The Kentucky Derby is the rare sporting event that transcends the usual niche audience that follows horse racing because of the potential it brings. As the first leg of the Triple Crown, this is the one chance fans have to possibly see the beginning of history.
Unlike recent years, with no dominating force in the sport, the 2014 Kentucky Derby features one of the most exciting thoroughbreds, a young stud named California Chrome, who is garnering all sorts of acclaim following a victory at the Santa Anita Derby.
California Chrome enters Churchill Downs as the overwhelming favorite to win the race. At 11-4 odds, he will have to break a recent trend, as Big Brown is the only horse since 2001 that has won the Kentucky Derby with less than 4-1 odds, according to Don Jensen of the Tampa Bay Times.
Whatever happens on Saturday afternoon, there's plenty to talk about before and after. We've got a look at the entire Triple Crown schedule this year, updated odds and new predictions for the Kentucky Derby.
Triple Crown Races
|Kentucky Derby||May 3, 2014||Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky|
|Preakness Stakes||May 17, 2014||Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore, Maryland|
|Belmont Stakes||June 7, 2014||Belmont Park, Elmont, New York|
|1||Vicar's In Trouble||25/1|
|7||We Miss Artie||40/1|
|8||General A Rod||18/1|
|12||Dance With Fate||22/1|
|19||Ride On Curlin||20/1|
Win: California Chrome
California Chrome is the story of what happens when the underdog becomes the big boy on the block.
Beth Harris of the Associated Press wrote an in-depth profile of California Chrome, noting that he was born from humble beginnings only to quickly amass more than a fortune in career earnings before running the biggest race of his life.
California Chrome is the product of an $8,000 mare and a $2,500 stallion. He's earned more than $1 million already, making it somewhat easier for Coburn and Martin to turn down a pre-Derby offer of $6 million for a 51 percent stake in the horse.
It's not quite the rags-to-riches story that will be turned into a Disney movie, but it does speak to how California Chrome has been trained by Art Sherman and the job jockey Victor Espinoza does riding him.
On top of the backstory accompanying him, California Chrome has destroyed anyone and everyone in his way. He's won four straight races dating back to December by a total of 24 1/4 lengths.
It doesn't matter that this is California Chrome's first race outside of the Golden State; domination is domination. He's simply better and more talented than any horse in the field, so it would be a massive upset if he weren't draped in roses on Saturday.
Place: Wildcat Red
If you believe that practice is any indication of what's going to happen, Wildcat Red isn't going to register on your radar. Frank Angst of BloodHorse.com wrote the Fountain of Youth Stakes winner looked sluggish during his final session around Churchill Downs by galloping out to seven furlongs in just over one minute, 20 seconds.
Trainer Jose Garoffalo tried to ease any fears about Wildcat Red by giving Angst a lot of what sports fans know as coach speak.
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. The nice thing about it is he finished strong, the last quarter of a mile was very strong. And after the wire, the gallop out was very solid.
That last bit about finishing strong is important and provides hope for the Kentucky Derby. Considering how long the Run for the Roses is (1 1/4 miles), the ability to close strong is more important than a fast start.
Remember in 2009, Mine That Bird stumbled out of the gate before surging at the end to claim victory on this track. Wildcat Red is a better racer than Mine That Bird, so it won't be as big a shock to see him near the top of the leaderboard.
Just know that Wildcat Red's ability to finish is the driving force behind his success.
Show: Wicked Strong
Which horse has the best chance to win the Triple Crown?
It was really tempting to pick Wicked Strong as the winner of this year's Derby, but justifying it is hard because of his starting position. The draw was not kind to this young stallion who was pegged far on the outside at the No. 20 post.
Hoppertunity's withdraw did bump the Wood Memorial winner up one post, but history isn't kind to horses that far from the inside rail. I'll Have Another is the only Kentucky Derby winner from the 19th post.
Working in Wicked Strong's favor is tremendous natural burst. Larry Stumes of the San Francisco Chronicle noted that the horse's speed rating at the Wood Memorial was faster than any other Kentucky Derby participant except California Chrome.
That speed and acceleration will be enough to get Wicked Strong into the top three at Churchill Downs, but not quite enough to close the gap between California Chrome and Wildcat Red on the inside.
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