The 2013 Kentucky Derby is full of surprises, and the race has not even been run yet. The 139th Run for the Roses has had last-minute additions, late defections and enough storylines to fill a Game of Thrones novel.
Every owner, trainer and jockey dreams of being a part of the Kentucky Derby. For the 20 possibilities in the field, those dreams will come true this Saturday. But some people and horses are having a better week than others.
Let's take a look at who is hot and who is not as the Kentucky Derby draws near.
Todd Pletcher will saddle five horses in the Derby
It is Todd Pletcher's world, and we are all just living in it.
On Saturday, he will saddle a remarkable five contenders in the Kentucky Derby, a quarter of the field. He does not just have quantity—he has quality in his arsenal as well. Of the five horses he will send out, they have combined for eight wins so far this year, three of which came in top Derby prep races.
Even with a locked and loaded entry of five horses, the post position draw is a very tense moment. Watching his reaction as the draw was held, it was apparent that he was having a very good day. Of his five horses, he seemed very pleased with where they wound up in the gate, in particular Verrazano and Revolutionary, his two top contenders.
Even if Pletcher's horses all finish off the board, Pletcher is still the hottest trainer in the country. His horses average over $30,000 in earnings for each start. Not bad for a day's work.
A Kentucky Derby without Bob Baffert
The biggest disappointment of the week was the announcement that Bob Baffert’s promising colt Govenor Charlie would not participate in the Kentucky Derby due to a hoof bruise, which leaves the Hall of Fame trainer without a horse in racing’s pinnacle event.
At the beginning of the year, it seemed the three-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer was poised to be a force to be reckoned with in the classics. He had a stable loaded top to bottom with expensive, well-bred and talented runners. Now, with several of his top runners falling off the Derby trail and Govenor Charlie going to the shelf, Baffert will be watching the Run for the Roses just like the rest of us—as a spectator.
Wise Dan winning the Breeders' Cup Mile
The best horse running on Saturday is not even in the Kentucky Derby.
Reigning Horse of the Year, Wise Dan, will tackle a stellar rival in Point of Entry in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, a mile and an eighth contest for older horses on the turf.
Wise Dan, a six-year-old gelding, will never wear a blanket of roses as his chance at Kentucky Derby glory is long past. However, he is carving an exceptional, unique spot for himself in the history books. He defeated Kentucky Derby champion Animal Kingdom in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last year and decimated a quality field in his 2013 debut last month at Keeneland.
Horses with his durability and versatility do not come along every year. His career and accomplishments are worth watching, so do yourself a favor and make sure you do.
Giant Finish has never won a stakes race, nor has he ever won a race outside of his home state of New York. In fact, both of his victories in the Empire State came against restricted state-bred company in which the only horses allowed to enter are those born in that state.
The sophomore son of Frost Giant was an 11th-hour decision to enter the fray for the Kentucky Derby when his connections announced on Tuesday afternoon he would try for glory in the Run for the Roses. He earned his berth with a third-place finish over Turfway Park's synthetic track in March.
Since he was a late addition, he does not ship to Churchill Downs until Thursday morning and will likely go into the Kentucky Derby without so much as a published workout over the track.
Goldencents will try to give Kevin Krigger a historic Kentucky Derby win
Kevin Krigger has come a long way since he moved his tack east to Suffolk Downs in 2007.
After winning 35 races from 257 starts that summer in Boston, he moved back to the West Coast and rode competitively at the smaller Northern California tracks before jumping into the deep end and competing against the top riders and horses at tracks like Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. Doug O’Neill is no stranger to giving relatively unknown jockeys a big shot as was shown last year with Mario Gutierrez and I’ll Have Another. Now he has given Krigger a chance at history aboard Goldencents.
Krigger, a 29-year-old native of the Virgin Islands, will try to make history on Saturday not only by winning his first Kentucky Derby but by becoming the first black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby in over a century—and the first to compete since 2000.
Johnny V celebrates after winning the Breeders' Cup Mile last fall
John Velazquez is a Hall of Fame jockey and one of the most respected, decorated members of the sport. He had his choice between riding the two top contenders, Orb and Verrazano. He chose Verrazano but before his decision was made, he sustained injuries in a spill on April 7.
Luckily his injuries were not serious enough to keep him on the sidelines for too long, and he will be returning in the nick of time to ride Dreaming of Julia in the Kentucky Oaks and Verrazano in the Derby for Todd Pletcher.
He is only scheduled to have one mount on Thursday at Belmont Park and two on Kentucky Oaks day, including Dreaming of Julia. Like all professional athletes, jockeys get into a rhythm riding, and extended time off can disrupt that. A complete professional, Velazquez is one of the best riders in the history of the sport, but he is not getting younger, and he will need to be 110 percent on Saturday.
