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Medina Spirit did indeed “move well” over Churchill Downs’ track, as his famous trainer Bob Baffert said he would at the beginning of the week, to win the Kentucky Derby with a time of 2:01.02. Mandaloun placed, and Hot Rod Charlie, very much among the first tier of favorites, showed. Medina Spirit went off at 12-1 and paid a handsome $26.20. Mandaloun, who admirably duked it out with Medina Spirit in the last eighth of a mile, and who briefly assumed the lead before losing it to Medina Spirit’s furious stretch run, paid a flat $23.00, and Hot Rod Charlie, long among the top favorites, paid $5.20 in show.

For his part, the race’s favorite, Essential Quality ran a decent-enough fourth, after having to recover from a bad bump at the break between him, and, predictably, the race’s ebullient second-favorite, Rock Your World. The lightly-raced Rock Your World didn’t even hit the board, but one has the sense that the collision he caused will be a lesson to him.

Medina Spirit brings Bob Baffert his seventh Kentucky Derby win, the most by a trainer in the race’s one hundred and forty-seven years. With seven Preakness Stakes victories, three Belmont Stakes, and two Triple Crowns to his credit, Hall of Fame trainer Baffert hardly needed any help in the record book, but the win cements his status as America’s greatest trainer, period.

There was a delightful quotient of admiring disbelief in the winner’s circle, even among Medina Spirit’s closest connections, and specifically between his beaming trainer and jockey, Baffert and John Velasquez. Baffert looked frankly surprised, as if his leap into the solitary position of the Kentucky Derby’s winningest trainer had yet to sink in.

“Johnny Velasquez said to me last night, don’t underestimate this horse,” Baffert said. “I knew he was an overachiever, with his heart bigger than his body. But he reminded me a little of Silver Charm, he just wasn’t gonna let anybody pass. For a $45,000-dollar horse, I am so proud of him. “

Perhaps Medina Spirit’s jockey, John Velasquez put it best: “This little horse was ready. You just put him in the game and let him do what he needs to do. Every time I asked him he gave me more. He was fighting.”

It was official before it was official, but the 2021 Kentucky Derby is, and has been for a while, up for grabs. Race day has a way of opening a race by pressing on it — meaning, to level it, whether for today’s favorite Essential Quality or for any other of the favored horses in the field. That means that they all come face-to-face with their vulnerabilities to their fellow competitors. In short, it’s a horse race and a hard one at a mile-and-a-quarter with twenty highly strung Thoroughbreds gunning it for the $3 million wating at the line.

That sort of weight can be helpful, as shown yesterday by the handle as the odds on Essential Quality came down — presumably as a result of Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale placing all or part of his threatened very large bet on Essential Quality’s nose in nebulous to-be-decided amount between $2 million and $4 million. His odds tanked down into Secretariat territory and then, by the closing of yesterday’s card, showed a measure of resilience in righting themselves and snuck back up to a somewhat realistic 6-5.

Again, the crux of this is that no one — no trainer, jockey or horse-whisperer — has been able to inform Rock Your World, Highly Motivated, Known Agenda or any other of Essential Quality’s lesser rivals of the roller-coaster that the two-legged beings seem to be riding with the favorite’s probabilities. A very good thing.

Before we bring in the Bluegrass Wise Man to help us hone what we think about who might take Essential Quality down, a primer on this Kentucky Derby’s especially entertaining odds, both live track and the morning line.

Suffice it to say that esteemed longtime Churchill oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s odds will be put under some stress today.

We will update the live odds below until post time.

Post Postion, Horse, Live Odds, (Morning Line)

1) Known Agenda, 16-1, (16-1)

2) Like the King, 57-1, (50-1)

3) Brooklyn Strong, 55-1, (50-1)

4) Keepmeinmind, 53-1, (50-1)

5) Sainthood, 43-1, (50-1)

6) O Besos, 45-1, (20-1)

7) Mandaloun, 40-1, (15-1)

8) Medina Spirit, 15-1, (15-1)

9) Hot Rod Charlie, 7-1, (8-1)

10) Midnight Bourbon, 15-1, (20-1)

11) Dynamic One, 45-1, (20-1)

12) Helium, 51-1, (50-1)

13) Hidden Stash, 39-1, (50-1)

14) Essential Quality, 6-5, (2-1)

15) Rock Your World, 9-2, (5-1)

16) King Fury, 20-1 (SCRATCH)

17) Highly Motivated, 16-1, (10-1)

18) Super Stock, 46-1, (30-1)

19) Soup And Sandwich, 30-1, (30-1)

20) Bourbonic, 33-1, (30-1)

(Source: Churchill Downs, 4/30/2021, 4:09 a.m.)

With no further ado, here’s the Bluegrass Wise Man.

