2021 Kentucky Derby Predictions: Free Churchill Downs Picks
Kentucky Derby Day is upon us! Saturday is one of the biggest days of the year on the horse racing calendar, and for good reason. In addition to the Run for the Roses, the slate features a number of stakes races that have drawn world-class horses.
The Derby anchors an all-stakes Pick Four, one I’ll attack with a $24 ticket. Here’s how I’ll play it!
We’ll kick it off with the Grade 2 American Turf for 3-year-olds on the lawn. Despite a full field of 14, I think the morning line favorite will drift down in price, and I also think he’s legitimate.
#4 ANNEX is a perfect 3-for-3 and has shown an ability to rally from off the pace. While his most recent victory in the Cutler Bay resulted in his lowest Beyer Speed Figure, I think it was his most impressive race. He showed more tactical speed when sitting close behind a moderate pace and did enough to score the victory. I think he’ll get a faster pace to run at, and such a setup should make him tough to beat.
The only other horse I see fit to use is #2 WINFROMWITHIN, who hits me as the speed of the speed. They finally got him on turf two starts ago, and he hasn’t trailed another horse since. That includes an impressive score in the Columbia Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, and Luis Saez sees fit to ride back for trainer Todd Pletcher.
I’ll take a stand against the likely favorite in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs. While #4 FLAGSTAFF is the 3-1 morning line choice, #9 WHITMORE is a fan favorite and hits me as the probable choice. Still, weird things have happened when he goes seven furlongs, and he’s just 1-for-5 at Churchill Downs.
I’m four-deep, and my top pick is a big price. #13 LEXITONIAN doesn’t win often, but when the stars align for him, he’s capable of popping at a price. In this particular instance, he has a win at this route of ground and this track played very kindly to outside-drawn closers Friday. I think he’ll take a big step forward second off the bench, and that a repeat of some of his races from last season would make him very dangerous.
In addition to Flagstaff, I’ll also use #5 TAP IT TO WIN and #11 HOG CREEK HUSTLE. The former is a very talented horse that has struggled with consistency, but when he’s right, he’s got the potential to beat most one-turn horses. The latter, meanwhile, is another making his second start off the bench and fits the way this track played Friday. With that in mind, and with him likely to go off at a big price, I need him on my ticket.
Simply put, I think the morning line here is wrong. This is the Grade 1 Turf Classic, and it features arguably the top American turf horse in training at the moment. I’m using him, as well as a runner that may be an overlay given a recent layoff.
#3 COLONEL LIAM is 3-1 on the morning line, and I think that’s coming down. He’s won three in a row, including the Grade 1 Pegasus Turf Cup, and he most recently cruised home to prevail in a Grade 2 at odds of 3/5. I don’t think he’ll be odds-on, but 9/5 or 2-1 seems about right, and he’s my top pick.
The other horse I’ll use is last year’s winner of this race, #6 DIGITAL AGE. His record looks far better if you toss his clunker in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile, and he’s a perfect 2-for-2 over this turf course. Perhaps he needs a race, but 8-1 seems like way too big a price, especially given the powerhouse connections attached to him.
We’ll finish off the sequence with the main event of the program. The Grade 1 Kentucky Derby will unfortunately only go with 19 horses, not 20, due to the scratch of #16 KING FURY (who I liked a fair bit at a big price).
I’ll go three-deep, and I won’t be stepping out on a limb with my top pick. It’s hard to poke holes in the resume of #14 ESSENTIAL QUALITY, who’s 5-for-5, draws well, and has a running style that seems perfect for this 10-furlong trip. He won’t be a big price, but a win would be far from surprising.
The other two I’ll use break next to one another. I feel both #7 MANDALOUN and #8 MEDINA SPIRIT will improve off of their most recent outings. Mandaloun’s effort in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby was too bad to be true, while Medina Spirit got caught behind a loose-on-the-lead winner in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and should sit a far better trip. Both of these runners should be double-digit odds, and if Essential Quality can’t work out a trip, I’ll still have a few chances at a big score.
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