California Chrome is the clear favorite heading into the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Beyond that, however, there are plenty of question marks, which leaves the door open for a potentially shocking result should the Santa Anita Derby winner falter.
There's a clear gap between California Chrome and every other horse in the race. The difference between the next nine or so horses is negligible. In other words, if the favored colt wasn't in the race, the main talking point would probably be how it's the most wide-open Derby in a long time.
That could still become the case should for whatever reason California Chrome fail to match the form he showed in recent races. So let's check out the updated odds for the first leg of the Triple Crown, followed by some other factors to consider and race predictions.
2014 Kentucky Derby Odds
|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 11 a.m. ET)
|1||Javier Castellano||We Miss Artie||28|
|T-2||Rosie Napravnik||Vicar's in Trouble||22|
|T-2||Gary Stevens||Candy Boy||22|
|T-4||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Uncle Sigh||21|
Javier Castellano is winning better than one out of every four races he starts, which is impressive regardless of the competition level. His presence on We Miss Artie, who's one of the longest shots in the field, certainly gives the horse intrigue in terms of exotic wagers.
Rosie Napravnik and Vicar's in Trouble are probably the most undervalued tandem in the race. Along with ranking second among Derby jockeys in win percentage this year, she's coming off a win in yesterday's Kentucky Oaks aboard Untapable, as the Kentucky Derby noted:
Napravnik generates a lot of attention because she's trying to become the first female jockey to win the Derby, but she deserves credit for being one of the best jockeys period. If she can guide Vicar's in Trouble to a clean start on the inside, he'll be a serious contender.
Gary Stevens came out of retirement last year and proceeded to put together quite the season. He rode to victories in the Preakness Stakes (Oxbow), Breeders' Cup Classic (Mucho Macho Man) and Breeders' Cup Distaff (Beholder). His experience is a definite boost for Candy Boy.
Finally, brothers Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Jose Ortiz are also both above the 20 percent mark in 2014. Jose has the better overall horse in Samraat, but Irad can't be completely counted out with Uncle Sigh, who never seemed to peak with two other jockeys aboard.
Top Speed Ratings
|1||California Chrome||Santa Anita Derby||106|
|T-2||Vicar's in Trouble||Louisiana Derby||104|
|T-4||Vicar's in Trouble||Fair Grounds MSW||103|
|T-4||Wicked Strong||Wood Memorial||103|
When it comes to these speed ratings, it's important to remember they only provide a one-race snapshot of how a horse performed. They don't show which horses have been the best over their entire careers but rather who's showcased the highest peak leading up to this point.
Unsurprisingly, California Chrome takes the top spot. The favorite has racked up four straight marquee victories, including the monster performance in the Santa Anita Derby. That's the race where it became crystal clear he was the horse to beat on the first Saturday in May.
Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News passed along comments from trainer Todd Pletcher, who will have four horses trying to knock off California Chrome:
It's hard to imagine you could be more impressive than he's been. It would take an exceptional performance it looks like (to beat him). It appears he's won with plenty left in the tank so how much more is there if pushed. We don't know that for sure but certainly he's sure won awfully easy.
While the favorite's immense upside comes as no shock, the fact Vicar's in Trouble is the only horse to make the list twice comes as a surprise. It would be interesting to see what his odds would be if he didn't draw the unfavorable No. 1 post position.
Where will the Kentucky Derby winner come from?
Danza, who did little to stand out during the first three races of his career, emerged with his brilliant display in the Arkansas Derby. The key is whether he can replicate or improve on that performance in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Chitu has made steady progress, culminating with his great showing in the Sunland Derby. Like Danza, however, he's made just four starts prior to the Derby, which makes it tougher to forecast how we'll perform. He's also never faced Grade 1 competition.
The list is rounded out by Wicked Strong. The closing speed he showed to win the Wood Memorial in his final prep race is exactly what it's going to take to win the Kentucky Derby from the outside post. It's a disadvantage, but it doesn't eliminate him completely.
1. California Chrome
2. Wicked Strong
3. Vicar's in Trouble