Let’s bear down on Rock Your World. He’s the big boy. Do you look at him and think he’s the man, the way you did with Justify?

Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Don’t think so. Similar in that he’s big and he just wants to run, but I don’t see that extra thing in him that Justify had at this early point in the Triple Crown Season. With Rock Your World, it’s more about his lightly raced status — he didn’t even race as a two-yeare-old. And let’s not forget his very recent transition to dirt. I mean, the first time he ran on dirt, he won the Santa Anita Derby. Not too shabby, and, just thinking about his pedigree, he should be on dirt. They made a good decision. My question about him would be, does he just hafta be up front? In the Derby, it helps if you can take back and then bring a run. So let’s say he doesn’t get a good break and he has to find his spot in the traffic. Is that going to break his mind into a thousand pieces? We don’t know. He’s not confronted that because he just has not raced very much. Three races, all in the front. God only knows. That said, I really like him. Like his energy, looks good, runs fast. I’m gonna use him.


Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Take some of the top five — Rock Your World or Highly Motivated and Midnight Bourbon, and then take some from the second tier — I like Mandaloun — and then box the hell out of ’em with everybody in the field, for a fun trifecta, for instance. Like that. It’s always a boxing year at the Derby.

Do you think Mattress Mack will cause a “flight” from Essential Quality?

Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Jury’s out on that one, but bottom line, no, people who come to the Derby wanna play. It’s bigger than Mattress Mack. I think we saw some resilience yesterday in the pool. But I don’t know what Mattress Mack actually did yesterday, or what he will do today. I can say that race day traditionally a long, long roller-coaster ride until post time, so in that sense, I’m not sure Mattress Mack is accomplishing anything but hedging his bet down in Houston on all those $3000-dollar Posturepedics, or whatever he’s selling.

Move on Highly Motivated for us.

Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Not as fond of Highly Motivated right now as I am of Rock Your World, and don’t quite know why. I mean, he did lose to Essential Quality in the Blue Grass, but he only lost it in the last sixteenth, and he ran a hell of a race that day. I was there, and I liked him in that race. But I guess I have the same questions about him as I do about all of them, can they really take this? Hell, all of them are unproven in one way or another. Meaning, the distance, and especially this competition, this field. Sandwiched in between the also-rans on his outside and Rock Your World and Essential Quality, two stronger horses to his left, Highly Motivated will absolutely have to have a good break. And he’s got to keep it together up the backstretch and into the far turn even to have a prayer. Patience, in other words. I think this is what’s got the trainers worried about pace. Pace is complex. It has to be somewhat reasonable for ’em to have anything in the tank in the last eighth. If one of these front-runners comes out blazing, it stands a chance of burning some or most of ’em out.

As every year, but especially this year — with the insane amount of couch time logged across the country and the world on various lockdowns — the Oscar pools take the fore. Will the Academy again embrace the universally beloved Frances McDormand, or will they turn to current front runner Carey Mulligan, pictured above at last year’s nominee luncheon, or her close rival, Viola Day?

Arguably, we’ve had the shot at studying the nominees from the couch perhaps more than is actually good for us, but a fun side effect is that the home Oscar totes will burgeon, and that will sharpen at-home debates of the nominees. Nothing livens up the Oscar betting more than a year of government-enforced lockdowns. Would that it had not happened that way.

As ever, at any global athletic, political or cultural event — defined as anything from a smoking-hot Kentucky Derby to the name of Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s new baby — London’s gimlet-eyed bookmakers are there to help you slay your Oscar pool. Because: London bookies take absolutely no prisoners, which is to say, they bear no pro- or anti-Hollywood freight. It’s all about the money.

The British are judging American and international film from the outside, and they’ve had the benefit of their own British Academy of Film and Television Awards (the “Baftas”) earlier in the month. What we can call the “London Approach To Nuking Your Best Friends And Loved Ones In Your Oscars Pool” is a very helpful handicapping perspective, especially when it comes to something as seemingly obvious as Nomadland’s chances at best picture, (currently 1/4, or an implied probability of 80% of winning on the London tote), or as smart a sleeper as Judas and the Black Messiah’s chances at best cinematography (currently 22/1, or an implied probability of 4.3% in London), which could be a great buy, depending upon how we think the Academy is gonna flop.

Keep in mind: British bookmakers’ odds are, like odds everywhere, defensively priced. That means they reflect what the British bettors are doing with their money, plus a small extra cut in price that the bookies add to protect themselves at payout time. With that in mind, here, what selected London bookmakers are doing this weekend in the five major categories, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Cinematography.

(Nota bene: All nominees are listed here in order of ascending odds, or, put another way, in decreasing order of implied probability of winning, which means: the nominees are in descending order of British hivemind favorites. All odds in bold face below, from the credited bookmakers, are current as of 4/23 and will be updated on Sunday, 4/25.)

