When devouring the odds for this year's Kentucky Derby, it's clear that there's one horse who stands above the rest. It's also clear that this is a deep field, and all it takes is one wrong step or aggressive push to open the door for an underdog to win.
California Chrome is the star at Churchill Downs this week. He's an overwhelming favorite, currently standing at 5-2 odds, but that isn't always the best spot to be in. Only five favorites have won the Kentucky Derby since 1980, according to Jim Chairusmi of the Wall Street Journal.
This means the field is wide open for a sleeper to steal the spotlight and claim the roses on Saturday. Here is a deeper look at what we expect to happen in Kentucky this weekend, including our official prediction and dark-horse candidates to watch.
|1||Vicar's In Trouble||20-1|
|7||We Miss Artie||50-1|
|8||General A Rod||15-1|
|11||Hoppertunity (withdrew due to Injury)||N/A|
|12||Dance With Fate||20-1|
|19||Ride On Curlin||15-1|
Sleeper Prediction: Intense Holiday (12-1)
Intense Holiday got a very good draw with the 16th post position. Four horses have won the Kentucky Derby from that spot, all of them since 1995, including Animal Kingdom in 2011.
In addition to that random bit of history, Intense Holiday also has the benefit of being a local horse. He is owned by Ed Glasscock, a Louisville native, and is looking to become the first local product to win the Derby in a long time, per Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:
Intense Holiday gets No. 16. Louisville owners; local ownership hasn't won Derby in a century.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) April 30, 2014
The thoroughbred has shown proficiency on the track, especially this year with one win and two other top-three finishes. His best performance was at the Risen Star Stakes in February when he defeated Derby contender Vicar's In Trouble to capture his second career win.
Consistency hasn't been there for Intense Holiday in his young career, but his trajectory is on the upswing, and he's built for long distances like the one at Churchill Downs.
Deep Sleeper: Chitu (20-1)
Unlike Intense Holiday, Chitu did not get a historically good draw. The No. 13 post has only produced three winners, the most recent being Smarty Jones in 2004, but before that, no horse had won from this spot since 1968.
In a compelling twist, the Twitter account connected to Hoppertunity, who was forced to pull out of the Derby, and run by people with direct connection to the horse noted that Chitu is making quite a name for himself in practice sessions:
I am not sure if Chitu can pull a War Emblem but I will have to keep an eye on him. Dangerous.— Hoppertunity (@Hopper_Colt) April 30, 2014
The one concern with Chitu is stamina. He has great speed off the block and can outrun anyone over a short distance, but pacing himself before making a final charge hasn't worked thus far.
The key to a victory will be a strong start that doesn't require all of Chitu's energy so that he can make a final move coming down the stretch. It's a long shot, sure, but speed is a dangerous weapon to have.
Predicted Winner: California Chrome (5-2)
If California Chrome wasn't a strong contender before, Hoppertunity's withdrawal certainly pushes the Santa Anita Derby-winner even closer to the finish line.
What's the best bet at the Kentucky Derby?
Hoppertunity didn't have the ideal post position but was in the middle of the pack and would have been able to dictate the pace. He certainly had the best staff around him, being trained by Bob Baffert.
Now, California Chrome's biggest competition is Wicked Strong, who is starting on the outside at a spot that's produced just one winner in history and has to come all the way from the opposite fence to win.
It's not cool or risky to pick the favorite to win a race, but sometimes the stars line up and it makes too much sense not to make the pick, especially in the case of a horse that has dominated like California Chrome did at Santa Anita.
Note: Odds courtesy of Vegas Insider and are current as of May 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET
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