The field for the 2014 Kentucky Derby is still taking shape, but there are certain entrants in the 140th annual Run for the Roses that should be challenging to get into the winner's circle at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
Unfortunately, one of the prospective contenders in Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend had to pull out of the first leg of the Triple Crown due to a fever, per the New York Daily News' Jerry Bossert. According to that report, the field of 20 will be drawn on Wednesday, with as many as 24 horses being able to enter.
First among the most prominent horses is California Chrome, who's triumphed in his past four starts, including the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. It will be interesting to see how the 11-4 favorite (h/t OddsShark.com) will handle the hype and who will close the sizable gap on him, as Wicked Strong and Danza are both off in the most current odds at 7-1 and 9-1, respectively.
Here is a closer look at the field, along with further analysis of some of the favorites and other contenders for the impending spectacle in Louisville.
|2014 Kentucky Derby Contenders, Points Standings|
|California Chrome||Art Sherman||150|
|Vicar's In Trouble||Mike Maker||120|
|Dance With Fate||Peter Eurton||108|
|Wicked Strong||Jimmy Jerkens||102|
|Samraat||Rick Violette Jr.||100|
|Intense Holiday||Todd Pletcher||93|
|Wildcat Red||Jose Garrofalo||90|
|We Miss Artie||Todd Pletcher||60|
|Ride On Curlin||Billy Gowan||55|
|General A Rod||Mike Maker||40|
|Medal Count||Dale Romans||40|
|Candy Boy||John Sadler||30|
|Uncle Sigh||Henry Contessa||24|
|Harry's Holiday||Mike Maker||20|
|Commanding Curve||Dallas Stewart||20|
|Pablo Del Monte||Wesley Ward||20|
|Social Inclusion||Manny Azpurua||20|
|Big Bazinga||Katerina Vassilieva||14|
|Source: New York Daily News|
The past four races have not been very close, and that's been a good thing for California Chrome. Nothing seems to suggest he'll slow down or shrink from the stage in The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.
Art Sherman, who trains the current prohibitive favorite, has been relentless in his praise and has hinted at how much of a treat it's been to handle him, per TVG.com:
Winning the Santa Anita Derby proves that California Chrome has what it takes to put together a winning run versus a Grade I field. That has to have even the most decorated of Sherman's fellow trainers in the likes of Todd Pletcher and Hall of Famer Bob Baffert looking up in awe at California Chrome.
Jockey Victor Espinoza rode California Chrome for his last work before making the trip to Louisville, and Sherman was extremely pleased, as reported by USA Today's Jennie Rees:
Very good. Exactly what I needed for the horse. He doesn't need much now. He's ready. I just wanted to put some air into him. He's happy and fresh. That's the way I want to keep him for this race. Victor told me he couldn't believe how easy the horse went. He just said he felt so good. Victor wrapped up on him and didn't let him do too much. He knows this horse so well.
Sometimes trainers can be optimistic to a fault, but there is every reason for Sherman to believe that California Chrome has the goods to deliver a Kentucky Derby triumph. Having won his last four starts by a combined 24 1/4 lengths (h/t Associated Press, via ESPN.com), it doesn't seem to matter who lines up alongside this speedy horse.
No matter what the pace is, Espinoza has a good enough feel to recognize when to break California Chrome. As long as that dynamic duo can sustain its momentum, Sherman could very well have a runaway winner at Churchill Downs.
Vicar's In Trouble
Trainer Mike Maker figures to have three runners, with Vicar's In Trouble as the most notable to saunter to the starting gates.
It's been a strong 2014 campaign for Maker's pupil, beginning with a win at the Grade III Lecomte Stakes and a third-place effort at the Risen Star Stakes (Grade II). That latter race featured a champion in Intense Holiday, who should be a viable dark horse at the Kentucky Derby, and Vicar's In Trouble also beat Hoppertunity and Commanding Curve.
Vicar's In Trouble then romped to victory at the Louisiana Derby in late March, vaulting into second in the points standings.
Although there's still plenty of time to make adjustments before Saturday's race, the Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman did not give a glowing review of the work Vicar's In Trouble put in this past weekend:
What is rather discouraging about Privman's assessment is that he criticizes Commanding Curve, which somewhat diminishes Vicar's In Trouble's run at the Risen Star Stakes. Maker must make sure that his horse is able to deal with a quickened pace and a longer track at Churchill Downs.
This Kentucky Derby will mark the horse's first Grade I start, so how he handles the uptick in competition will determine whether or not he can finish in the money. Since he's projected at 20-1 right now, he isn't quite getting the respect commanded to achieve such a result.
With four prospective starters in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher has the most entrants from his stable amongst his respectable peers. However, the horse that gives him the best chance to win is Danza on the strength of a recent, surprise surge.
Danza was a long shot to win the Arkansas Derby in what was just his second start of the season and his Grade I debut, yet he blew away the field by 4 3/4 lengths. HRTV.com noted how Pletcher has had good feelings about Danza in light of his early work before Saturday's race:
It's not as though Pletcher wouldn't endorse his horse under any circumstances, but it isn't wise to discount his analysis. The inexperience that Danza has makes him a wild card of sorts, so there's no guarantee he'll be among the top finishers despite his currently favorable odds.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners president Aron Wellman acknowledged that he didn't expect Danza to win the Arkansas Derby in the fashion that he did but fell in line with what Pletcher said in his analysis, per USA Today's Jeff Greer:
If I said I wasn't surprised, I'd be lying to you. It hits you like a ton of bricks. [...] There are two schools of thought: One that says the Arkansas Derby had to be a fluke. The second is people delving deeper into his form and saying he hadn't done anything wrong and that maybe it wasn't a fluke. This could be the horse that's in the right place at the right time.
Emerging from such a strong field as the victor is far easier said than done, but Danza made it look so easy in Hot Springs that it's hard to count him out as a strong favorite for the first Triple Crown jewel of 2014.
So there are reasons to believe in all three of these previously analyzed horses—California Chrome for his sheer dominance, Vicar's In Trouble's steady finishes in the money and Danza as the trendy pick flashing great form. Having said that, there is still a ways to go before the morning-line odds are set and the odds are updated.
Those should more accurately reflect who the true top contenders will be, and the numbers will continue to shift even on the day of this excellent race. Don't expect California Chrome to fall out of the top spot, though, and Vicar's In Trouble and Danza should both be in the discussion as potential champions.
There is indeed plenty to look forward to in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Now it's a matter of waiting, monitoring the odds and seeing how these horses work at Churchill Downs before the race to determine who will have the best shot at claiming the top prize.