2021 Kentucky Derby: Brisnet Speed Rating Report

April 25th, 2021

The Kentucky Derby is the most analyzed race in North America, and a full field of 20 is projected for this year.

Brisnet Speed ratings serve as a useful handicapping tool for the big event. Let’s preview the last three numbers for this year’s contenders.

Horses ranked by last-out Speed rating

Essential Quality: 102 98 101
Highly Motivated: 102 102 102
Rock Your World: 102 91 92
Known Agenda: 101 94 82
Medina Spirit: 98 93 94
Soup and Sandwich: 98 90 98
Super Stock: 97 87 92
Hot Rod Charlie: 96 93 100
Caddo River: 95 87 96
Dream Shake: 95 91 90
King Fury: 95 86 88
Like the King: 94 88 91
Bourbonic: 94 89 83
Midnight Bourbon: 94 98 95
Dynamic One: 94 85 88
O Besos: 94 91 88
Get Her Number: 94 85 80
Helium: 93 86 84
Sainthood: 93 88 91
Hidden Stash: 91 93 85
Starrininmydreams: 90 85 69
Keepmeinmind: 84 86 92
Mandaloun: 83 100 94
Hozier: 75 80 88


Essential Quality will be a solid favorite, and while his Brisnet Speed ratings aren’t overwhelming, they are among the best in the 2021 Kentucky Derby field.

By Tapit, Essential Quality needed to dig deep to remain unbeaten in the Blue Grass (G2), grinding out a neck decision. He’s lacked the brilliance of some recent Kentucky Derby-winning favorites (American Pharoah, California Chrome, Justify, and Nyquist), but Essential Quality only has to beat the competition at Churchill Downs on May 1.

His class and tenacity are an edge, and trainer Brad Cox appears to have the gray colt poised for a top performance.

Highly Motivated has consistently produced top figures, registering a 102 in his last three starts, but a pair of those came at one turn. The 1 1/4-mile distance represents a hurdle, but one must dismiss the talented three-year-old at their own risk.

He gained valuable two-turn experience finishing a close second in the Blue Grass, and Highly Motivated may secure a favorable trip up close to the pace at Churchill. If he handles the distance for Chad Brown, who finished second with his last Kentucky Derby starter (Good Magic in 2018), Highly Motivated’s Speed ratings put him in the mix of serious contenders.

Along with Essential Quality and Highly Motivated, Rock Your World is tied for the top last-out number. He did have everything his own way when trying the main track in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), switching leads back and forth in the stretch while unopposed, and circumstances will be different in the first leg of the Triple Crown.

The lightly-raced colt remains a candidate to keep progressing for John Sadler. Rock Your World has won all three starts by convincing margins, including the first two outings on turf, and the Candy Ride colt appears built for longer distances.

Known Agenda didn’t run straight through the stretch winning the Florida Derby (G1) by open lengths, but the race came back fast (101 Speed rating). Since adding blinkers two starts back, he’s romped twice for Todd Pletcher.

His ability to race closer to the pace has been key. Known Agenda wasn’t a serious factor when racing well off the pace in his first two stakes attempts, and that makes it easy to identify the biggest question facing him in the Kentucky Derby. How far back will Known Agenda be in the opening stages?

Two other contestants, Hot Rod Charlie and Mandaloun, have registered triple-digit Speed ratings.

Hot Rod Charlie received a 100 when missing by three-quarters of a length to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, finishing second at 94-1. By 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow, the dark bay added blinkers four starts back, and Hot Rod Charlie has displayed improved positional speed this year.

After returning with a neck third in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita, racing up close from the start, Hot Rod Charlie shipped cross-country trip to lead wire-to-wire in the TwinSpires Louisiana Derby (G2), comfortably stretching out to 1 3/16 miles and posting a two-length decision.

He’s trained by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill.

Mandaloun looked like a major player when capturing the Risen Star (G2) in his second stakes attempt, registering a 100 Speed number, but he must rebound after a dull sixth in the Louisiana Derby. The Cox-trained colt does appear to be training forwardly in preparation, and jockey Florent Geroux will stick with Mandaloun over Caddo River.

Brisnet Speed ratings for last 10 Kentucky Derby winners

Authentic: 107 105 97
Country House: 92 95 93
Justify: 114 104 100
Always Dreaming: 102 84 89
Nyquist: 97 103 98
American Pharoah: 102 99 99
California Chrome: 106 102 94
Orb: 97 102 89
I’ll Have Another: 98 102 58
Animal Kingdom: 97 96 93


In the final three prep races, eight of the last 10 Kentucky Derby winners had registered a triple-digit Brisnet Speed rating at least once.

One exception, Country House, wound up nearly two lengths behind Maximum Security on the finish line, but the latter was disqualified for interfering with another rival. Maximum Security had earned a pair of triple-digit numbers, including a 102 for winning the Florida Derby (G1).

Animal Kingdom also failed to reach the triple-digit threshold, but he had raced exclusively on turf and synthetic tracks before trying dirt in the Kentucky Derby. He posted a sharp six-furlong work at Churchill Downs before logging a 20-1 upset on Derby Day.


Triple-digit Brisnet Speed ratings have been a common trait for Kentucky Derby winners, and six horses in the 2021 field – Essential Quality, Highly Motivated, Hot Rod Charlie, Known Agenda, Mandaloun, and Rock Your World – meet the standard.

It’s been a predictor of success, but other factors will play a role, as well, in determining the winner.

Good luck handicapping the 2021 Kentucky Derby!