Kentucky Derby 2014: Who's Hot, Who's Not as the Run for the Roses Looms?

Jessica PaquetteFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2014

Kentucky Derby 2014: Who's Hot, Who's Not as the Run for the Roses Looms?

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    The days leading up to the Kentucky Derby can be some of the most intriguing in sports. In a split second, everything can change and the dreams of roses can vanish into thin air.

    The Churchill Downs surface can be a tricky one. Some horses will thrive from the moment they step under the iconic twin spires, whereas others will begin to show their vulnerability. Every moment from here until post time matters, and no detail is too small.

    No matter how much preparation and planning have gone into it, some horses and people are inevitably having better weeks than others. Here is a look at who is hot and who is not as Derby Day approaches. 

Hot: Rosie Napravnik

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    Despite serving a four-day suspension for her role in a roughly run Derby Trial Stakes last weekend, Rosie Napravnik is still having a very good Kentucky Derby week.

    The 26-year-old jockey has rapidly ascended the ranks and is regarded as one of the top riders in the sport. Last year, she guided Mylute to a fifth-place finish in the Run for the Roses and will try to improve on that debut performance with Vicar's In Trouble.

    In addition to being the darling of the racing industry, she also has utilized her budding fame for a good cause. She has become a champion for racehorses off the track and has partnered with Wild Turkey distillery for a major donation to Old Friends, a farm for retired racehorses, should she become the first female jockey in history to win the Kentucky Derby. 

Not: Wildcat Red

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Wildcat Red has yet to finish worse than second in seven starts, and at first glance, his career record should make him a logical contender.

    However, since arriving at Churchill Downs, he has seen his stock plummet after he labored over the track and drew some criticism from witnesses. Mike Welsch of Daily Racing Form tweeted it was "very disappointing."

    Trainer Jose Garoffalo seemed to watch an entirely different workout. As he told Frank Angst of Bloodhorse (via ESPN.com), he was pleased with it: "He's the kind of horse that doesn't need too much to do. I know most people like the clock, they were expecting a minute flat or a :59 seconds or so, but I'm not too worried about it."

    You have to admire his optimism.

Hot: Larry Collmus

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    Larry Collmus is taking over the racing world one track at a time. After serving as the voice of NBC's Triple Crown coverage since 2011, the Maryland native landed one of the most coveted announcing jobs in the sport—Churchill Downsfor 2014.

    He has served as the track announcer at tracks across the country since he began his career at 18 years old in Maryland in 1985. Since then, he has been the voice of some of the most memorable races in history. 

    2014 will not be his first time calling the Kentucky Derby, but it will be his first year as the track announcer at Churchill Downs. It will surely be a call to remember. 

Not: Steve Asmussen

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    Steve Asmussen has the potential to sweep the coveted Kentucky Oaks/Kentucky Derby Double. With the heavily favored Untapable in the Oaks and the legitimate contender Tapiture in the Derby, one would think he would be having a banner week.

    Think again. He came under heavy scrutiny when a scathing New York Times article came out last month and unveiled some troubling footage taken by an undercover PETA member. The issue has become a divisive one in horse racing, but one thing remains clear: Even if Asmussen shines in the Oaks and Derby, those videos will leave a cloud over any accomplishments.

Hot: Dance With Fate

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    Every year, a horse gets everyone talking. This year, that horse is Dance With Fate.

    Veteran journeyman Corey Nakatani has been a top jockey for decades, but the Kentucky Derby trophy has eluded him. He has gone 0-of-16 in the Run for the Roses, but Dance With Fate could be the horse to break that streak.

    Though his greatest victories have come over synthetic surfaces, he is proven on conventional dirt as well. His abysmal loss in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile can be overlooked; there was a tremendous track bias toward speed that day, and as a true closer, he never had a chance.

Not: Churchill Downs

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    The iconic twin spires, the blanket of roses, the mint juleps—Churchill Downs has it all. Despite all of the wonderful traditions associated with the Kentucky Derby, the track has been under fire this week.

    In a letter to Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm, which was also slighted by Churchill Downs, Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte expressed some grave concerns. He is best known as the pilot of the incomparable Secretariat and an ambassador for the sport who has continued to give back to the fans despite being confined to a wheelchair.

    In his letter, he wrote that, in 2012, he was "denied any parking assistance by the track" and, in 2013, he was "ultimately was forced to park in an off-track neighborhood lot across Central Avenue." He also was not even able to watch the Kentucky Derby in both of those instances.

Hot: California Chrome

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    Though the Kentucky Derby favorite did not win anyone over in his first spin over the Churchill Downs track, he remains the horse to beat and the hottest horse on the grounds.

    He drew a very favorable post-position draw on Wednesday. Breaking from stall five, he could join Silver Charm, War Emblem and Funny Cide as recent Kentucky Derby winners who have won from that post position. 

    He will be the first Kentucky Derby entrant for trainer Art Sherman, but it won't be the 77-year-old's first time being a part of the Derby. He was the exercise rider of Swaps, also California-bred like California Chrome, and was with him when he won in 1955.

Not: Vinceremos and Harry's Holiday

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    These two habitual losers get coupled together here because both competitors will have to buck history. Since 1940, no Kentucky Derby winner has finished worse than fifth in their final prep race. 

    Vinceremos wound up a disappointing 14th in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, while Harry's Holiday did not fare much better—he was 13th in the same race. They both have quite a bit of history to outrun if they want a legitimate chance to wear the blanket of roses. 

Hot: The Ortiz Brothers

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    Chelsea Durand/Associated Press

    Brothers Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz Jr. have taken New York by storm. They have become regarded as two of the brightest stars on the horizon and have quickly ascended the ranks of the tough New York jockey colony.

    On Saturday, they will become the first brothers to ride in the Kentucky Derby together in 30 years. Jose, 20, will be aboard Samraat, and Irad will be in the irons on Uncle Sigh.

    Fittingly, the two New York-bred colts have forged a rivalry of their own. They have dueled together throughout the prep races, with Samraat having the advantage over his rival. 

Not: Wicked Strong

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    For a horse whose greatest flaw is his erratic behavior in the stretch, the last thing you wanted to read was Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form's tweet on Tuesday where he mentioned that Wicked Strong was "very distracted galloping this a.m. especially in both passes coming to the finish line, also got a little hot." 

    This horse has been extremely difficult to keep focused and on a straight path in a race. In a full field of 20 rivals, there is no room for error. Expending extra energy to swerve and weave around the track could be the difference between a trip to the winner's circle or being another also-ran.

    For a horse that started the week with such hype, Wicked Strong's star has faded as the week has gone on. Though his connections seemed pleased with the outside post in the field of 20, that is still a large obstacle to overcome.