If the latest forecasts are any indication, Mother Nature may significantly affect the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Churchill Downs' track is phenomenal, but the current report by Weather.com reveals an 80 percent chance of showers in Louisville on Saturday. That could make the track sloppier than usual, and thus impact the outcome of the race in a substantial way.
The likelihood of more intense rainfall increases as the evening progresses, and the 2013 Run for the Roses commences at approximately 6:24 p.m. ET.
Jack Shinar of BloodHorse.com highlights the explanation for the potentially hazardous development in the first leg of the Triple Crown (h/t ESPN).
A low-level pressure system is merging with deep moisture, which is channeling itself northward. That combination may result in heavy showers in the evening.
Louisville WDRB chief meteorologist Marc Weinberg posted the projected computer model radar for the 6:24 p.m. starting time, and it looks rather discouraging:
Marc Weinberg @MarcWeinbergWX
HiRES NAM computer model shows quite a bit of rain at the post of 6:24 pm for the Kentucky Derby. #kywx #derbyweather http://t.co/2Xt4Mgxkz82013-5-3 02:44:29
As touched on before, the good news is that the condition of the track is pristine. The crew will have several hours of time at their disposal ahead of the Run for the Roses to make it as workable as possible.
For speedier and undersized horses, though, this isn't the best news ever. Dampness on the track necessitates more energy expended, and while every competitor in the field is facing similar conditions, the bigger, stronger thoroughbreds get a slight leg up.
As reported by USA Today's Gary Mihoces, renowned trainer Todd Pletcher—who has five horses in the Derby field of 20—won't allow the weather to alter his preparations.
However, Pletcher did express that none of his horses have competed on an "off track." He also indicated that Revolutionary at 15-1 odds has the best chance to thrive in such conditions, as opposed to Verrazano—the No. 2 favorite at 4-1 in the morning line.
Verrazano is known for starting out slightly slower than most, but he is a physical force of a horse and also possesses wonderful speed. The favorable No. 14 post should only help him contend.
Orb, a 7-2 favorite, has his work cut out for him at the 16th post position, starting out wide and having to negotiate contenders Java's War and Vyjack on his right, who will make moves toward the inside early on. Frac Daddy, a 50-1 shot, is massive and imposing, which hurts Orb's chances of getting off to an ideal start.
Mihoces notes that Doug O'Neill, the trainer of Goldencents (5-1) and last year's winner with I'll Have Another, hasn't had his speedy thoroughbred race on a wet track before in competition.
O'Neill did say, though, that Goldencents ran well on a wet track at Santa Anita in California—the site of his breakthrough victory in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, which qualified him for Churchill Downs.
For the underdogs who aren't quite as talented or fast as the top contenders, the worse shape the track is in, the better it might be. Then again, difficult conditions may allow the cream of the crop to rise to the top.
Normandy Invasion nearly beat Verrazano at the Wood Memorial Stakes, losing by three-quarters of a length. But his undersized stature may harm his chances to win if the course is too treacherous.
It really depends on just how severe conditions wind up being, but with the current projections, Goldencents' chances have to be enhanced. Based on his post position at No. 8 and inferior competition immediately surrounding him, history has a chance to be made.
Jockey Kevin Krigger may become the first African American to win the race since Jimmy Winkfield won the second of his back-to-back derbies in 1902. O'Neill would be just the seventh trainer ever to pull off two Kentucky Derby triumphs in a row.
Though it's hard to discern who the track favors, the potential for the elements to loom large only heightens the anticipation and speculation as to how the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports will play out.
Note: Information on horses and odds, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of KentuckyDerby.com.