Greatness remains tangible leading up to the Kentucky Derby, giving the event more stature than any other event in horse racing. Before the first leg of the Triple Crown, everyone still has a shot at sweeping the three major competitions.
A select group of 11 horses have pulled off the feat, with nobody winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes since Affirmed in 1978.
That places the odds well against this year's Kentucky winner continuing his success through the next two events, but the unknown creates hope. Maybe this is a year something truly special happens.
Then again, we don't even know who will leave Churchill Downs victorious to claim the first of the three grand prizes. Breaking down the Derby's top contenders is a good start to exploring the best Triple Crown candidates.
|2||Vicar's In Trouble||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker|
|3||Harry's Holiday||Corey Lanerie||Mike Maker|
|4||Uncle Sigh||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Gary Contessa|
|5||Danza||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher|
|6||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman|
|7||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette Jr.|
|8||We Miss Artie||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher|
|9||General A Rod||Joel Rosario||Mike Maker|
|10||Vinceremos||Joe Rocco Jr.||Todd Pletecher|
|11||Wildcat Red||Luis Saez||Jose Garoffalo|
|12||Dance With Fate||Corey Nakatani||Peter Eurton|
|13||Chitu||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert|
|14||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans|
|15||Tapiture||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen|
|16||Intense Holiday||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher|
|17||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart|
|18||Candy Boy||Gary Stevens||John Sadler|
|19||Ride On Curlin||Calvin Borel||William G. Gowan|
|20||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||James A. Jerkens|
Odds courtesy of Oddsshark
Note: Pablo Del Monte, the replacement for the withdrawn Hoppertunity, will also not compete. The No. 1 post will remain vacant while every horse slotted from No. 1-10 moves down a spot. All odds, obtained from Odds Shark, are updated as of 7:00 p.m. ET on Friday, May 2.
The heavy favorite to win it all, California Chrome is galloping into the 140th Kentucky Derby with a full head of steam.
Although he's the tog dog, well horse, in this race, there's an underdog tale hidden behind this odds-on favorite. Trainer Art Sherman, 77, heads to Churchill Downs for the first time since 1955. California Chrome is the first horse of his own to take the Derby's starting gate.
The horse, however, is far from inexperienced. He has won four straight events, most recently dominating the Santa Anita Derby by 5 1/4 lengths.
Ten career races—10 of which he has won—give the colt experience, but they can also take a toll. Nevertheless, Sherman expressed his confidence of Chrome getting through the Derby without any hiccups to The Sacramento Bee's Debbie Arrington.
“I really think this horse will run all day long,” Sherman said. “He’s got that kind of a stride to him. There’s no wasted motion. I don’t think a mile and a quarter (the Derby distance) will be a bit of trouble for him.”
California Chrome has the type of superlative record on all courses that makes him a threat to go on a historic tear. He's the horse with the best chance of wreaking havoc throughout the Triple Crown events.
Although not the top favorite, Wicked Strong is making waves as the sentimental favorite.
Don Little, who named the horse in honor of Boston, pledged to donate a portion of the colt's winnings throughout the Triple Crown to people affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. It'd also complete an underdog story, as Wicked Strong emerged from nowhere to win the Wood Memorial Stakes in April.
The path to victory, however, is not without obstacles. They drew the No. 20 starting position, an unfavorable spot that has only yielded one prior champion. As tweeted by The Daily Racing Form's David Grening, trainer Timmy Jerkens received reinsurance from Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado about landing the No. 10 post position.
Jimmy Jerkens said Edgar Prado, who rode Wicked Strong once, texted him "perfect" when he drew post 20— David Grening (@DRFGrening) April 30, 2014
But according to Grening, Jerkens wasn't as thrilled about the position. "I don’t know," he said, "I’m trying to convince myself it’s not a bad post, but I don’t know if I can.”
If the Wicked Strong from the Wood Memorial shows up at Churchill Downs, everyone will have a tough time keeping up with his ferocious closing speed. But he still has to prove that was more than an outlier.
Getting named after a hardly still relevant actor isn't the best blueprint to victory, but it's one Danza will have to make do with in Louisville.
It didn't stop him from winning the Arkansas Derby on April 12 against a Grade I field. Entering with 41-1 odds, Danza won by 4 3/4 lengths to qualify for the Kentucky Derby while upgrading from long shot to top contender.
And at least Tony Danza is on board with being a horse's namesake.
Danza, the horse, has won two of his four races while finishing third in the other two, but none featured the level of competition pitted against him in the Arkansas Derby. That victory vaulted him to a higher level, creating a trendy pick for the Triple Crown's opening leg.
One win is in the cards, but a clean sweep is a pipe dream. But if Danza wins, don't dare joke that he's the boss. Abed Nadir has already proved with scientific evidence that Angela Bower was indeed the true boss.