One silver-haired trainer could replace another as the most recognized man in horse racing after the 139th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby (Grade 1) for three-year-olds over 1 1/4-miles on dirt at Churchill Downs.
While Todd Pletcher ties a record with five starters in search of his second win on the first Saturday in May, Bob Baffert will watch from the grandstand without a shot at notching his fourth Derby triumph after none of his many contenders survived the road to Louisville.
The Pletcher brigade begins with the undefeated 4-to-1 second choice Verrazano, who drew ideally in post No. 14 and will be ridden again by John Velazquez. After suffering multiple broken bones in a spill at Aqueduct on April 7, Velazquez resumed riding in New York last week and shoots to win his second Derby in three years after scoring with Animal Kingdom in 2011.
Verrazano looks to become the first horse since 1882 to win the Derby after not racing as a two-year-old.
"In a perfect world we draw towards the outside, not all the way outside," Pletcher said regarding Verrazano prior to the draw during NBC Sports Network's coverage. "It's more important who you're outside of. In this race I see Falling Sky and Goldencents being the most likely pace setters, so ideally we'd like to draw outside of them."
Maligned after a long Derby drought that also included five starters in 2007, Pletcher finally broke through with WinStar Farm’s home-bred Super Saver in 2010. The man with the strongest stable in the nation enters with that one win from 31 starters, and this year WinStar sends 10-to-1 fourth choice Revolutionary, once again employing Mr. Kentucky Derby Calvin Borel.
After winning the Derby three times from 2007-2010, Borel is overdue to once again overachieve with a fourth title in rail-skimming fashion that would leave him one shy of the record of five wins by a jockey. He will break from post No. 3 in his first try aboard Revolution.
"I'm pretty sure Borel is going to look to be on the inside so it wouldn't bother me so much if that's where Revolutionary drew," said Pletcher before the draw.
"That was a great post-position draw for us. We got everything we wanted," Pletcher said after the draw.
One of Pletcher’s previous disappointments that is not included in his stats can be avenged with 15-to-1 shot Overanalyze. Owned by Vitamin Water founder Mike Repole, whose Uncle Mo was scratched the day before the Derby two years ago after being installed as the second choice on the morning line, Overanalyze drew post No. 9 and enters off a resounding 4 1/4-length win in the Arkansas Derby (G1) that came with Rafael Bejarano in the irons for the first time.
After beginning his run of success in Kentucky nearly a decade ago, Bejarano has dominated the Southern California circuit in recent years and is in search of his first Derby victory.
Another rider in search of his first Derby win after a remarkable string of recent success is Joel Rosario, who regains the mount on 7-to-2 morning-line favorite Orb after Velazquez opted to stick with Verrazano. After butting heads with Bejarano in Southern California, Rosario moved his tack east last year and took his success to a new level by shattering the wins record at the recently concluded Keeneland spring meeting.
Four years removed from his maiden voyage in the Kentucky Derby, Rosario breaks from post No. 16 on the horse to beat after impressive wins in a pair of graded stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Back with a shot at an improbable repeat with a jockey emerging from obscurity is the polarizing Doug O’Neill. After triumphing last year with I’ll Have Another, O’Neill can become the sixth trainer to win in consecutive years with the Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Goldencents entering as the 5-to-1 third choice and landing in post No. 8.
Regular pilot Kevin Krigger is along for his first Run for the Roses and looks to become the first African-American jockey to win since Jimmy Winkfield in 1902. Prior to that, between 1875 and 1902, African-American jockeys won 15 of the 28 runnings of the Kentucky Derby.
"He's a horse that has such good natural speed away from the gate, that post wasn't maybe as crucial as it was last year," O'Neill said after the draw. "Eight is a good post. He won't be standing in there too long."
Added intrigue and local fan support for Goldencents comes with five percent minority owner Rick Pitino. The head coach of the Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball team can culminate a remarkable stretch by adding a trip to the winner’s circle under the Twin Spires to the NCAA championship his team won less than a month ago.
"This is beyond my wildest dreams to be here among the sport's finest and I golfed with Coach Pitino today," O'Neill continued.
At the ripe old age of 77, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won his first Derby in 1988 and followed that up with three scores in the '90s, is prominent once again and shooting to pull within one of the record six wins by a trainer while extending his record with Derby starters No. 46 and 47.
Two of Lukas’ Derby triumphs have come with jockey turned actor turned broadcaster Gary Stevens aboard. After coming out of retirement again earlier this year, the 50-year-old has picked up right back where he left off in 2005 and can also notch his fourth riding win in the Derby aboard 30-to-1 long shot Oxbow, who drew post No. 2.
Lukas also saddles the highest-priced auction buy of the bunch with 20-to-1 long shot Will Take Charge, who was last seen winning the Rebel Stakes (G2) on March 16 and breaks from post No. 17. By prolific sire Unbridled’s Song out of the multiple Grade 1 winning millionairess Take Charge Lady, Will Take Charge fetched $425,000 as a yearling.
Two years after achieving the best finish by a female jockey when crossing the wire in ninth place in her Derby debut, Rosie Napravnik rides 15-to-1 shot Mylute from post No. 6 after Shanghai Bobby, the early favorite after being crowned two-year-old champion, was withdrawn from consideration by Pletcher after being defeated twice in prep races.
Napravnik guided Mylute to a nearly 11-length win against allowance company in her lone try aboard the son of Midnight Lute.
Currently second in the nation behind Rosario in wins for 2013, Napravnik was featured on the television news program 60 Minutes this past Sunday on CBS.
In the inaugural year of a points system being used to determine the 20-horse field, there was minimal impact to what the field would have looked like with the previous earnings method.
Fear the Kitten entered at No. 21 on the points leader board and was unable to draw in from the also-eligible list because the scratch of Black Onyx came 2 1/2-hours after final scratch time on Friday morning.
The typically volatile weather forecast currently calls for a 40 percent chance of rain with temperatures in the high 60s.
Below is the complete field, including post position, morning line and a brief comment for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, which can be seen live in HD on NBC beginning at 4 p.m ET. Coverage of the under card begins on the NBC Sports Network at 11 a.m.
PP, Horse, (Morning Line Odds), Comment
1. Black Onyx (SCR) – Scratched.
2. Oxbow (30-1) – Solid efforts despite always landing wide and does own win over strip.
3. Revolutionary (10-1) – Trouble prone not the recipe amidst congestion of 19 others.
4. Golden Soul (50-1) – Five wide in last two. Can pick up pieces to land underneath.
5. Normandy Invasion (12-1) – Always a wiseguy horse but still has just one win.
6. Mylute (15-1) – Could make history if Napravnik has keys.
7. Giant Finish (50-1) – Trainer not making trip says it all for NY-bred.
8. Goldencents (5-1) – Trying to prove the naysayers wrong … again.
9. Overanalyze (15-1) – Could be peaking in third off layoff.
10. Palace Malice (20-1) – Tough to endorse off maiden win and Pletcher adding blinkers.
11. Lines of Battle (30-1) – Kentucky bred but European based. Toss.
12. Itsmyluckyday (15-1) – Name could lower price despite unheralded connections.
13. Falling Sky (50-1) – Nothing more than an early pace factor.
14. Verrazano (4-1) – Price better than odds-on from last three, still little value in tough bunch.
15. Charming Kitten (20-1) – Win in dirt debut continues owner's impossible run. Another Pletcher.
16. Orb (7-2) – