The 19-horse field for this Saturday's Kentucky Derby promises to deliver one memorable race. The favorites stand out, but the anyone from the rest of the field can come on top and win the Run for the Roses.
Handicapping a race before you make your bets is not an easy task. You have to look at past performances, track bias, pedigrees, trainers and jockeys among a slew of things to consider.
The Kentucky Derby, due to being a historically high-profile race, is even tougher to assess.
The race brings up also a lot of star power within the trainers and jockeys. Even though three-time winner Bob Baffert is not represented this year, many of the top trainers are.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is loaded with five contenders: Verrazano (Won-Wood Memorial), Revolutionary (Won-Louisiana Derby), Overanalyze (Won-Arkansas Derby), Palace Malice and Charming Kitten. He didn't have more because the timing for some of the others was just not there.
Hall of Fame trainers Shug McGaughey (Orb) and D.Wayne Lukas (Will Take Charge, Oxbow) are back on the Derby scene with quality horses. Their horses have to be considered when you are making any of your bets.
Money riders like John Velazquez (Verrazano), Garrett Gomez (Vyjack), Mike Smith (Palace Malice) and Gary Stevens (Oxbow) are always a threat. They also have to be considered when making your bets.
But also some of the leading riders in the nation are present: Joel Rosario (Orb), Javier Castellano (Normandy Invasion), Rafael Bejarano (Overanalyze), Rosie Napravnik (Mylute) and Julien Leparoux (Java's War.)
As you see, it's not easy handicapping the Kentucky Derby. Here is a quick look at all the Derby participants and their morning line odds according to Mike Watchmaker of drf.com.
The likely favorite is undefeated in four lifetime starts—all this year—and will be trying to become the first horse in 131 years to without racing as a two year old.
Many fans question that he didn't win drawing clear in the Wood Memorial and that the time was too slow. But slow fractions, bring up slow final times. He has kept his form and has been sharp on his workouts.
His regular jockey, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, will be aboard for the Derby. He is the horse to beat.
The winner of the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby brings Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey back to the Kentucky Derby as one of the likely favorites.
He has won four consecutive races, defeating Violence, Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby along the way. His workouts since have been stellar, not as much by the times, but because of how easy he has done them.
Joel Rosario, the nation's hottest jockey, will be aboard for the Derby.
Trainer Doug O'Neill is back for another Derby and has followed the same preparation plan with him that he had with last year's Derby winner I'll Have Another.
He earned a 105 Beyer figure for his win in the Santa Anita Derby, which currently stands as the highest of any Derby prep race. That performance, and his running style, places him as one of the horses to beat.
The Louisiana Derby winner sports a three-race winning streak. He has shown a different dimension on each of those races, showing us he is ready to handle anything he could face on Saturday.
Even though his rider, Javier Castellano, chose to stay with Normandy Invasion, three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel's mount makes up for it in a hurry. He's had strong workouts for the race and should challenge for the win.
Normandy Invasion, 10-1
Many horse racing fans argue that with more distance he would have caught Verrazano in the Wood Memorial. He will have a full furlong on Saturday to do it.
On every race he keeps improving and has already shown he is more than capable of challenging expected favorites Orb and Verrazano. If his last breeze for the race (five furlong – 58.89) is an indication of how ready he is for this race, you better get on the betting line early.
He broke the track record in the Holy Bull and beat in the process of the then-undefeated, two-year-old champ and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, Shanghai Bobby. He earned a 104 Beyer Figure for that race—second highest on the field.
He then lost to Orb as the favorite in the Florida Derby in his next start and a lot of followers jumped off the bandwagon. It might be that he cannot handle the extra distance, but if that was just an off-race, Saturday could be his lucky day.
He was undefeated in his first four starts, including the Gotham Stakes, before falling to Verrazano and Normandy Invasion in the Wood Memorial. He was game in defeat and has shown that he is capable of adjusting his running style as needed.
