The 2014 Kentucky Derby features a dominant favorite in California Chrome and 18 other horses attempting to derail his connections' Triple Crown dreams. Having a clear top choice always helps the "Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" live up to that moniker.
Churchill Downs, along with its trademark Twin Spires, is once again the host for the biggest race of the year. The storied venue, along with the pageantry that comes with attending the Derby, has made it a massive mainstream attraction in an otherwise niche sport.
This year marks the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby. Let's check out the horses attempting to navigate their way to the winner's circle along with some predictions for how the oddsmakers' top choices will fare after generating plenty of hype.
2014 Kentucky Derby Horses
|Field for 2014 Kentucky Derby|
|1||Vicar's In Trouble||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker||25-1|
|2||Harry's Holiday||Corey Lanerie||Mike Maker||50-1|
|3||Uncle Sigh||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Gary Contessa||35-1|
|4||Danza||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher||8-1|
|5||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||21-10|
|6||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette Jr.||16-1|
|7||We Miss Artie||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||33-1|
|8||General A Rod||Joel Rosario||Mike Maker||18-1|
|9||Vinceremos||Joe Rocco Jr.||Todd Pletcher||50-1|
|10||Wildcat Red||Luis Saez||Jose Garoffalo||18-1|
|SCR||Hoppertunity||Mike Smith||Bob Baffert||SCR|
|12||Dance With Fate||Corey Nakatani||Peter Eurton||14-1|
|13||Chitu||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||22-1|
|14||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans||22-1|
|15||Tapiture||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||20-1|
|16||Intense Holiday||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||12-1|
|17||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart||33-1|
|18||Candy Boy||Gary Stevens||John Sadler||18-1|
|19||Ride On Curlin||Calvin Borel||Billy Gowan||18-1|
|20||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||Jimmy Jerkens||8-1|
|SCR||Pablo Del Monte||Jeffrey Sanchez||Wesley Ward||SCR|
|Odds via Odds Shark (as of May 3 at 9 a.m. ET)|
Predictions for Top Contenders
It's important to remember that a poor break from the gate or getting caught up in a lead pack that's setting too quick of a pace is enough to derail any horse in this field. So while California Chrome is undoubtedly the horse to beat, he's not invincible.
The recent results paint a very promising picture, though. He's won four straight high-profile races, including the Santa Anita Derby in his final prep race. It allowed him to become the Derby favorite, and SportsCenter passed along a race-day picture of him getting ready before the sun came up:
As long as California Chrome gets a clean ride from Victor Espinoza, it's hard to imagine a scenario where he's not at least in the mix during the stretch run. In the end, it all comes back to him being the best horse in the race, and he should prove it in the Run for the Roses.
Danza is tied with Chitu as the least experienced horses in the race. Both have just four career starts. Through the first three, the Kentucky bred looked nothing like one of the top Derby contenders, but that changed for Danza at the Arkansas Derby.
He put together one of the best prep performances of any horse in the Derby field to win the Grade I race going away. If that version of Danza shows up to Churchill Downs, he's got a realistic shot of finishing in the money, if not winning.
Yet, the problem with horses that lack a more extensive track record is that's tough to determine whether they will build off a strong showing or revert to prior form. The fact Danza finished third in an allowance optional claiming race just two starts ago is enough to shy away.
In order to win from the outside gate against the huge Derby field it takes either tremendous closing speed or a picture-perfect break to jump out ahead and get to the rail. Wicked Strong showed the former in his Wood Memorial triumph last time out.
He would probably be viewed as a closer contender to California Chrome if he didn't draw the No. 20 post, which would be enough to eliminate a lesser horse. John Powers of the Boston Globe provided remarks from trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who joked his dad was probably most disappointed of all:
"My dad was bummed about it. Most everybody else called me and said, that was great. They were just trying to be nice. But I liked what he said—why in the hell would you want to run in that race for? The day we won the Wood he said, I suppose you've got to run in the Derby now."
The best option for jockey Rajiv Maragh is breaking conservatively from the gate and trying to slide toward the inside quickly. As long as he can do that to conserve some energy, Wicked Strong has the late kick necessary to make a charge toward the front over the final furlongs.