The Kentucky Derby is just around the corner, and many of the 20 horses set to compete at Churchill Downs have already guaranteed themselves post positions.
While there are prohibitive favorites groomed by legendary trainers, there are also several dangerous horses that all the top contenders must pay attention to. Some are actually cultivated by the same powerful trainers, while others are less heralded but pose a threat in the Run for the Roses.
Here is a look at some under-the-radar horses to watch for when the 139th annual race gets underway in Louisville as the first leg of the 2013 Triple Crown.
Note: Odds and horse background information are courtesy of KentuckyDerby.com unless otherwise indicated.
Frac Daddy (14-1)
No one's stock is rising faster than Frac Daddy's, who went from a 50-1 shot all the way to 14-1 on Friday.
If the workouts are any indication, it seems as though Frac Daddy is loving the track at Churchill Downs. His jockey, Victor Lebron, has said that the three-year-old horse has filled out his massive frame much better since arriving (h/t Brisnet.com).
That added strength should come in handy on Saturday, especially if there's inclement weather in the form of heavy rain showers. Weather.com predicts an 80 percent chance of precipitation in Louisville, and it's projected to be heavier as the post time of 6:24 p.m. ET approaches.
Difficult terrain may be the best thing that could happen to Frac Daddy, who has the physical tools to thrive in such conditions.
At the Grade I Arkansas Derby, Frac Daddy finished in second place, only behind 15-1 Kentucky Derby contender Overanalyze.
Frac Daddy's size should at the No. 18 post position should give fellow Ken McPeek trainee Java's War a difficult time to cut inside, and Overanalyze will also need a strong push sitting farthest from the rail.
Co-owner Carter Stewart points out that Frac Daddy's best races have come at Churchill Downs, and something about the track brings out the best in him. The colt won his venue debut back in November by over nine lengths, per Bill Bighaus of the Billings Gazette.
Among those who were initially 50-1 long shots, it was pretty clear Frac Daddy was being underestimated. The latest numbers reflect that, and he has become a force to be reckoned with.
Trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr. doesn't have quite the resume of some of his counterparts, but this looks to be a golden opportunity to triumph in the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.
Itsmyluckyday ran second at the Florida Derby to current Kentucky Derby points leader Orb. That loss has dipped his profile a bit—he's one of five horses with 15-1 odds of winning at Churchill Downs.
But Plesa's horse shouldn't be overlooked after being favored an Gulfstream Park—the location where Itsmyluckyday set a track record in his previous outing there. A veteran jockey in John Velasquez simply got hot at the right time with Orb, and made an unexpectedly great move down the final stretch.
KentuckyDerby.com's Nick Rousso highlights the versatility and speed that makes Itsmyluckyday so dangerous. Although stamina is a question, it always is in the lengthened race track and pressure of such a massive race.
It's all about pacing for jockey Elvis Trujillo, and if he can simply not let the colt hit top speed too soon, it just may be Plesa and Co.'s lucky day on May 4.
There wasn't much shame in Oxbow losing his last appearance to the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Will Take Charge, as that is the career Triple Crown winner's best horse entering Louisville h/t Equibase.com).
Lukas also trains Oxbow, whose fifth-place effort at the Arkansas Derby was definitely a disappointment.
It should not discourage the three-year-old dynamo Oxbow, who is extremely fast and will benefit from having jockey Gary L. Stevens in the saddle—a three-time Kentucky Derby winner.
As reported by Jennie Rees of the Courier-Journal, it didn't take much for Stevens to figure out what went wrong in Arkansas:
I’m just excited about getting on a good horse. It just happens to be the Kentucky Derby. We’re coming into it the right away. I’ve come here on both sides of the fence where things aren’t going 100 percent, and that’s not a good feeling.
I have a smile on my face right now.
I let him bounce right away from the pole this morning, and the fractions were very easy. He’s a happy horse, extremely happy. He went around there with his ears up all the way.
Another significant development that works in Oxbow's favor came on Friday, when Black Onyx was scratched from the inside rail, per Churchill Downs PR's Twitter page:
That gives this speedster valuable real estate on the inside, and could spark a significant run.
Stevens' confidence in Oxbow seems sky-high, as he noted he couldn't grab a hold of him early in the last outing. Oxbow is known to finish well, so don't be surprised if he is a legitimate factor down the stretch—especially with a jockey of Stevens' stature guiding him.