The entries for the 2014 Kentucky Derby will be officially slotted into their post positions Wednesday, but there are several in the field who are in line to succeed at Churchill Downs regardless of where they start in Saturday's race.
California Chrome is the unquestionable favorite at this juncture, and his status shouldn't change leading up to the Run for the Roses. Given his form in winning his previous four races, it's hard to imagine California Chrome being caught by anyone regardless of the track or the magnitude of the stage.
But there are at least a couple of contenders with strong connections who should give California Chrome a run for his money. Below is a closer look at the list of prospective entries, along with more detailed analysis on what makes certain horses best suited to triumph in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
|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 11-4 odds California Chrome is being given doesn't make him the most attractive option for bettors, but it's an indication of just how highly thought of he is—and deservedly so.
Jockey Victor Espinoza has never even pushed his prized horse since first coming aboard this past December at the King Glorious Stakes, and he also thought he saw something special the first time he encountered the horse and trainer Art Sherman, per the Daily Breeze's Art Wilson:
I was really, really impressed. There was something about him that I really liked. Then (one day) I saw my agent and I told him, 'You might think I’m crazy but that horse for (trainer) Art Sherman ... I know he’s a Cal-bred, but there’s something about him that I really, really like.' He had the ability and he just caught my eye. So I told him, 'Maybe talk to Art and in the future maybe we can ride him.' [...] I don’t know how good this horse is. I’ve never had a chance to ride him hard all the way to the end.
This is indeed a dream scenario for Espinoza and Sherman, who have to feel supremely confident their horse can emerge triumphant in the most exciting two minutes in sports.
There may have been previous reservations about the level of competition California Chrome faced preceding the Santa Anita Derby. However, after he won that race by over five lengths, it's hard to doubt he could do something similar at Churchill Downs.
California Chrome hasn't traveled 10 furlongs in one race before and hasn't faced quite the competition he will in Louisville, yet his ceiling is still to be determined. Imagine what might happen if Espinoza turns him loose—even if he's not required to.
The result could either be a sensational charge at the end to claim victory or a flat-out runaway win for California Chrome. Given his excellence in three wins at Santa Anita Park on the dirt, don't put it past California Chrome to demolish the competition again to kick off a bid for the Triple Crown.
The local Kentucky product will have home ties at Churchill Downs when he takes to the starting gates Saturday. One big factor working in Hoppertunity's favor is pedigree, as handicapper Doug Salvatore alludes to:
Hoppertunity (10-1) came about by Any Given Saturday, whose lineage is impressive, featuring the likes of Weekend in Indy, along with 1992 Santa Anita Derby and Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy (h/t Equineline.com). Such a family should translate well to Louisville.
Finishing runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby to California Chrome is not a shameful outcome, and Hoppertunity also has Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert at his side. All of those signs point to a potential finish in the money this weekend.
But endurance isn't all Hoppertunity is good for, if the showcase he's put on thus far leading up to Saturday is any indication. The Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman noted the fine time Hoppertunity had amid adverse conditions in his recent work:
Performing that well on a sloppy track shows there is some speed on reserve. Combining that with Hoppertunity's heredity with regard to distance makes him an ideal candidate to thrive at the Kentucky Derby.
Regardless of the pace, Hoppertunity has all the physical tools to thrive at this race.
Oddsmakers have the upstart Danza as a No. 3 co-favorite at 9-1. The Arkansas Derby saw Danza enter as a long shot only to pull away from the high-class field at 4 3/4 lengths.
That impressive, maiden Grade I run forecasts a strong finish for trainer Todd Pletcher's horse in the Run for the Roses. History seems to be against Danza, though, if this statistic from TwinSpires.com holds true:
Danza was a 40-1 long shot at Hot Springs before he ran away from the field. Inexperience makes him a bit of a wild card at Churchill Downs, but his burst at the end of the Arkansas Derby indicates he has plenty in the tank to make a run at the winner's circle in Louisville.
Going from relative obscurity to one of the trendy picks to capture the first jewel in the Triple Crown is about as meteoric of a rise as Danza could have asked for.
Since he hails from Pletcher's deep stable, which figures to have four entrants in the Kentucky Derby, it doesn't come as too much of a shock, though.
Pletcher should have Danza ready to conquer Churchill Downs despite a limited resume and a pedigree that doesn't possess a lot of notable stamina. The run at the Arkansas Derby should be enough to show just how much upside Danza has.
In looking forward to see how things might change upon Wednesday's post position draw, though, Danza might see his stock drop due to the experience concerns and a lackluster pedigree for the Kentucky Derby. That should make him an even trendier underplay bet to crack the top three.
For the same reasons, but in a positive light, Hoppertunity should see his odds shorten and jump into the conversation as a more serious contender. California Chrome is bound to remain entrenched as the morning-line favorite, as well as the horse to beat when the contenders approach the starting gates Saturday.
Among the horses figuring to enter the 2014 Kentucky Derby, it appears California Chrome offers the best chance at a potential Triple Crown winner for the first time since 1978.