, but that included a 4 1/4-length finish behind Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has the ride.
Midnight Bourbon’s jockey Mike Smith will ride in his 27th Kentucky Derby, breaking his tie with the legendary Bill Shoemaker for most Derby mounts of all time. If he were to win, he would also become the oldest jockey to win the race at 55 years old.
The 20-1 colt has never finished off the board in his seven career starts. He is trained by Steve Asmussen, who is looking for his first Derby win after 21 previous attempts. Asmussen also fields Super Stock (30-1).
Expect Midnight Bourbon to find the front of the pack early and hang tight.
Most Thoroughbred race horses are born and raised in the state of Kentucky, so New York-bred Brooklyn Strong is a rarity. Funny Cide (2003) is the only New York-bred horse in history to win the Derby.
Trained by Danny Velazquez and ridden by Umberto Rispoli, both Kentucky Derby newbies, Brooklyn Strong is a longshot at 50-1, but with over $200,000 in career earnings, he’s far surpassed his $5,000 auction price.
Watch the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Full coverage is also available on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.