Rosie Napravnik wins the 2012 Kentucky Oaks
Rosie Napravnik is a beautiful girl and an ambassador for the sport. She is also an incredibly talented athlete and one of the top jockeys in the country right now. There are very few sports where men and women compete on an equal playing field, and Napravnik has proven that she is as good as any man in the saddle.
Napravnik won the Kentucky Oaks last year, and this year she has her sights set on a blanket of roses. Though her initial Kentucky Derby mount, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby, was sidelined, Napravnik got the call on the promising Mylute for trainer Tom Amoss.
Regardless of where Mylute finishes in the Kentucky Derby, Napravnik’s star is just beginning to rise.
Kent D celebrates after winning the Derby with Big Brown
It is amazing what a difference a year makes. Last Kentucky Derby Day, Kent DesOrmeaux and Dullahan turned in a huge performance to finish third. This year, DesOrmeaux does not have a mount. The only horse he will ride on Saturday at Churchill Downs is Ghost Hunter in the fifth race.
Just five years ago, DesOrmeaux was regarded as one of the elite jockeys in the country. He guided Big Brown to one of the most impressive Kentucky Derby victories of recent memory, and the pair went on to win two-thirds of the Triple Crown.
This was not the first time DesOrmeaux had achieved racing's greatest prize in the Run for the Roses. In 2000, he was aboard the brilliant Fusaichi Pegasus and came a nose shy of the Triple Crown with Real Quiet in the Belmont Stakes after sweeping the first two jewels.
Last summer he had a widely publicized battle with alcoholism, and with any luck he will be back in the starting gate for the Derby next year.
The stars seem to be aligning for Verrazano in the Kentucky Derby.
The undefeated colt has been generating some steam in the morning leading up to the big day, and with a favorable post position draw on Wednesday, he seems in good order to keep his streak intact.
Verrazano is a big, strapping colt and has been a physically impressive specimen training this week. Though he is inexperienced, he has done everything the right way from his four career starts and will face the biggest test of his career on Saturday.
Vyjack trains in a hackamore bridle which does not have a bit
Though Vyjack and Verrazano both competed in the Wood Memorial for their final Kentucky Derby preps, the two colts have taken extremely different paths to the Derby starting gate since.
Vyjack came out of his third-place finish in the Wood with a slight lung infection and was promptly sent to Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland to recuperate and recharge his batteries. Though he came back from his brief holiday training well, his chances promptly went out the window when he was assigned the outside post in the Derby field of 20.
Though he has flashed brilliance on the racetrack, this gelding is a notorious bad actor. He can be difficult to control, and the exuberant crowds of the Kentucky Derby will be his biggest opposition, particularly since now he will break closer to the noise than any other horse in the field.
You can hardly open a program on a big racing day these days without seeing an offspring of 2004 Eclipse Champion Turf Horse Kitten's Joy.
His wild success as a stallion can be attributed to his owners, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, who also bred and raced him. Many of his offspring have been bred by the Ramseys, and many also carry their familiar red and white silks. In the Kentucky Derby, Kitten's Joy and the Ramseys will be represented by Charming Kitten. This is the third attempt at the Run for the Roses with a son of Kitten's Joy for the Ramseys, and while Charming Kitten is a longshot, he has upset potential with rain.
The Kentucky Derby is not the only race where offspring of Kitten's Joy will be competing. Between the Kentucky Oaks Day card and the Kentucky Derby Day card, there will be nine sons or daughters of Kitten's Joy in stakes races.
When handicapping the Kentucky Derby, one tip is to look for horses who seem to be on the upswing and are improving.
Falling Sky is not that horse.
This speedy son of Lion Heart has steadily declined since winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa early in the season. As the distances have stretched out and the competition improved, his finish positions have been farther back. He has not been particularly impressive on track this week and with his post position draw, his role seems likely to be that of a front-runner, ensuring that horses like Goldencents have to work for the lead.
Rick Pitino is having a very good year.
In April, Pitino coached the Louisville Cardinals to victory in the NCAA tournament. In May, he has a strong contender for the Kentucky Derby with Goldencents, a horse he partially owns.
Pitino is no stranger to the Kentucky Derby. He has had two other starters in the Derby over the years though neither were tremendously successful. In 2001, AP Valentine wound up seventh, and in 1998, Halory Hunter was fourth. As a blast from the past, Halory Hunter carried the silks of Pitino's former Celtic Pride Stable.
On Saturday we will see if Pitino's golden spring continues.
Could there be an off track for the Derby?
As if this Kentucky Derby wasn't confusing enough, it looks like Mother Nature may throw one more curveball into the equation. Beginning Friday, the temperatures are expected to drop significantly in Louisville, and rain is in the forecast.
There are several horses with exceptional off-track pedigrees like Orb, Revolutionary and Mylute. An off track might even be enough to give Oxbow some life after a disappointing post position draw. Then there are others who have struggled over wet surfaces like Will Take Charge.
An off track, coupled with a drop in temperatures, adds a whole new dimension to handicapping. Be sure to pay close attention to the weather as the big day gets closer.