The Kentucky Derby is one of the most eagerly anticipated racing events of the year across the globe and the 2021 edition of the contest promises to be a thriller between two outstanding competitors.
Trainer Bob Baffert is aiming to etch his place in the history of the Kentucky Derby by becoming the most successful trainer of all time. Baffert won the race last year with Authentic, moving into a tie alongside Ben A. Jones for the most wins in the event.
However, he can pull clear of the legendary trainer should his favored charge Concert Tour. It will not be a straightforward feat for Baffert and his team in 2021, and there are other contenders in the mix, including Essential Quality.
Baffert’s experience could come to the fore and proud history of training numerous winners, having won two out of the last three Derbies. He previously won back-to-back crowns in 1997 and 1998, and it would be fitting to mark his groundbreaking achievement with another stretch of successive triumphs.
We’ll now see whether Concert Tour has the ability to close out a win or whether Essential Quality will steal the show at the Churchill Downs.
Concert Tour has had a relatively short career as he enters preparation for the Kentucky Derby. Baffert’s charge has won all of his three races to date, two of which have come by comfortable margins. He made his bow at Santa Anita in January with Joel Rosario in the saddle where he was an evens favorite for the victory. Concert Tour did not disappoint in his debut with a strong performance to beat out his nearest rivals Mr Impossible by three-and-a-half lengths.
He returned three weeks later to San Anita for the San Vicente Stakes. The three-year-old was once more the leading contender in the eyes of the bookmakers entering he contest. On this occasion, Concert Tour was pressed down the stretch by his stable-mate Freedom Fighter. Concert Tour proved that he could fend off his rival to close out narrow victory by half-a-length.
The American thoroughbred proved his quality with an outstanding display in the Rebel Stakes. He was not favored for the victory, but sent out a statement ahead of the Kentucky Derby by dominating the rest of the field with a four-and-a-half length triumph. As a result of his imperious outing, Concert Tour has been installed in the odds on horse racing betting at William Hill as the favorite at +350 for the Kentucky Derby. The leading contender has not won the last two events, which could open the field to other competitors.
Essential Quality has a longer racing history than Concert Tour, making his bow towards the end of the 2020 campaign rather than the beginning of 2021. Brad Cox’s charge also has an appearance at the Churchill Downs under his belt that could stand him in good stead for the Derby. He made the first run of his career at the Churchill Downs in September 2020. Essential Quality was named the favorite in a Maiden Special Weight and delivered on expectations with a win by four lengths. He carried the form forwards towards Keeneland where he made another strong performance to triumph in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity.
Essential Quality had momentum to take into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at the end of the campaign. In his first major outing, the three-year-old was unstoppable with Luis Saez in the saddle. In a competitive race, the American thoroughbred timed his surge to perfection and sped down the stretch to finish three-quarters of a length ahead of his nearest rival Hot Rod Charlie. Essential Quality returned to action in February at Oakland Park and was on form once more to claim his fourth win in a row to take the Southwest Stakes by a comfortable margin. He and Cox are the biggest threat to Baffert’s hopes of taking a place in the history books at the Churchill Downs.
These two fine competitors are poised for a showdown at the Kentucky Derby, but the race has proven to be anything than predictable in recent times. None more so than Country House’s triumph as a 30-1 outsider in 2019. However, it would be a surprise if these two horses are not in the running for the win in the closing stages of the event.