The 2014 Kentucky Derby has seen some lineup changes following the post position draw, but now that race day is here, the field of 19 is set, allowing for a more definitive outlook for each horse in the Run for the Roses.
California Chrome has remained hyped as the horse to beat, and the odds figured to tip more in his favor when Hoppertunity was scratched earlier in the week after opening as the No. 2 morning-line favorite.
Trainer Wesley Ward declined the opportunity for his horse, Pablo Del Monte, to enter the race in place of Hoppertunity, declaring him out and shrinking the number of contenders. Pablo Del Monte would have started in the No. 20 post, but that is now vacant.
Here is a look at the complete lineup for the 140th annual Triple Crown season-opener, along with a particular focus on what to expect from the top favorites.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of Equibase.com.
|1||Vicar's In Trouble||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker||20-1|
|2||Harry's Holiday||Corey Lanerie||Mike Maker||50-1|
|3||Uncle Sigh||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Gary Contessa||30-1|
|4||Danza||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher||8-1|
|5||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||5-2|
|6||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette Jr.||15-1|
|7||We Miss Artie||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||50-1|
|8||General A Rod||Joel Rosario||Mike Maker||15-1|
|9||Vinceremos||Joe Rocco Jr.||Todd Pletcher||30-1|
|10||Wildcat Red||Luis Saez||Jose Garoffalo||15-1|
|12||Dance With Fate||Corey Nakatani||Peter Eurton||20-1|
|13||Chitu||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||20-1|
|14||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans||20-1|
|15||Tapiture||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||12-1|
|16||Intense Holiday||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||8-1|
|17||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart||50-1|
|18||Candy Boy||Gary Stevens||John Sadler||15-1|
|19||Ride on Curlin||Calvin Borel||William G. Gowan||15-1|
|20||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||James A. Jerkens||6-1|
|SCRATCHED||Pablo Del Monte|
Source: KentuckyDerby.com and OddsShark.com
Odds are current as of 3:30 p.m. on May 3.
Victor Espinoza is in the irons and won the 2002 Kentucky Derby aboard War Emblem from the No. 5 post position, but California Chrome has his work cut out from this spot.
If there's any knock on California Chrome, it's that he doesn't start particularly well. That hasn't mattered much in previous races, because Espinoza has guided his horse to a four-race winning streak by a combined 24 1/4 lengths. This is the longest, toughest start California Chrome has encountered yet, though.
Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form analyzed the work the prohibitive favorite did earlier in the week at Churchill Downs and wasn't blown away:
California Chrome gallops 1 1/2 miles, certainly not the prettiest mover will be interested to see if he goes better on fast track tomorrow— Mike Welsch (@DRFWelsch) April 30, 2014
But at this juncture and so close to the race, it's easy to read too much into practices in anticipation of what's to come. California Chrome has proven he can turn it on, and the fast track should favor him as long as he gets through the first half-mile or so in good shape.
That may be easier said than done, though. Uncle Sigh figures to set the pace from the third post as a speedy colt, while Danza is just as capable of storming to victory in Louisville, Kentucky.
Another potential obstacle for California Chrome will be his biggest perceived challenger in Wicked Strong, who has a rather favorable situation to overcome drawing the farthest post from the rail at No. 19.
The past three Kentucky Derby champions have come from the auxiliary gate, so that's an encouraging sign. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens' father, Allen Jerkens, shared his thoughts about the outlook for his son's top contender, per BloodHorse.com's Claire Novak:
Phone call to Allen Jerkens. He got up this am in Florida, trained his horses as usual, has three entered at Gulfstream (cont)— Claire Novak (@BH_CNovak) May 3, 2014
(cont): "I'm probably more nervous than he is," Jerkens said of son Jimmy, who saddles Wicked Strong in today's #KyDerby (cont)— Claire Novak (@BH_CNovak) May 3, 2014
(cont) "The horse has been training good down there... he's always been a good trainer; I'm just hoping he can pull this off." #KyDerby— Claire Novak (@BH_CNovak) May 3, 2014
To Wicked Strong's immediate left are two jockeys who know how to get it done on these hallowed horse racing grounds.
Calvin Borel is riding Ride On Curlin in the 18th post, while Gary Stevens is in the saddle for Candy Boy just inside of him. Both are Hall of Famers, and Borel loves to get as close to the rail as possible.
That should free up some room for Wicked Strong, allow him to close the gap early and not lose too much ground into the opening turn. The fast track conditions are a bit of a concern, but Wicked Strong proved his chops by winning the Grade I Wood Memorial Stakes to get into this field.
Perhaps the biggest wild card among the favorites, Danza came out of nowhere to romp at the Arkansas Derby by 4 3/4 lengths in his maiden Grade I race as a 40-1 long shot. Thus, he gets the attention as the 8-1 favorite in this analysis rather than Intense Holiday.
Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports alluded to the previous success trainer Todd Pletcher has had from the fourth post position at Churchill Downs, which is reminiscent of Espinoza's past prowess:
Arkansas Derby winner Danza draws No. 4. Trainer Todd Pletcher won from that post in 2010 w Super Saver.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) April 30, 2014
Since Danza has a very limited resume from which to draw, he could either run away with this race because he just doesn't know any better, or he could fall far short of his expectations. Those suggest he should finish in the money based on the odds.
Being sandwiched directly between California Chrome and Uncle Sigh will make this a tall order, and jockey Rosie Napravnik will be looking to get Vicar's In Trouble off the rail as soon as possible. That should make traffic a major issue for Danza, whose lack of experience may reveal itself in the form of an underwhelming start.
Who will win the Kentucky Derby?
Intense Holiday may be slightly overlooked, but he might wind up being Pletcher's top finisher rather than Danza from the 15th post. The only reservation there is that Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner with Animal Kingdom, has had otherwise some limited success in Louisville.
The post positions have created some compelling potential developments for The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports. All that's left to do is see if California Chrome can live up to his gaudy status as a possible Triple Crown candidate, or whether some other formidable starter will rise to the occasion and storm into horse racing immortality.