Boasting one of the most wide-open fields in the race's history, the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby should provide the folks at Churchill Downs with some captivating action when the starting gun sounds on Saturday.
At 11-2, Orb heads into the Run for the Roses as the prohibitive favorite. The 3-year-old colt has been among the most consistent horses among Derby contenders, racking up 150 standings points in preparation for the event.
Nevertheless, Orb's standing as a favorite is on shaky ground—and that's putting it mildly. Only six horses come in at worse than 30-1 odds, with only two getting the this-isn't-happening line of 50-1. This field is largely seen as being deep, but without a truly ascendant horse who will dominate the field.
As such, bettors were on the edge of their seats waiting for Wednesday's post-position announcement. Though it's a mere mitigating factor, history points to some post positions being better than others. Bleacher Report's Carlos Torres broke down the history of each post in preparation for the Derby, and you can see the lines moving along those historical precedents.
With that in mind, we'll take a look at where each horse will line up on Saturday and break down a few interesting contenders to watch.
Odds via Bovada.
|1||Black Onyx (Scratched)||N/A|
|5||Normandy Invasion ||9-1|
|11||Lines of Battle||28-1|
|15||Charming Kitten ||33-1|
|17||Will Take Charge||33-1|
Horses to Watch
Being the Kentucky Derby favorite is no easy cross to bear. It’s been five years since Big Brown won at the top position in 2008, and only four favored hoses have won since the turn of the century.
Though I’m pretty sure being favored puts no additional pressure on the horse (*cuts to a shot of Orb arguing with his bookie*), it does place a burden on those in his stable.
Trainer Claude R. McGaughey III is one of the veterans of the sport—a pro’s pro at guiding thoroughbreds—but the Lexington native has never won a Derby. In fact, he’s not won a Triple Crown race since training Hall of Fame horse Easy Goer in 1989. He’s won plenty of Breeders' Cup championships in the meantime, but only two of those triumphs came after 1995.
At 62 years old, Orb may be “Shug’s” last chance at coming away victorious at his hometown race.
Also without a Derby win—though nearly four decades younger than his co-pilot in Orb’s journey—is jockey Joel Rosario. The 27-year-old has been a fast-rising star up the ranks over the past four years, finishing among the highest earners in each season, but the biggest win of his career came at the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March.
That race may hold a massive purse, but the pressure of joining the rarefied air of Derby-winning jockeys is palpable.
Nevertheless, Rosario and Orb have been quite successful together. The duo won each of their last two races before Rosario started training for Dubai, and John R. Velazquez took over and guided Orb to two more victories.
Derby favorites are never safe bets, especially in this wide-open field. But Orb is favored for a reason and should contend to become the second horse to win from the No. 16 post in the last three years.
Normandy Invasion (9-1)
One of the fastest-moving horses up the betting line this week has been Normandy Invasion. After opening at a 12-1 line, he’s been bet down all the way to 9-1 thanks to an increasing crescendo of hype surrounding his candidacy.
Trained by up-and-comer Chad Brown, Normandy Invasion has the type of experience you’re looking for in a non-favored horse. He finished second to Verrazano at the Wood Memorial, a race in which he looked fantastic and yet still avoided the dreaded curse that has come with winning that race.
Bleacher Report’s lead college football writer Adam Kramer was among those picking the three-year-old colt to win:
Derby analysis complete: Like Normandy Invasion (pick), Orb, Overanalyze. Java's War, Revolutionary very live, Will Take Charge for value.— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) May 4, 2013
The horse is also a sentimental favorite, having been named after the historic World War II event. ESPN’s Ron Mitchell notes that veterans of the war got to meet Normandy Invasion this week, in a moment that tugged at the heart strings of everyone at Churchill Downs.
Veteran Alan Reeves, a 92-year-old from San Diego, was joined by two others from World War II in meeting the horse. Reeves spoke with Mitchell about the occasion and noted one peculiar coincidence:
This is a very unusual event for us. We're here to support the horse and his name … You notice the number of the horse Normandy Invasion is number five. On D-Day there were five divisions that landed in Normandy -- two British, one Canadian, and the two American divisions. So the five has somewhat of a significance for us.
Even if the coincidence between the divisions and Normandy Invasion’s post is a coincidence, No. 5 itself has been a lucky number at Churchill Downs. The five post has won 12 times in the historic race’s history, which is tied for the most ever with the inside post—vacated this year by the scratched Black Onyx.
There is a little cause for concern following Normandy Invasion’s run this week. According to the New York Times’ Alex Brown, the colt ran off with his exercise rider for three-eighths of a mile after taking a bad step. Brown notes there are no physical injuries with Normandy Invasion, but it’s a little disconcerting for a horse boasting so much hype heading into Saturday’s event.
Nevertheless, expect a ton of folks to be rooting for Normandy Invasion to take the roses.
Will Take Charge (33-1)
If you’re looking for a horse with even more history staring him in the face, Will Take Charge is undoubtedly the colt to watch on Saturday.
He’s trained by the legendary D. Wayne Lukas, the 77-year-old Churchill Downs stalwart who has trophy cases full of Triple Crown races. Lukas has won each Triple Crown race at least four times, though none at the Derby since 1999’s shocking run with Charismatic. Though a win at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint brought back old memories of past glory, Lukas’ recent Derby history is questionable at best.
That being said, Will Take Charge’s pedigree is strong. He won at the Rebel Stakes and Smarty Jones this year, defeating fellow Derby contender Oxbow in the former race. And with one of the highest odds in the field at 33-1, Will Take Charge’s plummet on the sportsbooks could be a strong value.
There’s one factor working against Will Take Charge more than anything: history. Outside posts have long been the death knell for many talented horses, though recently the results haven’t been as bad.
Wins by Big Brown and I’ll Have another over the past five years gave posts Nos. 17-20 four total wins. It’s been a yearly struggle for horses starting on the outside, as they often get lost in the shuffle when trying to make a move with the rest of the pack.
Post No. 17 knows that fate more than any other. In the 138 previous years of the Kentucky Derby, no horse has ever won from the No. 17 post position.
It’s a fact that has pushed many to keep Will Take Charge off their lists of sleeper contenders. But I’ll Have Another’s win at No. 19 last year, which had previously been without a title, proves anything is possible at the Kentucky Derby.
With this field being extremely open, Will Take Charge is a name that could shock many.