If there's one thing to say about this year's Kentucky Derby field, it would be how diverse the group is. That makes it brutal for gamblers to figure out which way the wind is blowing but exciting for fans to just sit back and know they will see something special.
There is one outlier in the field right now, California Chrome, who is getting all the love from the oddsmakers. It's not hard to see why, as the three-year-old is coming off a dominant performance at the Santa Anita Derby.
But Churchill Downs will be the longest track California Chrome has run this year. It's also going to be the first time he's run a race outside of California, so the home-track advantage will be gone.
As we look through the field this year, courtesy of Jonathan Lintner of The Courier-Journal, these are the underrated contenders who are going to be pleasant surprises.
Samraat (Odds: 20-1)
There are certain terms in sports that fans know are really meant as slights, though they usually come with a caveat of "not to take anything away from this guy, but..."
Samraat is the equestrian version of that kind of athlete. He's not a physically imposing horse, nor does he have the most natural speed on the field, yet when you look at the leaderboard, the three-year-old is at or near the top.
In six career races, Samraat has won five times and finished second in another. If you need visual proof of his prowess, take a look at how easy the young stud makes it around Churchill Downs in practice.
No one likes to be described as gritty and full of heart, except maybe David Eckstein, but Samraat is exactly that and is going to make those oddsmakers look foolish.
Bayern (Odds: 25-1)
In keeping with the theme of coined phrases used to describe horses as athletes, Bayern is the thoroughbred who has all the raw talent in the world but has to stay healthy long enough to show it.
Bayern has a great pedigree, being trained by Bob Baffert, and does enter the Kentucky Derby with some momentum after finishing third at the Arkansas Derby on April 12. He also won two races at Santa Anita track earlier this year.
Gary West of ESPN.com noted how "ready" Bayern looked for the big stage following the Arkansas Derby.
With Gary Stevens riding, Bayern completed the distance, starting from the three-quarter pole and continuing past the wire, in 1:23.80. Drill worked in 1:24.20. Scratched from the San Felipe because of a bruised foot, Bayern has raced only twice, but with his 15-length romp in February, he hinted that he could be among the most talented horses of his generation.
By all accounts, Bayern's foot is healthy enough to put him in the field. Getting 25-1 odds is almost too good to be true for a horse with this much raw talent.
Candy Boy (Odds: 25-1)
Finally, we have Candy Boy, who is the pitcher who has the 100 mph fastball and hard-snapping curveball but can't put it all together.
He was a monster at the Robert Lewis Stakes in February, coming from behind to beat Chitu but, as Jay Privman of DailyRacingForm.com noted, looking like a horse who could have run another race the same day and come out on top.
Candy Boy ($6.60) just did get up late to beat Chitu, but he was just getting started when the 1 1/16-mile race finished. Candy Boy continued to gallop out strongly, indicative of a colt who will welcome additional distance.
"When I pulled him up, I checked all the gauges, and they were all full," said his jockey, Gary Stevens.
If that's the horse who shows up on May 3, those 25-1 odds are going to be highway robbery for anyone who knew what this stud was capable of.
Consistency hasn't been Candy Boy's friend, though. He finished well behind the field at Santa Anita, losing by nine lengths and never looking like a real threat.
We are going to chalk that bad race up to a one-time anomaly, which every athlete is entitled to. If it happens again, then we know that Candy Boy was overrated. But that win in February suggests so much more.
Note: Odds courtesy of Oddshark.com as of 7 p.m. ET on April 25, 2014.
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