The 139th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place on Saturday at Churchill Downs, serving as the first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.
Several clear favorites headline the 2013 field, with renowned trainer Todd Pletcher's Verrazano leading the way.
Pletcher has another top contender in Revolutionary and five horses total in the running, but there are plenty of others who should give his premier thoroughbreds a significant push in the Run for the Roses.
A new points system has been used to determine which horses qualify for the sport's maiden marquee showcase of the season. However, with several last-minute pullouts, underdogs with a miniscule amount of points and experience have gotten themselves into position for a post.
Even Fear The Kitten made it in with just six points, as pointed out by Churchill Downs PR's Twitter page:
A lot is still to be determined by post positions, but below is an overview of the 20-horse field that will compete in the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports, as well as their odds of winning. Then, we'll look at which horses will ultimately be at the front of the pack in Louisville.
Note: Odds are courtesy of Bovada, and Derby points statistics were gathered from the Daily Racing Form. Jockeys not listed are still to be determined.
When: Saturday, May 4
Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.
Post time: Approximately 7 p.m. ET
Live stream: NBC Sports
For complete information with regard to the 14.5 hours of coverage by NBC, visit Broadway World.
|Verrazano||150||Todd Pletcher||John R. Velazquez||7-2|
|Orb||150||Claude R. McGaughey III||Joel Rosario||5-1|
|Goldencents||129||Doug O'Neill||Kevin Krigger||7-1|
|Java's War||122||Kenny McPeek||Julien Leparoux||30-1|
|Revolutionary||110||Todd Pletcher||Calvin Borel||7-1|
|Overanalyze||110||Todd Pletcher||Rafael Bejarano||40-1|
|Lines of Battle||100||Aidan O'Brien||Ryan Moore ||20-1|
|Vyjack||70||Rudy Rodriguez||Garrett Gomez||15-1|
|Will Take Charge||60||D. Wayne Lukas||Jon Court||20-1|
|Itsmyluckyday||50||Eddie Plesa, Jr.||Elvis Trujillo||12-1|
|Black Onyx||50||Kelly Breen||Joe Bravo||33-1|
|Palace Malice||50||Todd Pletcher||Mike Smith||33-1|
|Normandy Invasion||44||Chad Brown||Javier Castellano||8-1|
|Frac Daddy||44||Kenny McPeek||Victor Lebron||33-1|
|Mylute||42||Tom Amoss||Rosie Napravnik||33-1|
|Oxbow||36||D. Wayne Lukas||Gary Stevens||20-1|
|Falling Sky||30||John Terranova II||—||50-1|
|Charming Kitten||20||Todd Pletcher||—||66-1|
|Golden Soul||14||Dallas Stewart||—||100-1|
|Giant Finish ||10||Anthony W. Dutrow ||Jose L. Espinoza ||—|
Jessie Halladay and J.J. Hysell of the Courier-Journal reported on Tuesday that Giant Finish declared for the Kentucky Derby, replacing Fear the Kitten thanks to a higher Derby point total.
The prohibitive favorite has the benefit of having 2011 Hall of Fame inductee John Velazquez as his jockey, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Four previous victories against strong competition indicate that Verrazano should be able to manage this atmosphere (h/t Equibase.com). However, 131 years of history is against him, per RacingDudes.com.
No horse since Apollo in 1882 won the Run for the Roses after not having raced as a two-year-old. Verrazano has triumphed in a commanding fashion in all of his previous outings besides the Wood Memorial Stakes, but that is a serious obstacle to overcome.
Jennie Rees of the Courier Journal, however, documents an interesting counterargument to the Verrazano naysayers:
Ed DeRosa, a lifelong handicapper and BRIS marketing director, points to other unraced 2-year-olds such as Curlin, who was third in the 2007 Derby before winning the Preakness, and last year’s Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister.
“To me, the truly brilliant horses that didn’t start at 2, they get better with each start,” he said. “Curlin certainly did with the Arkansas Derby, and Bodemeister. I don’t think we’ve seen that with Verrazano. I think he’s shown his talent, but I think we’ve already seen his ceiling. At a short price, I’m not willing to bet.
When asked which athlete Verrazano compares to, Pletcher suggested Miami Heat superstar LeBron James:
Based on the case that Rees makes and the consistent improvement that Verrazano has shown against increasingly difficult fields, he has as good of a chance as any horse to halt the trend of not winning the Kentucky Derby after not racing at two years old.
Several elements give Goldencents a unique storyline. The recent winner of the Santa Anita Derby is owned in part by Louisville Cardinals basketball head coach Rick Pitino and won that prep race the same night the Cardinals won a national semifinal against Wichita State.
Kevin Krigger could become the first African American jockey to win the Kentucky Derby since Jimmy Winkfield won his second consecutive one in 1902 (h/t The Press-Telegram).
In fact, only one African American has even run in the race since 1921, which makes the Krigger storyline all the more captivating.
Though it would also be groundbreaking to see Rosie Napravnik become the first woman to ever win—and improve on her record-setting ninth-place finish in 2011—the more realistic shot at trotting into the winner's circle seems to come in the form of Goldencents.
The three-year-old flashed an impressive burst in Arcadia earlier in the month and should make Verrazano sweat all the way to the finish.
Show: Normandy Invasion
Javier Castellano had to make a decision between Normandy Invasion and Revolutionary for this year's Derby run. Rather than choosing the Louisiana Derby winner, he decided to mount the Wood Memorial Stakes runner-up.
Don't be fooled by the mere 44 points that Normandy Invasion has in the standings, because he is a legitimate threat to make a late charge down the final straightaway.
The aforementioned Wood Memorial was his first Grade 1 race, and only the great, undefeated Verrazano stood between him and victory. Normandy Invasion has the tantalizing upside that made Castellano choose him over another promising horse.
Concerns may linger that Normandy Invasion is too thin to generate enough power and ultimately conquer the track, but all indications are that he's working out impressively.
BloodHorse.com expert Claire Novak has attested to that assertion:
If Castellano can get Normandy Invasion into top gear just a bit sooner than he was at Aqueduct Racetrack, there is a strong chance that the horse may even come away with a surprise victory.
Dark Horse: Oxbow
After eight years of retirement, prolific jockey Gary Stevens is returning to the saddle, fully confident that his Oxbow can make a serious Run for the Roses.
Stevens has won the Kentucky Derby three previous times in his career and is feeling extremely comfortable with his horse. Having the confidence to take the reins once again at age 50 shows that Oxbow shouldn't be taken lightly.
As Rick Bozich of WBRB.com reports, trainer Wayne D. Lukas is seeing Stevens in rare form in his preparation for this race:
Mentally and attitude-wise, [Stevens is] better than I've ever seen him...His diet is better. He looks like he's in the zone. The experience factor, you cannot downplay it. Experience is king. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed guy is king.
Oxbow may not be considered among the prohibitive favorites, but he is an extremely explosive horse whose second-place running at the Rebel Stakes was strong. He only finished second to Lukas' Will Take Charge, another Derby contender.
A disappointing fifth in the Arkansas Derby was a result of Stevens still getting adjusted to Oxbow, but with the time to acclimate and the familiarity Stevens has at Churchill Downs, this three-year-old speedster can't be dismissed.
Note: All race history, video and trainer and jockey information, unless otherwise indicated, is courtesy of KentuckyDerby.com.