As the minutes move closer to the start of the 2014 Kentucky Derby, this year's field of horses is such a wild, unpredictable group that trying to handicap anything is a lesson in futility.
Even when there is an overwhelming favorite running for the roses, like California Chrome, how does one really make that distinction in a sporting event that is defined by being the fastest two minutes in sports?
Due to the brevity of the this race, one wrong stumble out of the gate or too-aggressive push before the final stretch could result in a disappointment. That's also what makes it so exciting and why everyone keeps coming back to Churchill Downs in record numbers year after year.
Now that we are in the final stretch—see what I did there?—of the Kentucky Derby buildup, here's a look at the field with odds and predictions for your reading pleasure.
|1||Vicar's In Trouble||Rosie Napravnik||25-1|
|2||Harry's Holiday||Corey Lanerie||50-1|
|3||Uncle Sigh||Irad Ortiz Jr.||35-1|
|5||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||21-10|
|7||We Miss Artie||Javier Castellano||33-1|
|8||General A Rod||Joel Rosario||18-1|
|9||Vinceremos||Joe Rococo Jr.||50-1|
|10||Wildcat Red||Luis Saez||18-1|
|12||Dance With Fate||Corey Nakatani||14-1|
|14||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||22-1|
|15||Tapiture||Ricardo Santana Jr.||20-1|
|16||Intense Holiday||John Velazquez||12-1|
|17||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||33-1|
|18||Candy Boy||Gary Stevens||18-1|
|19||Ride On Curlin||Calvin Borel||18-1|
|20||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||8-1|
Which horse has the best chance to pull off an upset at the Kentucky Derby?
Winner: Wicked Strong
My allegiance has shifted in the last 24 hours. Like so many analysts, I have been touting odds-on-favorite California Chrome. He's been as dominant and consistent as any race horse, winning four straight races by an average of more than six lengths.
Yet the more you read about Wicked Strong, it's hard not to think this is his race to lose. Even starting on the far outside gate isn't the curse it used to be, as Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden pointed out on Twitter.
Wicked Strong draws the 20. No problem. He closes and Big Brown won from out there.— Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) April 30, 2014
Recent history is also on Wicked Strong's side. The last three Kentucky Derby winners and seven of the last 19 winners have started outside of gate 15, according to KentuckyDerby.com.
There's a late surge of support for Wicked Strong, who is now the No. 2 favorite heading into the race, so someone knows something that I don't. That's enough to sell me.
Underdog to Watch: Wildcat Red
In keeping with the theme of winners coming from specific posts, Wildcat Red got the best draw of anyone in the field. He's starting out of the No. 10 post, which has produced more winners (nine) than any other spot since the starting gates were introduced in 1930, according to KentuckyDerby.com.
Just had the realization that Wildcat Red is perfectly positioned to go to the lead and face minimal pressure. Why shouldn't he hold?— Danonymous Racing (@DanonymousMan) May 3, 2014
Jennie Rees of The Courier-Journal wrote that Wildcat Red's speed could allow him to set the pace, and she also quoted trainer Jose Garoffalo about how versatile the horse is.
He's going to be the speed of the race, according to the other rivals in the Derby, or one of the speed horses. But he's got versatility to be behind the speed for a while, so he can run a little bit close to the lead. He doesn't need to be on the lead to run a good race. He can be on the lead, second or third. … The distance isn't going to be a problem. He's already run a mile-and-an-eighth, and the difference won't be much.
Speed is important at the Kentucky Derby. Everyone loves Wildcat Red's ability to cut loose on a dime, so if there is an underdog who is going to emerge from the pack down the final stretch, it will be the horse who shares a name with Kentucky's beloved basketball team.
Deep Sleeper: Medal Count
If you really want to go off the board looking for a winner, Medal Count is the horse to keep an eye on. He comes into Churchill Downs trending upward following a victory at the Transylvania Stakes and very strong second-place finish at the Blue Grass Stakes.
ESPN's Lane Gold (Insider subscription required) also commends Medal Count for his racing style, which seems like a perfect fit for the lengthy Kentucky Derby.
Medal Count's biggest asset will be his running style, as he usually sits in the second pack and avoids the hot early pace. And it appears that there will be a good deal of speed up front this year.
The one big question is: Will he like dirt? He has performed best over the Polytrack. [Trainer Dale] Romans said that he thinks this is his best Derby shot ever.
The change in surface is why Medal Count is getting overlooked heading into Churchill Downs, but give me a horse that has shown the ability to run like the wind, and I'll take my chances.
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