While it seems like just yesterday we were getting to know the names of Verrazano and Goldencents, the May flowers have started blooming seemingly out of nowhere—bringing with them Saturday's 139th Kentucky Derby.
A yearly gathering of the sport's top trainers, jockeys and horses, the hype around horse racing is never higher than it is at the beginning of May. And with this year's field arguably being the most open in recent memory, the hype is palpable as horses begin to arrive.
While horse racing has slowly exited the national lexicon over the past century, devolving from a national past time into mostly a niche sport, the Run for the Roses is that anomaly. It's the prizefight that gets us talking about a sport American culture once wore like a badge of pride. It's a little ironic that Floyd Mayweather, arguably the last big draw in boxing, and the Kentucky Derby have become intertwined together.
It's like a perfect piece of symmetry. For that one Saturday in May, we're all back in the 1950s again—only without the bad hair styles and with high-definition television. But for many, the Kentucky Derby means little without getting to know the horses and, more specifically, their odds for Saturday's race.
With that in mind, here is a breakdown of every horse's race heading into the 139th Kentucky Derby.
*Odds via Bovada
|Will Take Charge||20-1|
|Lines of Battle||20-1|
Horses to Watch
The Favorite: Verrazano (7-2)
If you're looking for the horse not only most likely to capture Saturday's race but also to challenge for a Triple Crown, Verrazano is your best bet. Far and away the favorite to win at Churchill Downs, Verrazano is the favorite for the simplest reason of all: He's the only undefeated horse in the entire field.
Victorious in four races, including the prestigious Grade 1 Wood Memorial in early April, Verrazano is one of the more dominant horses in recent memory. The three-year-old has been dominant in nearly all of his victories, leaving top Kentucky Derby participants like Normandy Invasion and Java's War in his wake.
And it's hard to top Verrazano's pedigree. He's trained by the legendary Todd A. Pletcher, who is arguably the best working today. With John R. Velazquez jockeying him, Verrazano has two men who have run straight to the roses at Churchill Downs in his stable every day.
Yet, as USA Today's Jennie Rees points out, keeping that undefeated dominance alive would be a bit of a historical anomaly. Each of Verrazano's four victories have come in his three-year-old year, as he did not begin racing in 2012. That's right, he skipped his entire two-year-old year, putting him in the position of trying to become just the second three-year-old to win the Kentucky Derby without racing in the year prior.
That's without mentioning the recent run of bad luck for Wood Memorial victors. No horse that has won the Wood Memorial has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby since Fusaichi Pegasus did so in 2000, and none has finished any higher than fourth place at Churchill Downs since 2004.
We're not ones to buy into curses, mainly because they're figments of the imagination. But it is notable that the favorite in the entire field faces not one, but two pieces of history staring him in the face. Maybe if Verrazano is able to overcome these two things, he is the horse fans have been looking for since the 1970s.
Secondary Contender: Goldencents (7-1)
Those looking to take a slight risk but not a major one—remember 7-1 still means turning $100 into $700 in an instant—might want to consider throwing a few coins on Goldencents.
The winner at the historic Santa Anita Derby on April 6, Goldencents' 7-1 odds might even be a bit of a bargain. Partially owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, the young colt has won four of his six career races and only finished worse than second once—a semi-disappointing fourth-place finish at San Felipe.
It doesn't hurt that Goldencents has red-hot trainer Doug O'Neill in his corner, either. The trainer of last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, I'll Have Another, the 44-year-old O'Neill is coming into his own as a top trainer. Then again, O'Neill is not without controversy, so expect a ton of watchful eyes to be on Goldencents not only pre-race but after the festivities are over.
Goldencents, like Verrazano, will be racing for history on Saturday—albeit a completely different kind. The three-year-old colt will be jockeyed by Kevin Krigger, one of the most renowned jockeys in the world who just so happens to have been born in the U.S. Virgin Islands. That's no small anecdote. Krigger and Victor Lebron will become the first Crucians to ever hit the starting gate at Churchill Downs. Either would obviously be making history, with Krigger's Goldencents being far and away the more likely candidate.
That being said, cool stories don't win races—thoroughbred horses ridden by elite jockeys and brought along by trainers do. No matter how smart of a ride Krigger gives Goldencents, the horse has to perform up to his potential. This is about the horse continuing his momentum generated at Santa Anita and at least somewhat about the redemption of O'Neill.
Dark Horse: Black Onyx (33-1)
No matter how unlikely the odds, one of the most entertaining facets of betting at the Kentucky Derby is taking the underdog. Seeing massive odds and the potential windfall that comes with them is tempting even for the most seasoned bettors—even if it's a minuscule sum placed on the horse.
But if you want to turn $100 into $3,300, it's vital to make an educated choice. There's a difference between making a calculated risk with a reasonable sum and essentially using your money to set an engulfing flame in the pit of your stomach. Every underdog has a chance at winning; finding the one with the best infantile percentage, though, is advisable.
That's where Black Onyx comes in. Trained by the underrated Kelly Breen, who has a 2011 Belmont Stakes victory on his resume, Black Onyx has looked strong of late. Winning each of his last two races, the three-year-old colt has never finished worse than fourth in a race during his career. And while jockey Joe Bravo has never tasted glory at any of the Triple Crown races, he's a longstanding veteran of the sport; a pro's pro of a jockey.
Level of competition is definitely questionable. Black Onyx's victories aren't exactly against fields with horses like Goldencents and Verrazano. He's been capturing wins on the midcard of the prizefight, not taking down Floyd Mayweather.
Of course, it's a little ironic that a horse named Black Onyx is the best "dark horse" candidate—it's almost as if the stars have aligned for every cheesy headline writer in the history of everdom. But if it's a chance you're looking to take, Black Onyx is arguably the best among long shots.
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