LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With the rail still open and Kentucky Derby post positions dwindling, Brad Cox grew anxious about the most notable of his two horses drawing the least desired spot.
The home-grown trainer soon breathed easier. Essential Quality got something more palatable, though the hardest part awaits with the target firmly on his back.
Essential Quality is the 2-1 morning line favorite and will start from the No. 14 post for Saturday’s 147th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
“It got a little nerve-wracking with both horses still to go and the rail still being out there," Cox said Tuesday. "I think it’ll be a good spot. He’s got good tactical speed that he’ll be able to get into a good position from there.”
The $3 million, 1 1/4-mile marquee race for 3-year-old colts is back on the first Saturday of May after being delayed to Labor Day weekend last fall because of the pandemic. About 45,000 spectators are expected at the track.
Rock Your World is the 5-1 second choice from the No. 15 slot with Known Agenda the 6-1 third choice despite drawing the rail in the 20-horse field. Hot Rod Charlie drew 8-1 odds as the fourth choice from the No. 9 slot.
The obvious focus is on Essential Quality, the reigning 2-year-old champion who enters the Run for the Roses having won all five races and with Luis Saez aboard. His haul of graded stakes victories includes a gutsy Blue Grass victory at Keeneland on April 3 that vaulted the gray son of Tapit to the top of the Derby standings with 140 points and cemented him as the projected favorite.
He’s one of two entries trained by Cox, who grew up a few blocks from Churchill Downs and will make his Derby debut trying to become the first Louisville native to win the race. The Eclipse Award winner will also saddle Mandaloun from the No. 7 post as a 15-1 choice, with the bay colt looking to bounce back from a disappointing sixth in the Louisiana Derby.