The morning-line odds and post positions are now available for Saturday's 140th running of the Kentucky Derby. This opening leg of the Triple Crown campaign at Churchill Downs always brings about buzz regarding the favorite and his chances of pulling off horse racing's elusive trifecta.
California Chrome has been tabbed as the 5-2 favorite in the morning line. Recent Grade 1 winners in Wood Memorial Stakes victor Wicked Strong (8-1) and Arkansas Derby breakout performer Danza (10-1) are also among the top contenders.
With only three horses sporting single-digit odds, though, there is plenty of room in this field of 20 for the other challengers to pull off the improbable and make history in Louisville, Ky.
Here is a look at the complete post positions and odds, along with notable jockey news and some more focused analysis on those mounters' starters.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of Equibase.com.
|Post||Horse||Jockey||Trainer||Morning Line Odds|
|1||Vicar's In Trouble||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker||20-1|
|2||Harry's Holiday||Corey Lanerie||Mike Maker||50-1|
|3||Uncle Sigh||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Gary Contessa||30-1|
|4||Danza||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher||8-1|
|5||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||5-2|
|6||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette Jr.||15-1|
|7||We Miss Artie||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||50-1|
|8||General A Rod||Joel Rosario||Mike Maker||15-1|
|9||Vinceremos||Joe Rococo Jr.||Todd Pletcher||30-1|
|10||Wildcat Red||Luis Saez||Jose Garoffalo||15-1|
|scratched||Hoppertunity||Mike Smith||Bob Baffert||scratched|
|11||Dance With Fate||Corey Nakatani||Peter Eurton||20-1|
|12||Chitu||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||20-1|
|13||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans||20-1|
|14||Tapiture||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||12-1|
|15||Intense Holiday||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||8-1|
|16||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart||50-1|
|17||Candy Boy||Gary Stevens||John Sadler||15-1|
|18||Ride On Curlin||Calvin Borel||Billy Gowan||15-1|
|19||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||Jimmy Jerkens||6-1|
|20||Pablo Del Monte||Jeffrey Sanchez||Wesley Ward||50-1|
Source: Kentucky Derby
The Favorite: California Chrome
Victor Espinoza was in the fifth post position when he won aboard War Emblem in 2002, but he has yet to claim victory in the Run for the Roses since. That could well change, since California Chrome is being touted as the big favorite, and he's hoping that post will bring the magic at Churchill Downs again.
"Hopefully, that's my lucky number," said Espinoza, per the Associated Press' Beth Harris, via ABC.com, as he went on to discuss how unique his horse is. "Just an amazing horse to ride. [...] I let him do his own thing and I think he likes that."
The veteran jockey noted after Wednesday's draw how critical the opening stretch will be for his chances of riding to the winner's circle.
"I just want to have California Chrome enjoy the time and the race," said Espinoza, per Fox Sports Ohio's Kevin Goheen. "I think the key is going to be the first three-eighths."
If California Chrome has any potential weakness, it's that he doesn't get out of the starting gates all that quickly. It could be a problematic shortcoming, considering Danza is just to his inside, along with the speedster Uncle Sigh.
That should set an ambitious pace and create a lot of congestion in the early going. Despite the evident dominance California Chrome has displayed in winning his previous four races by a combined 24 1/4 lengths, this is a deeper, bigger field and a greater test of endurance than he's ever encountered.
Kevin Modesti of the L.A. Daily News pointed out how California Chrome's recent resume is far better than his peers:
California Chrome has won 4 stakes in a row, by 24+ lengths. No other #KyDerby hopeful has even a 2-race win streak at the stakes level.— Kevin Modesti (@KevinModesti) April 6, 2014
Espinoza may like to let his horse do his own thing, but he must be mindful of how he handles California Chrome toward the beginning. If he's within striking distance down the final straightaway, look for California Chrome to explode to the finish.
Wild Card: Danza
In his Grade 1 debut at the Arkansas Derby, Danza ran away from the pack in the final couple furlongs to post an improbable victory by 4 3/4 lengths as a 40-1 long shot.
