Kentucky Derby Field 2013: Top Contenders and Trainers in This Year's Race
The Kentucky Derby has star power all over. The horses, jockeys, trainers and owners all command their fair share of attention.
The trainers are the ones responsible for making sure the Derby contenders are fit and ready to go on Saturday. The best trainers are always followed after the 2-year-old horses start running to see who will be the next Derby contender.
This year, the Derby has gathered a slew of elite trainers, as well as up-and-comers.
One big training supernova, Bob Baffert, is the big missing piece this year. But there are plenty of great trainers and rising ones in the lineup.
Let's take a look at this year's Kentucky Derby favorites and their trainers.
Itsmyluckyday and Eddie Plesa Jr.
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Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. went on his own in 1986 after serving as an assistant to Stanley Hough. Twenty years later, he was inducted into the Calder Race Course Hall of Fame and has earned more than 2,000 victories.
His first try at the Kentucky Derby was in 1999 with Three Ring, one of two fillies in the 19-horse field that year. She was a filly who preferred to be forwardly placed, and after ducking in at the break and bumping with Adonis, who was to her inside, she ran midpack and finished last.
He brings now his second horse to the Kentucky Derby with Itsmyluckyday. And it could very well be on Saturday.
Itsmyluckyday has been flying under the radar after being run down by Orb in the Florida Derby (G1). It seems like everyone has forgotten he was the 8-5 favorite in that race and had earned a 105 Beyer figure when he won the Holy Bull (G3) in late January.
I have good memory, and I won't forget him Saturday. He will move forward and run a big race.
Vyjack and Rudy Rodriguez
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Mexico native Rudy Rodriguez is a former jockey who served as an assistant to the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel and Rick Dutrow Sr. before going on his own last year.
Rodriguez and his main assistant, his brother Gustavo, are the exercise riders for his horses.
Vyjack is his first Derby contestant and a very good one. He is undefeated in his first four races, including the Jerome (G2) and the Gotham Stakes (G3).
Rodriguez worked with Vyjack to change his running style and was successful in the Gotham when he ran from off the pace and finished strong. He also changed jockeys to Joel Rosario, which helped this transition.
In the Wood Memorial he made his race but was just outrun by Verrazano. Rodriguez has him ready and it shows in the mornings.
He's got big-time rider Garrett Gomez to ride Vyjack, so you can expect him to be a factor in the race.
Normandy Invasion and Chad Brown
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New Yorker Chad Brown started his career under Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey and followed it under Frankel.
There is hardly a better school than that for an aspiring trainer. He left the Frankel nest in late 2007 and a year later, at the ripe age of 29, he won a Breeders’ Cup race—the Juvenile Fillies Turf—at Santa Anita Park with Maram.
He also won the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf last year with Zagora. He has quickly become one of the top trainers in the U.S. and now has a Derby starter, Normandy Invasion.
This horse proved he was the real deal in the Remsen (G2), losing a head-bopping finish to Overanalyze. In his next start, three months later in the Risen Star (G2), he was off slow, bobbled a few steps and finished a disappointing fifth.
Brown got money-leading jockey Javier Castellano to ride Normandy Invasion for the Wood Memorial, and the horse made an improved race, losing to undefeated Verrazano by three-quarters of a length.
But the horse broke well and closed fast after slow fractions. Brown has him zipping through his workouts and looks ready to move forward and contend in the Derby.
Goldencents and Doug O'Neill
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Doug O'Neill started in racing as an assistant in 1986 and went on his own in 1994.
His first jump to fame came with 2003 Japan Cup Dirt winner Fleetstreet Dancer. While he would win three Breeders' Cup races in the next three years, his biggest achievement came with Lava Man.
He claimed Lava Man in August 2004 for $50,000 on behalf of STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood. He would go on to be the top older horse in the west from 2005-07.
But his biggest success-to-date has been last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I'll Have Another.
I'll Have Another swept the West Coast Derby preps and was a favorite to win the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown before being retired the day before the race because of a tendon injury.
This year he brings another winner of the Santa Anita Derby, Goldencents.
And he followed the same prep routine with him that he used with I'll Have Another. He is also following the same jockey scenario he had with I'll Have Another.
Last year Mario Gutierrez was the jockey for I'll Have Another, and while he was a young veteran, he was virtually unknown to the racing world. This year, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands native Kevin Krigger follows suit.
O'Neill has a legitimate contender in Goldencents and has been preparing him the same way he did with his Derby winner last year. It will be hard for Krigger to mess this very talented colt's chances to win. He will be the horse to catch.
Orb and Shug McGaughey
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McGaughey has been working as a trainer since 1989. But in 1988 he was hired as a private trainer by the Phipps Stable of Ogden Mills Phipps and their successful history began.
He won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in 1988 and has won nine Breeders' Cup races and one Belmont Stakes, in 1989. But he has not won the Kentucky Derby.
In golf, fans keep track of the best golfer never to win a major. In racing, McGaughey has to be the best trainer never to win a Derby.
He has been to the Derby four times, entering six horses, saddling two twice. His closest was Easy Goer, a son of Secretariat, who finished second to Sunday Silence in 1989. Easy Goer was the one to give him his only Triple Crown race win—the 1989 Belmont Stakes.
Four tries are few, but McGaughey brings only quality horses to the Derby. With Orb, he now has his best shot at winning the Derby since Easy Goer in 1989 and he has everything going for him.
Orb sports a four-race winning streak, including the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Florida Derby (G1). He has been turning heads in the backstretch, clearly looking the best with his workouts. And by the way, he will be ridden by the hottest jockey in the planet, Joel Rosario.
All the planets seem to be aligning for McGaughey with Orb and it will be surprising to see him finish anywhere below the top two.
Verrazano, Revolutionary, Overanalyze and Todd Pletcher
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Todd Pletcher got his start under his father, Jake, and later he worked as a groom, foreman and assistant for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He also worked for the legendary late Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham.
He has been the most successful trainer in America for the better part of the past 10 years. He won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer from 2004-07, and led the trainers in money won from 2004-07 and 2010-12.
Pletcher has saddled nine Eclipse Award-winning horses and has won many important races. But he has only two Triple Crown races: The 2007 Belmont Stakes with Rags to Riches and his lone Kentucky Derby with Super Saver in 2010.
He brings five starters to the Derby for the second time in his career, but never before he has brought such a strong team to the Run for the Roses.
He has undefeated Wood Memorial winner Verrazano, Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary, Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze, the talented Palace Malice and Charming Kitten.
He also has a stellar lineup of jockeys, which includes four Hall of Famers—John Velazquez (Verrazano), Calvin Borel (Revolutionary), Mike Smith (Palace Malice) and Edgar Prado (Charming Kitten)—and one of the best of today in Rafael Bejarano (Overanalyze).
Pletcher is loaded with talented colts, but he is at his best mainly because the horses' running styles complement each other.
Verrazano will be near the front. Overanalyze and Palace Malice should run mid-pack, while Revolutionary and Charming Kitten will do their best running late from the back of the pack.
Pletcher's chances with a quarter of the Derby field are very real, mainly with Verrazano, Revolutionary and Overanalyze. But any of them could really be the winner Saturday.