Jockey Luis Saez, who appeared to have won the 2019 Kentucky Derby before a disqualification for interference, will ride favorite Essential Quality in Saturday's 147th "Run for the Roses."
The 28-year-old Panamanian has ridden the gray colt to four of his five wins in as many races and hopes to erase the memory of having his triumph aboard Maximum Security thrown out by race stewards two years ago at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
"That's in the past," Saez said earlier this month. "We never stay down. We always look to come back and see if we can win the race."
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission ruled Saez at fault for his horse's bumping rivals down the stretch in the 2019 Derby and slapped him a 15-day ban.
Saez was issued bans for seven days in June 2019 and 10 days in August 2019, giving him more than 100 days of suspensions since 2013 according to a Louisville Courier-Journal review, but he has not had a violation since then.
"I'm pretty excited to be back," Saez said last week. "We're doing great but to win the Derby, that's like something very, very big... and I want to dedicate that race to Maximum Security."
Saez now has a second chance at a first Derby victory aboard the Brad Cox-trained 2-1 Derby favorite, having ridden Essential Quality to wins at the Blue Grass Stakes on April 3 and last November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"We have confidence in Luis," Cox said this week. "He's going to put (the horse) where he needs to be, where he's comfortable, and hopefully he can get in position, turn for home and be there at the wire."
Last year's Derby was delayed to September due to the Covid-19 pandemic that shuffled the order of US flat racing's Triple Crown series for three-year-old thoroughbreds.
This Derby returns to its usual date on the first Saturday in May, with limited spectators due to coronavirus safety measures, and launches the traditional treble that continues May 15 with the Preakness and concludes in June at the Belmont Stakes.
While Essential Quality is fancied by oddsmakers, he drew the No. 14 starting post, a spot that hasn't produced a Derby winner since Carry Back in 1961.
Rock Your World, second among bettors choices at 5-1 after winning the Santa Anita Derby, launches from gate 15 next door. Trainer John Sadler hopes for his first Derby winner with 2013 Derby winner Joel Rosario aboard.
Known Agenda, third choice at 6-1, could bring trainer Todd Pletcher his third Derby winner. The chestnut colt, sired by former Breeders' Cup Classic and Preakness winner Curlin, won the Florida Derby last month but will start on the rail.
"It looks like a fairly wide-open year," Pletcher said. "I don't see anybody I'm really afraid of, but on the other hand, I don't see anybody I'd leave out."
Pletcher, who has started a record 55 horses in the Derby, has three others in this year's field of 20 -- 20-1 Dynamic One, 30-1 Bourbonic and 50-1 Sainthood.
Bourbonic will be ridden by Kendrick Carmouche, the first Black jockey at the Derby since Kevin Krigger of the US Virgin Islands in 2013. He will be only the second US-born Black jockey in the race since 1931 after Marlon St. Julien in 2000.
- Fury at the Derby -
Britain's Tyson Fury, the reigning World Boxing Council heavyweight champion, will be at the race to see the horse named for him, 20-1 King Fury, who opens from gate 16.
"When you are naming stallions, you want to name them something strong and I thought it was ideal," trainer Kenny McPeek said.
Bob Baffert, level with Ben Jones for the most Derby wins by a trainer with six, would grab the mark all for himself with a victory by 15-1 Medina Spirit.
The dark bay colt opens from the eighth post and will be ridden by John Velazquez, a three-time Derby winner after guiding Authentic to victory last year.