2014 Kentucky Derby Favorites: Breaking Down Race's Top Likely Contenders

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2014

In a photo provided by Benoit Photo, California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza win the Santa Anita Derby horse race Saturday, April 5, 2014, at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. (AP Photo/Benoit Photo)
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The mint isn't even in the glass yet and the whiskey hasn't been poured, but let's talk about the favorites at this year's Kentucky Derby anyway. After all, we all want that party to get started, right?

While the field is still in the process of being set, a few top contenders are starting to emerge. Jonathan Lintner of the The Courier-Journal tweeted out the possibilities for this year's race:

Mike Dempsey of Oddsshark.com posted the following odds to win this year's Derby as of April 23:

Kentucky Derby Odds
ContenderOdds
California Chrome7-4
Danza8-1
Wicked Strong8-1
Vicars In Trouble10-1
Hoppertunity14-1
Dance With Fate16-1
Wildcat Red16-1
Intense Holiday20-1
Samraat20-1
Social Inclusion20-1
Tapiture20-1
Bayern25-1
Candy Boy25-1
Chitu25-1
General A Rod25-1
Ride On Curlin25-1
Ring Weekend25-1
Medal Count33-1
Mexikoma33-1
Strong Mandate33-1
We Miss Artie33-1
Uncle Sigh40-1
Noble Moon50-1
Tap It Rich50-1

It's no surprise that California Chrome both leads the standings and is currently the race favorite. After completely dominating the Santa Anita Derby, California Chrome has earned the hype.

Lintner has more on the buzz surrounding California Chrome:

Buzz remains firmly on Santa Anita Derby winner California Chrome, which trainer Bob Baffert, in his first day at Churchill, received more questions about from reporters than his own Derby hopefuls. The Art Sherman-trained colt is expected to ship to Louisville on Monday and gallop at Churchill. He will not go out for a timed work.

'As long as he breaks and he's in the clear...he just keeps going,' Bafftert said, adding that 'he's a nice looking horse' who doesn't seem to tire. California Chrome reminds Baffert of 2002 Derby winner War Emblem.

There's little to dislike about Chrome. He's won four straight races. He appears to be the most talented horse in the running by a long shot. If Chrome can win the Derby, well, you can bet the buzz around the possibility of a Triple Crown winner will be crackling. 

And for what it's worth, Chrome's owner, Steve Coburn, has already guaranteed the horse will win the Derby, via Sam Gardner of Fox Sports:

He’s going to win the Kentucky Derby. This horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby, not a doubt in my mind. If he gets a nice, clean pass, he’s done—it’s over with.

There’s the big hype about Candy Boy, how Candy Boy is going to destroy California Chrome. Where did Candy Boy finish (at the Santa Anita Derby)? Third. And Hoppertunity finished second. Those are good horses, they’re fine horses, but they can’t keep up with the speed of this horse. If you look at how he’s run his races, he’s outrun these horses by two, three, four seconds. I just don’t see any speed out there. 

California Chrome has earned the confidence of his owner. It's living up to the hype that will be the real test, especially when things get crowded and the pack starts quickly at the Derby. It's unsettled contenders in the past, though California Chrome appears to be the real deal.

The perhaps aptly named Wicked Strong is another horse to keep an eye on, especially after winning the Wood Memorial. Ditto for Danza, who shocked everyone with a 4 and 3/4 lengths victory at the Arkansas Derby.

Vicars in Trouble, meanwhile, took home the Louisiana Derby, though the concern we'll be if he can get out to an early lead. A fast opening pace might be enough to bury Vicars early, so post positioning will be key.

As Coburn noted, Candy Boy and Hoppertunity are talented horses, though they haven't proved they can hang with California Chrome just yet. Still, they'll be in the running come the Derby. 

Sometimes, of course, your best bet is to just pick your favorite name. After all, a horse with longer odds can always shock the field. Or, you could follow omens—Medal Count is a winning name, and Bayern might be a winning name, depending on how famous soccer club Bayern Munich responds to a midweek loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals. 

Picking a winner at the Derby is something between an art, a science and a good ol' fashioned crapshoot. This year, it appears to be California Chrome versus the field. But we'll see how that holds up.