Hoppertunity was listed as the second choice after the post positions were drawn for the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, the talented colt was pulled out of the race due to a hoof injury, which makes the spotlight on California Chrome shine even brighter.
Of course, when talking about three-year-old horses with limited racing experience, there's always an unknown factor that makes the Triple Crown special. A horse that's currently off the radar could put together the best performance of their career on Saturday to win the marquee race.
Add in the fact the horses are racing for a payout of more than $2 million, as noted by the Kentucky Derby's official site, and plenty of intrigue still surrounds Churchill Downs this week despite losing a top contender. So let's check out the horses, odds and some predictions for the "Run for the Roses."
2014 Kentucky Derby Odds
|2014 Kentucky Derby Field|
|1||Vicar's In Trouble||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker||25-1|
|2||Harry's Holiday||Corey Lanerie||Mike Maker||66-1|
|3||Uncle Sigh||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Gary Contessa||33-1|
|4||Danza||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher||8-1|
|5||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||11-4|
|6||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette Jr.||18-1|
|7||We Miss Artie||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||40-1|
|8||General A Rod||Joel Rosario||Mike Maker||18-1|
|9||Vinceremos||Joe Rococo Jr.||Todd Pletcher||50-1|
|10||Wildcat Red||Luis Saez||Jose Garoffalo||16-1|
|SCR||Hoppertunity||Mike Smith||Bob Baffert||SCR|
|11||Dance With Fate||Corey Nakatani||Peter Eurton||22-1|
|12||Chitu||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||28-1|
|13||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans||25-1|
|14||Tapiture||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||18-1|
|15||Intense Holiday||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||14-1|
|16||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart||40-1|
|17||Candy Boy||Gary Stevens||John Sadler||25-1|
|18||Ride On Curlin||Calvin Borel||Billy Gowan||20-1|
|19||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||Jimmy Jerkens||10-1|
|20||Pablo Del Monte||Jeffrey Sanchez||Wesley Ward||50-1|
|Vegas Odds via Odds Shark (as of May 1 at 3:45 p.m. ET)|
|2014 Kentucky Derby - Top 3 Picks|
|3rd||Vicar's in Trouble|
Quite simply, it's hard to pinpoint any single horse capable of beating California Chrome. Taking one horse against a group of 19 talented counterparts in a two-minute race where a clean break is crucial is difficult, but he's definitely the best horse in the field as Saturday approaches.
The Art Sherman-trained colt is the winner of four straight races, including the Grade I Santa Anita Derby and the Grade II San Felipe Stakes over the past two starts. Those wins illustrated how far he's come since a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Del Mar Futurity last September.
Sherman has been writing a blog for America's Best Racing and after the favorite drew the No. 5 post, he talked about feeling confident thanks to Victor Espinoza's history from the position:
Well, I feel as though we cleared another hurdle when we were assigned post five in the draw at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. Our jockey, Victor Espinoza, was very happy with it. He has one Derby victory, and that came when War Emblem broke sharply from the fifth position, took command early, and never looked back for the entire mile and a quarter in 2002.
I am not saying it will play out that way again. There are so many horses in this field capable of setting a hot pace. But that post will only add to Victor's confidence, and it gives him plenty of options as long as we enjoy a clean break.
Another mention of getting a clean break. And it won't be the last fans hear between now and post time. It doesn't matter how good California Chrome is, even he's susceptible to a bad start out of the gate ruining Triple Crown dreams.
Ultimately, he's not unbeatable, but he's definitely the horse to beat.
Wicked Strong is among the next set of choices and would probably have a more favorable outlook from the oddsmakers if he didn't draw an extreme outside post. Starting from the 19th gate is going to put more pressure on jockey Rajiv Maragh to have a perfect ride.
The Kentucky bred showed outstanding closing speed to win the Grade I Wood Memorial last month. In order to have enough energy left in the tank to replicate that effort on Saturday, Maragh must guide him toward the rail quickly without losing too much ground on the lead pace.
Unfortunately for Wicked Strong, the fact California Chrome drew a far more desirable post hurts his chances. It's easy to see him making a major charge down the stretch, but the effort will likely fall a little bit short.
Wrapping up the top three is Vicar's in Trouble. Despite a strong performance to win the Grade II Louisiana Derby in his last start, Jeff Woods of WBKO summed up the thoughts of many after the horse drew the inside gate:
Though it makes the task far more difficult for jockey Rosie Napravnik, the silver lining comes from that Louisiana Derby romp. He showed great early pace in that race, which is exactly what will be necessary here.
As long as Napravnik is able to guide him out of trouble within the first handful of strides and he's able to settle into the race, there's no reason he can't contend. He might not have the endurance to win, but finishing in the money is certainly within reason.