The 2014 Kentucky Derby will be the main attraction at Churchill Downs on Saturday as the first leg in the Triple Crown season, but there are 13 total races taking place at the pristine horse racing venue in Louisville, Kentucky.
While those in attendance will be able to take in plenty of action before the grand main event, TV coverage of the undercard will be available, beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET on HRTV. Even though that isn't a common station, coverage shifts thereafter to NBC Sports Network at 11 a.m., per KentuckyDerby.ag, which also has the complete undercard schedule.
As for the 140th annual Run for the Roses, it figures to be among the most memorable in recent history. California Chrome is the 5-2 favorite, yet this field promises to be filled with formidable foes to push him.
The lineup looks a little different than it did even in Wednesday's post position draw. That's worth analyzing on its own, along with the other angles that should have big impacts on The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of Equibase.com.
|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 Rocco 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|
Hoppertunity's Scratch Creates Shake-Up
Hailing from Kentucky and having Hall of Famers in trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith on his side promised big things for Hoppertunity at Churchill Downs.
Unfortunately, a surprise announcement from Baffert Thursday morning revealed that Hoppertunity wasn't healthy enough to run, per BloodHorse.com's Esther Marr:
Hoppertunity was a 6-1 favorite in the initial morning line, and California Chrome was the only horse with shorter odds. Smith was understandably disappointed, per Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden:
Hoppertunity out of Ky Derby. Was 6-1 second morning line pick. Jockey Mike Smith: "it's like somebody punched me in the gut."— Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) May 1, 2014
The void allowed Pablo Del Monte into the field of 20 in the furthest post from the rail, which bumps Wicked Strong to the 19th post.
It shouldn't be hard for Wicked Strong to get further inside since he has Ride On Curlin next to him at No. 18, whose three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey in Calvin Borel loves to hug the rail. That should free up Wicked Strong for a good run since Pablo Del Monte should be of little consequence at 50-1 odds.
This sudden scratch is also not the worst news for Wildcat Red, who was runner-up by a neck in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and will break out of post 10.
General A Rod and Wildcat Red have gone head-to-head in finishing in the money in their previous two starts, and with the latter horse in the eighth post, it should be an interesting matchup to monitor yet again.
Quality Cluster Close to the Rail
The first half-mile of this race will be absolutely pivotal for California Chrome's chances to live up to the hype as the prohibitive favorite. That's because the crowd in his close proximity will be fighting for position early.
Rosie Napravnik drew the unfortunate No. 1 slot aboard Vicar's In Trouble, making her bid to become the first female to win the Kentucky Derby difficult. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports was ready to dismiss the Louisiana Derby winner right away:
Vicar's In Trouble draws the No. 1 post. Curtains.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) April 30, 2014
She may be only 26 years of age, but Napravnik boasts plenty of experience and is among the steadiest working jockeys. That should allow her to overcome the unideal starting spot and get Vicar's In Trouble out of trouble.
That could create some interesting traffic issues in the early going, because Uncle Sigh (post No. 3) is a speedy colt who should take the initial lead or at least be one of the fleet horses setting the pace.
Danza is also dealing with the success of winning the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and may prove to be a flash in the pan. There's no telling what he will do in this environment and how jockey Joe Bravo will handle him. The fact that he's lined up just inside California Chrome could change the complexion of this race.
Combine all those elements with a hard-charging Borel from the outside, and just about anything can happen. Borel also has to negotiate another three-time Kentucky Derby victor in Gary Stevens, who'll be in the irons for John Sadler's Candy Boy in the 17th post.
Count on Stevens asserting himself in immediate fashion due to the push he'll receive from Borel not long after they leave the auxiliary gate.
Predicting Win, Place and Show
So with all those factors to weigh, there is a reason California Chrome is perceived as the horse to beat.
Who will win the 2014 Kentucky Derby?
Victor Espinoza has ridden him in the past four races, all of which were dominant victories by a combined 24 1/4 lengths. To say that California Chrome can't start well is a bit hypercritical since he easily has the best chance to win the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
But fixed squarely at California Chrome's side should be Danza throughout. They will be riding next to each other and have the makings of staging an epic duel to the finish, where Bravo hopes to get his maiden Kentucky Derby win while Espinoza tries to hold him off mounting the front-runner.
Since Borel has had so much success as of late here, he should find a way to work into the mix. It will just be hard for him to execute his preferred ride-the-rail routine given where Ride On Curlin is starting from. Look for Borel to still finish in the money, albeit by a slim margin.
Wildcat Red ran out of steam in losing the Florida Derby, so over 10 furlongs in Kentucky he could burn out. Both he and General A Rod—with 2013 Kentucky Derby champion Joel Rosario jockeying—should push Borel given their rivalry, yet it won't be good enough to do better than fourth.
Projected top three: Win—California Chrome; Place—Danza; Show—Ride On Curlin
Although it may seem like a cop-out to be in agreement with the top two in the video above, these predictions reflect a good balance of playing the favorites while also factoring in some viable dark horses. Danza is the biggest wild card of all, and if he won and somehow went on to take the Triple Crown, it would be among the most shocking feats ever in horse racing.
To be more realistic, California Chrome has all the tools, the resume and the fresh connections of trainer Art Sherman and a confident jockey in Espinoza to get it done Saturday. This horse is indeed a cut above the rest of the field and provides legitimate hope for the Triple Crown.
Now it's all a matter of executing the game plan, which essentially should consist of getting out of the starting gate unscathed and turning it on late. Espinoza has yet to push California Chrome down the final stretch in any of his runaway wins, so viewers could be in for something extraordinary in this Kentucky Derby.