1) Best Actress: The amazing thing in this hard-fought, leading category is not that Carey Mulligan is at 11/8 at both William Hill and Paddy Power, or even that Viola Davis is hard on her heels at 7/4 and 15/8, respectively, at those same two touts. The amazing thing about this category is that, for all the noise around Nomadland and its buzzy, apt-to-the-zeitgeist gig-economy narrative, the brilliant Frances McDormand is the third-favorite, at a relatively high, lackluster 7/2 at those same two bookmakers. The fourth-favorite in the British hivemind is Andra Day, at 5/1 at Paddy Power, and 6/1 at William Hill. In that order, both Paddy Power and William Hill give Vanessa Kirby a flat 16/1, or a relatively low implied probability of 5.9% to win.

2) Best Actor: A salute to the many forever-noble performances, both on screen and off, by Chadwick Boseman. He currently leads the London tote by a wide margin, at a monumentally low 1/16 at William Hill, ranging to 1/14 at Betvictor and 1/7 at Betfair. To give you the flavor, that 1/16 implies a forbidding probability of 94.1%. Riding a distant second in London is the estimable Sir Anthony Hopkins, at 11/2 at Paddy Power and at 7/1 at William Hill; followed in third by Riz Ahmed, who’s at 20/1 at Paddy Power, and 14/1 at William Hill. What the bookies are telling us is that Gary Oldman’s star turn — laying fourth at 33/1 at Paddy Power — and Steven Yeun’s great performance as a recent immigrant to the promised land of Arkansas — bringing up the rear at 50/1 at Boyle Sports — are not likely to take home the statuette.

3) Best Director: In the British hivemind, this category is nothing if not about choice of narrative, and the Brits are sticking with the very fine Nomadland and its helmswoman, the very fine Chloe Zhao, ranging as low as 1/20 at William Hill. It’s a long way up in the odds from Ms. Zhao to the second-favorite, veteran David Fincher at 15/2 at Paddy Power and a flat 7/1 at William Hill. Rocking in third is Lee Isaac Chung, at 16/1 at William Hill, and in fourth is Emerald Fennell at 20/1 at Bet365. In fifth lies the estimable Thomas Vinterberg, at 40/1.

4) Best Cinematography: This is often the category whose awards honor those engaged in actually making the movies, which is a polite way of saying, the cinematographers can do a lot with the dispensation and operation of their enormous machines to cover for and/or enhance the Oscar chances of the directors and producers metaphorically standing over them, as well as those of the actors and actresses they capture on film. As we might think, the British money is on Nomadland’s talented Joshua James Richard, who leads the low odds at Betfair at 4/9, or with a probability of 69.2%. The Brits’ second favorite is Mank’s Eric Messerschmidt, who is clocking in at 1/1, or even money, at the very same book, Betfair. Down a ways in the third-favorite slot, News of the World’s Darius Wolski sits at 10/1, behind whom is Judas and the Black Messiah’s Sean Bobbit, at 22/1 at Bet365, followed by Phedon Papamichael, who shot the excellently dramatic Trial of the Chicago 7, at 28/1 at the same house. What the Brits are saying of the Academy is, hey, we know that gig economy, so your Sunday evening will be a Nomadland sweep.

5) Best Picture: Given the clear probabilities in the Cinematography and Director categories, this one seems a lock to the British hivemind. Nomadland leads the pack way down at 1/6 at William Hill, or at a probability of 85.7% to win. Not an absolute lock, but it’s better than a kick in the head. Best Picture is, also, a crowded category, but it’s not a huge surprise to see The Trial of the Chicago 7 hitting the second-favorite slot with odds of 6/1 being assigned by the William Hill oddsmakers. The British have provided us a rather large surprise in the third-favorite slot with Minari, at 14/1 at Bet365, with Promising Young Woman in fourth at 20/1 at Bet365, while Mank languishes as the fifth favorite, at 25/1 at William Hill. Laying unimpressively to the Brits in sixth place is Judas and the Black Messiah, pushed down in probability of winning by a couple of 40/1 sets of odds at Bet365 and VBet. In the unwished-for seventh- and eighth-favorite positions in the British hivemind are The Sound of Metal, at 50/1 at William Hill, and surprisingly, given the strength of his run for best actor, Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins’ The Father, at 66/1 at the same bookmaker.

In a word: Sir Anthony’s fate is paradigmatic of British thinking. When it comes to Best Picture in Los Angeles on Sunday night, there is zero loyalty to one of their honored knights from the British bookmakers, or from the British players.

Like we say, they take no prisoners in London. And that’s a wrap.