The first Saturday in May means little to many, but for those who know a thing or two about roses, mint juleps and thoroughbred race horses, it may just as well be the happiest day of the year. Why, it's the Kentucky Derby.
Twenty horses and the greatest cavalry spectacle you will ever see? That's just part of the "greatest two minutes in sports."
Sure, there's 20 horses to choose from, but if you know a thing or two about the contenders you'll know that only 10 or so can win this race. Let's meet 'em.
Orb (far left) making a powerful move to eclipse Itsmyluckyday.
Orb exits the Florida Derby atop many lists as the horse to beat come May 4, and for good reason. After running several shorter races, 10 furlongs—or a 1 1/4 miles—is like asking Usain Bolt to run the 800. Naturally the Kentucky Derby becomes an exercise in speed rationing and Orb exhibited this beautifully in the Florida Derby (run at 1 1/8th miles).
Orb’s ability to sit in the top third of the field and cruise behind the pacesetters will allow his jockey to pick the perfect time to pull the trigger. When asked at the top of the lane, expect Orb to be flying with a herd in hot pursuit.
Verrazano, in many ways, is the player you bring up after the All-Star break in the hopes of making an historic run toward glory.
Verrazano has raced just four times—all victories—but, to borrow more from baseball, I like to see more plate appearances. The Kentucky Derby is the longest race many of these horses will ever run against the biggest field they will ever see. Naturally experience is key.
That said, he’s got a relaxed cruising speed and can be forwardly placed away from traffic. Part of winning the Derby is luck, and staying out of traffic helps stack the deck.
Something else to note: John Velazquez, a Hall of Fame jockey who won the Derby two years ago aboard Animal Kingdom, changed his prom date from Orb to Verrazano for the Derby.
Doug O’Neill, the trainer of Goldencents, won the Santa Anita Derby again, first winning the Santa Anita Derby in 2012 with I’ll Have Another. That horse only went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. But this is 2013 and boy can Goldencents run.
His winning time for the 1 1/8 miles of the Santa Anita Derby was 1:47.52. Verrazano ran his 1 1/8 miles in the Wood Memorial in 1:50.27—nearly three full seconds slower than Goldencents.
People might knock Goldencents as California race times are typically faster than those on the East Coast. But three full seconds faster? That speaks this colt’s ability. Already he has natural speed that may keep him out of traffic and allow him to dictate his own terms in the field of 20.
Maybe you’ve heard of him. His name is Calvin Borel, but you can call him Bo-Rail. No jockey is more fearless against the fence than Borel. He’s been known to skim the rail while taking the shortest path around the track. It’s worked over 5,000 times for Borel and, more importantly, it’s worked three times on the first Saturday in May.
Borel won the Derby in 2007 aboard Street Sense, in 2009 aboard Mine That Bird and in 2010 with Super Saver.
Revolutionary comes into the Derby off an impressive victory at the Louisiana Derby, with My Lute bearing down on him late. Again, much like Verrazano, his time for the 1 1/8 miles was a tepid 1:50.28. He got a wide trip in Louisiana, and with Borel aboard, he'll be assured the shortest possible path around Churchill Downs.
Overanalyze is the third horse on this list trained by Todd Pletcher (Verrazano, Revolutionary) and comes into the Kentucky Derby off a roaring victory in the Arkansas Derby. And by roaring, I mean purring.
It looked impressive as he drew away to win by daylight at Oaklawn Park, but looking at the stop watch inspires little confidence. That 1:51.94 for 1 1/8 miles is not a typo.
Rafael Bejarano, Overanalyze’s jockey, keeps the mount. Perhaps Overanalyze has a lot in the tank.
Trained by four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Will Take Charge won the Rebel Stakes way back on March 16 with true grit. By the time he reaches the gate in Kentucky he will have seven weeks to rest. Must have read The 4-Hour Work Week.
Looking at his Rebel win, Will Take Charge zigged and zagged a little down the lane, but when he pulled even with Oxbow, he refused to lose. There’s something to be said for horses of an “alpha” mindset. Given his rest and his guts, Will Take Charge demands respect.
Itsmyluckyday is in the foreground about to finish second to Orb (unpictured).
Itsmyluckyday took second in the Florida Derby below the highly touted Orb. Itsmyluckyday has prepped well in Florida, swiping the Holy Bull away from the Breeders’ Cup juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby. He then ran a spirited second to Orb in the Florida Derby.
Itsmyluckyday has tactical speed that puts him right up front sitting just off the pace. The question will become whether he’ll have enough in the tank to close out the final furlong.
Normandy Invasion is the one of the fashionably late horses in the field. He plans on loping behind the field and making the classic “one run” to the front. Derbys have been won like this, usually when the front-end speed is more hare and less tortoise.
Giacomo won the Derby in 2005 and Mine That Bird won it in 2009 from coming way off the pace. Timing is key with a closer and that will be up to his jockey to step on the gas not a second too early and not a second too late.
This horse will undoubtedly be underbet after his flat effort in the Arkansas Derby. He had excuses in that race, namely being too far wide and too far off the pace.
Oxbow showed his guts while finishing second to stablemate Will Take Charge in the Rebel Stakes. That sort of thing doesn’t just go away.
Oxbow worked five furlongs at Churchill Downs in 1:01, a nice drill heading into the Derby. More questions than answers with Oxbow, but he’ll be over 20-1 on the board, which is always nice.
Java's War (far left) went from last to first in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Java’s War won the Blue Grass Stakes coming from last to first. He’s a terrible gate horse, but being a late runner means the field gets a jump on him and he can angle in and save ground. But here’s the rub: He won the Blue Grass on Polytrack.
Polytrack ain’t dirt; it's a synthetic surface whose form holds truer for grass runners than dirt runners. So he’s a great play for the Derby, but maybe not the Kentucky Derby—but rather the Virginia Derby on grass later in the year at Colonial Downs.