Kentucky Derby Field 2014: Examining Favorites, Sleeper Contenders, Top Jockeys

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2014

Exercise rider Kelvin Pahal takes Kentucky Derby hopeful Wicked Strong for a morning workout at Churchill Downs Monday, April 28, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel

Knowledge is power, and when it comes to putting some of your hard-earned money on a horse (if you are into that sort of thing), well, you can't have enough information.

How has the horse run on certain surfaces? What are the track records of the trainers and jockeys? What style of race does the horse like to run?

But, of course, if you are just starting your research, you may be seeking more general information. Who are the favorites? The sleepers? The jockeys?

Consider this article your starting point. 

Without question, California Chrome is the favorite. After winning four straight races and dominating the Santa Anita Derby, it hardly comes as a surprise that the horse has become the next great hope for the Triple Crown. 

But there are doubts about California Chrome. For one, he doesn't exactly have a typical background as a horse, as Daniel Ross of the Guardian writes:

Despite piecing together a string of impressive performances, California Chrome was still somewhat overlooked by the naysayers who couldn’t quite picture a California-bred who had cost less than a second-hand Ford Focus winning a race that is generally the preserve of the equine Lamborghinis.

And ask Robby Albarado, Medal Count's rider, if California Chrome will dominate, and you'll find he isn't convinced, according to Rick Bozich of

He’s coming to Kentucky … He’s pretty much had things his own way. Looks good. Flashy horse. 

That’s not how it works here, man. We can get weather conditions here. There’s not that California sun. You can get a muddy, wet racetrack. You can get squeezed back somewhere.

Albarado may be a bit biased, of course. But despite justifiably being the prohibitive favorite, California Chrome isn't without his own question marks. 

With Constitution and Cairo Prince missing the Derby due to injury, however, the field behind Chrome isn't exactly the strongest. Still, this is no one-horse race.

In's Derby odds on April 28, Chrome was the favorite at 5-2 odds, with Wicked Strong next at 13-2 odds, followed by Danza (9-1), Hoppertunity (12-1) and Samraat (16-1).

Wicked Strong turned some heads winning the Wood Memorial, and is a strong finisher if he can stay close enough to the leaders throughout the opening portion of the race. He isn't a deep closer, in other words, but he's as dangerous as any horse in this field if he's mid-pack down the stretch. That's when his late speed can vault him to victory. 

Danza won the Arkansas Derby in impressive fashion, and that has put him on plenty of radars. 

It was also his second race after taking seven months off. Was it a sign of things to come, or will we find he isn't quite in the racing form needed for the Derby after such an odd schedule?

Hoppertunity is a horse worth monitoring once the post positions are out. He's a heck of a runner and likes to get out to the front of the pack early in the race, so if he has an inside post at the Derby, he'll be in danger of getting squeezed into the pack, where he'll likely end up trapped for the duration of the race.

On the other hand, the inside post could give him just enough time to bolt to the front of the race and avoid the mayhem altogether. We'll have a better idea of Hoppertunity's true odds to win this race once we know where he's starting from.

And then there's Samraat who, like Wicked Strong, is at his best as a mid-pack stalker. He's not as flashy as California Chrome, surely, but he's been a pretty consistent runner. The question for him will be how he handles the crowded field and added 1/8th of a mile in Kentucky. 

Garry Jones

Per sleepers, Candy Boy is intriguing. He finished second in the CashCall Futurity Stakes, won the the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and finished third at the Santa Anita Derby. He's a deep stalker that could track down the field, especially if the top contenders get bogged in the pack earlier in the race.

Intense Holiday is also worth monitoring. With eight races under his belt (one win, a second-place finish, a third-place finish, two fourth-place showings and one fifth-place finish), he could sneak up on everybody. More of a sprinter, he'll be dangerous if he is able to clear the pack early and hold off the deep closers late.  

As per jockeys, Victor Espinoza has California Chrome running quite well and he won the Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 2002 on War Emblem. The very-decorated Mike Smith won the Derby in 2005 and will be aboard Hoppertunity. Calvin Borel has won three of the last seven Kentucky Derbies and will be riding Ride On Curlin in this year's edition.

And finally, there's Gary Stevens, who has won three wins at each Triple Crown race. He'll be urging on Candy Boy.