The oddsmakers should like Danza as a flavor-of-the-week pick, but his lack of experience is discouraging. With so many other strong jockeys in the field, Joe Bravo will have his work cut out for him to deliver for renowned trainer Todd Pletcher, who has three other horses in this race.
Bravo discussed his thrilling ride in Arkansas, and praised California Chrome but was quick to mention that the odds-on favorite doesn't always claim the coveted golden trophy in Louisville, per NJ.com's Jerry Izenberg:
I’ll tell you I’m a California Chrome fan. He is beautiful. But the best horse doesn’t always win the race. About halfway through the Arkansas Derby, I saw these two horses near me and all of a sudden I realized that unless there was something I couldn’t see behind me I was going to beat these horses. And then it really hit me. I’m in a million dollar race and I’m going to win it. What a feeling. He didn’t run well before that in Florida so now the question is was the Arkansas Derby a step forward? Timing is everything in this game.
The allowance race Bravo alludes to happened in March at Gulfstream Park, where Danza finished third before his breakout performance at Oaklawn Park.
Similar to what Espinoza is hoping to experience, Pletcher is seeking his second winner from the No. 4 position, per Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde:
Arkansas Derby winner Danza draws No. 4. Trainer Todd Pletcher won from that post in 2010 w Super Saver.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) April 30, 2014
But does lightning strike twice? In this instance, that applies to both Danza's surprising triumph at the Arkansas Derby as much as it does to Pletcher winning from the fourth post again. Danza may be a one-hit wonder, or he may be just coming into his own and poised for a Kentucky Derby victory.
Even Bravo left an open-ended question about whether Arkansas was an aberration or a sign of things to come. Horse racing fans, tense bettors and perhaps millions more will find out on Saturday, depending on how Danza fares.
Dark Horse to Watch: Ride On Curlin
Calvin Borel has earned the nickname "Bo-rail" thanks to his penchant for riding close to the rail and pulling off big wins. Drawing the No. 1 post is a burden most jockeys don't want to bear, but working further inside as the race progresses and once the traffic disperses is the ultimate goal.
Considering the fact that Borel has won three Kentucky Derbies since 2007, he figures to be a factor regardless of where he starts from. The past three champions to capture the maiden jewel of the Triple Crown have come from the auxiliary gate, which is where Borel's Ride On Curlin will start from Saturday.
Agent Jerry Hissam and Borel have enjoyed a 23-year partnership that has helped the jockey sustain a career and has led to his thriving at Churchill Downs in recent years. After a fall last October at Keeneland, that saw Borel break his fibula, calls stopped coming in to participate in marquee races.
Hissam has had his struggles as well. Battling pancreatitis, he announced his retirement last April. But he and Borel are back together after their respective recoveries. Borel discussed the trying times he endured in a report by Kentucky.com's Alicia Wincze Hughes:
I felt like things kind of got away from us for about 4-5 months. Without Jerry and then me getting hurt, people didn't see my face like they should and I believe you have to show up, let them see your face. So it kind of got away. And now since about the middle of Oaklawn it started every day, getting better horses and now it's starting to pick up.
Which 15-1 shot will fare best at the 2014 Kentucky Derby?
Borel and Hissam have been through a lot over the past year, and per Hughes, Hissam was there this past year to see Borel inducted into the Hall of Fame. Both men could have enjoyed the fruits of their labor and sauntered into retirement by now.
But that is not the nature of this dynamic duo, and trainer Billy Gowan has to be thrilled to have Borel on his side as he seeks a Kentucky Derby winner.
All three of the horses analyzed above have at least one connection to a previous triumph at Churchill Downs. Each has a strong case to be among the top contenders—even as viable candidates to finish in the money. However, there is a fair amount of parity beyond the heavily favored California Chrome, which should make this race as unpredictable as any.
California Chrome's post position really changes the complexion of the Kentucky Derby. And with the way Borel can work the rail on Ride On Curlin and the flash of brilliance Danza had in Hot Springs, both should threaten to emerge victorious.
Then again, the traffic concerns could be overblown and Espinoza could roar to victory as he has in his previous four starts. That would set up a situation where California Chrome could be positioned for the first Triple Crown since 1978.