With just over one week to go before the 2014 Kentucky Derby, the field is coming into focus. It's a diverse group of thoroughbreds that make picking one favorite which stands head and shoulders above the field very difficult.
A lot of that has to do with the points system specifically designed to bring the top 20 contenders to Churchill Downs, a sentiment trainer D. Wayne Lukas echoed in an interview with Jonathan Litner of The Courier Journal.
There’s such parity in the group that it’s probably going to be a handicapper’s nightmare in many ways. I think if you’re going to gamble on it, you’re going to box a few horses. ...
I like (California Chrome) a lot. Don’t get me wrong…He’s a really nice horse, but there are some other horses that could jump up.
Litner also provided an updated look at the 2014 Kentucky Derby field on Twitter, listed in order by the number of points accrued.
Whatever your thoughts on this year's Derby field, it should be fun and exciting to watch when these studs step up to the gate. We are going to look at who you should be paying attention to and what makes them a top contender.
California Chrome (Trainer: Art Sherman)
As Lukas mentioned, California Chrome is going to enter the Kentucky Derby as the odds-on-favorite. He's currently listed at 7-4, according to OddsShark.com, the only horse better than 8-1.
He's been a monster on the track so far this season, including a dominant victory by 5.25 lengths at the Santa Anita Derby on April 5. If you look at history, seven winners at Santa Anita have gone on to win at Kentucky, most recently, I'll Have Another in 2012.
As impressive as Chrome's win three weeks ago was, Los Alamitos racing announcer Ed Burgart pointed out it's just one part of what makes this three-year-old special.
I like the facts that California Chrome has won on dirt, cushion and poly track. He has not been one dimensional either. Has won on/off pace— Ed Burgart (@qheddie) April 20, 2014
Churchill Downs and Santa Anita Park are both dirt tracks, which plays right into the hands of California Chrome. He doesn't have to worry about changing the pace too much, since the Kentucky Derby is just one furlong longer than Santa Anita.
There's a reason Art Sherman's horse is such an overwhelming favorite heading into this year's Derby. He's been flawless this season coming off a win in the most prestigious race so far and has yet to be challenged.
Wicked Strong (Trainer: James A. Jerkens)
If you are looking for a sentimental choice in this year's field, Wicked Strong is the perfect candidate.
In addition to being renamed to echo the sentiments of Boston residents following the Boston Marathon bombings last year, a portion of his winnings during the Triple Crown season will be donated to the One Fund to help victims of the attacks, according to Tim Warsinskey of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
[Wicked Strong part owner Peter] Horvitz said five percent of Wicked Strong's Triple Crown race earnings and one percent of its career earnings will be donated to the One Fund for those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings.
The horse's New England connection is through Don Little Jr.'s Boston-based Centennial Farms, which created the Wicked Strong 20-member ownership syndicate.
Oh yeah, Wicked Strong can also run a little bit. He's been inconsistent this year, though the results have gotten better with each race run. The colt had a ninth-place finish at the Holy Bull Stakes in January, followed by a fourth-place finish at the AlwOC event in February.
Wicked Strong's greatest triumph came on April 5 with a victory at the Wood Memorial defeating fellow Derby contenders Samraat and Social Inclusion by 3.5 lengths. There's been an upward trajectory for him that's hard to ignore heading into Churchill Downs.
Wildcat Red (Trainer: Jose Garoffalo)
There are horses getting better odds, but Wildcat Red is an interesting under-the-radar contender in this year's field. He's been at or near the top of the leaderboard in all four of his races this year finishing no lower than second.
Terms that get thrown around when discussing Wildcat Red is gritty and gutsy, which would make him the perfect No. 3 hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks but comes off as a slight on his natural ability.
A fantastic Florida Derby! Constitution over a gutsy Wildcat Red! 14 races in the books. Not even tired!— Larry Collmus (@larrycollmus) March 29, 2014
Working in Wildcat Red's favor is the news Luis Saez will be his jockey at the Derby instead of Cairo Prince.
Trainer Jose Garoffalo said Luis Saez now the rider on Wildcat Red in Ky. Derby following Cairo Prince's defection earlier today.— Mike Welsch (@DRFWelsch) April 19, 2014
Saez is the eighth-ranked jockey in the world, according to Equibase.com, and he has 1,057 career victories in 5,687 starts. Wildcat Red might not have the raw talent to keep up with California Chrome or Wicked Strong, but under the right leader, he can pull off a surprise on race day.
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