Turf Writers Ehalt and Pedulla Present 2021 Kentucky Derby Picks

Essential Quality prepares for a morning gallop on April 29 at Churchill Downs, two days ahead of his planned start in the Kentucky Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Bob Ehalt and Tom Pedulla became fast friends when they met on their first day at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1970. Bob soon introduced Tom to the joys of Thoroughbred racing.

They have endured some rough moments at the track, with Tom taking exception when Bob repeatedly smacks him on the back with a program as one of their horses launches an all-out drive. Much to Tom’s chagrin and the amusement of onlookers, Bob has been known to call for security as he proceeds to cash a $27 triple.

They have owned a number of horses together and were part of the group that owned 1998 Whitney Handicap runner-up Tale of the Cat. They are often seen carrying on as if they never left their teenage years.

Here is their take on the 147thKentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve:

PEDULLA: Bob, it is starting to feel like 2017 for me. Always Dreaming put on a show in the Florida Derby and turned that into the second of two Kentucky Derby triumphs for Todd Pletcher. Now, Known Agenda comes off a rousing Florida Derby for Pletcher and St. Elias Stable. St. Elias also was a partner in Always Dreaming. Known Agenda, by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, is bred for Derby success. He is not the colt that faltered in fifth in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. He has twice devoured his competition since the addition of blinkers, and I loved how powerfully he finished the job in the Florida Derby. I wish he had not drawn the rail – but that is what elite riders such as Irad OrtizJr. are for.

EHALT: Well, Thomas, I can see some merits to your pick, but I’m still wary of the rail, even with the new starting gate. As for my pick, being a 2-year-old champion is no guarantee of success in the Kentucky Derby, but when a juvenile champ is still the division leader on the first Saturday in May, you’re talking about a special horse. Essential Quality, with a perfect 5-for-5 record, surely fits that bill. This seems like a highly contentious field with one exception, and that’s Essential Quality who is the standout and the horse to beat.

PEDULLA: You know that history weighs heavily with me, Bob. I look at the fact that Street Sense and Nyquist are the only two Juvenile winners to take the Derby and I do not think Essential Quality is about to become the third. He was all out to remain undefeated in the Blue Grass Stakes. He has never been challenged the way he will be in the Derby, where he will have a target on his back. Second best.

EHALT: You’re going to think we’re at one of our favorite restaurants, but I’m taking Soup and Sandwich for second. Yeah, it’s a reach, but I could list a dozen candidates to finish second. I thought he turned in a strong effort when second to Known Agenda in the Florida Derby. He wouldn’t change leads that day, so he could take a step forward here and if he does, that might be enough to land him a spot in the exotics. At 30-1 and possibly more, it’s worth the risk. Oh, and for me, it’s New England clam chowder and seafood salad on rye bread.

Bob Baffert and John Velaqzuez watch morning workouts at Churchill. (Eclipse Sportswire)

PEDULLA: Any horse that Bob Baffert sends into the Derby merits consideration. It is hardly a stretch to view Medina Spirit as a factor. He has never been worse than second in five starts. Yes, he was no match for Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby, but Rock Your World had everything his way in that race. That ain’t happening again. Baffert has sent better horses into the Run for the Roses, but few that possess a greater fighting spirit than Medina Spirit. For me, that goes a long way in a congested 20-horse race fraught with challenges.

EHALT: I believe this is going to be an unforgettable day for trainer Brad Cox. Not only will he win the Kentucky Derby in his first try, but the Louisville native will also finish third with Mandaloun. I’m more than willing to forgive a bad day in the Louisiana Derby and if Mandaloun  reverts to his previous form, he can definitely be in the picture at the end.

PEDULLA: Hot Rod Charlie's ownership, which includes five former football players at Brown, reminds me of us when we enjoyed that wonderful ride with Tale of the Cat. Every workout was thrilling; the start of every race had us all but shaking with nervous anticipation. When they let out a tremendous cheer at the draw for post positions, I could relate. Do they have a shot? They do. Chuck, as they call him, has shown he is tactical. The son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow showed in winning the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby in track-record time while on the front end that he can handle the distance. He’s got a two-time Derby winner in trainer Doug O’Neill and the kids named Boat Racing after a beer-drinking game at their frat house. I will do my best to not loudly root for them in the relative quiet of the pressroom.

EHALT: I’ll admit I’m leaving out some pretty good horses from my top four that could come back to haunt me, but I can’t press the “all” button here in this column. I’m using Highly Motivated to close out my superfecta. Trainer Chad Brown loves the progress he’s seen in this 3-year-old and this colt gave Essential Quality a heckuva battle in the Blue Grass Stakes. My lone concern is that the Blue Grass might have fatigued him, but I’m hoping it will move him forward and have him in great shape for his rematch with the division champ. Then again, there was once a time when I was wrong – but only once! I think.

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