His works show that horse is coming into the race strong and will be ready to take on the distance of a mile and a quarter. Big time jockey Garrett Gomez takes over the mount for the Derby.
He showed in his win at the Arkansas Derby, that he can relax, stalk the leaders and overtake them in the stretch. His works have been excellent so far for the Derby and the only issue would be if he is able to string two good outings together.
After winning his debut, he has alternated wins and—bad—losses. This is a horse loaded with talent, and works great in the morning. Should he be able to repeat his last race, he will contend for the win.
Java's War, 15-1
The little horse with a lot of heart. He was second best to Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby, and won the Blue Grass Stakes on his last start, showing a very good late kick on both races.
On both races he came from the back of the pack to finish strong. He will do his best running late, so he will need a strong pace early to have a chance. Julien Leparoux guided him in the Blue Grass and is back aboard for the Derby.
Will Take Charge, 20-1
If you discard his Southwest flop on the sloppy track, his last three races have been constant improvements that put him almost with the top contenders. His win in the Rebel Stakes on his last start, he showed a great late surge to be up at the wire.
He doesn't need to improve much to win here. His trainer D. Wayne Lukas is going for a fifth Derby win, and he has him performing textbook workouts for the race.
Palace Malice, 20-1
He has only had one bad race in six career starts, a seventh place finish in the Louisiana Derby. But he had a good excuse for it. After making a strong middle move, he had to wait while blocked from the five-sixteenths pole to inside the furlong marker. By then he had too many rivals to pass.
On his last start, he bounced back with a good race in the Blue Grass Stakes. He was nipped at the wire by Java's War losing by a neck. Still, he needs to show he can defeat the top contenders here.
He bounced back from a lackluster seventh in the Risen Star and ran a much-improved race falling just short to Revolutionary in a stretch battle in the Louisiana Derby. Apparently the blinkers-off did the trick for him.
He won in romping style by 10 lengths over optional claiming company to close the 2012 campaign with Rosie Napravnik aboard. She is back to ride him in the Derby.
On his last start at the Arkansas Derby, he showed he didn't like getting dirt thrown in the face. He is a grinder who does his best running on the lead or near it.
He was constantly improving with each race before the Arkansas Derby. His strong five furlongs workout in 1:00.95 shows he is ready to move forward again.
Lines of Battle, 30-1
Won the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai to earn his spot in the Kentucky Derby, which will be the first dirt race of his career. That was his three-year-old debut after running in the U.S. at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last November.
He likes to run mid-pack and could serve to his advantage in the Derby. But he needs to overcome his lack of experience on dirt and the fact that this will be just his second race in 2013.
Frac Daddy, 30-1
After finishing a close second to Uncaptured last year in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club, he finished a distant sixth to Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby in the G3 Holy Bull.
He had to recover from grabbing a quarter and a throat ulcer, and wasn't at his best for the Florida Derby. He improved for the Arkansas Derby and could be peaking toward his best form at the right time.
Black Onyx, 50-1
Winner of the G3 Spiral Stakes. This horse has been rapidly improving and has been working up to the Derby since his win at the Spiral.
He has to make a big move forward to win. Even when he has winning experience on dirt, his improvement this year have been over turf and synthetic. If he can handle the dirt as well as he's done over turf and synthetics he could hit the board.
Falling Sky, 50-1
This is the likely pace setter, and his best chance lies on playing catch me if you can. He will not be allowed an easy lead and with the questions on his ability to get to the 10 furlongs, make this an uphill battle for him.
Golden Soul, 50-1
Deep stretch runner that will relish the 10 furlong distance. His disadvantage is that he has yet to crack the 90s in the Beyer Figures. He could crack the exotics if there is a big pace up front.
Charming Kitten, 50-1
It's understandable that being a son of grass champion Kitten's Joy, this horse has never run on dirt. That is the biggest question mark with him coming into the Derby. But like Golden Soul, he needs to make a huge jump in the Beyer figures to contend.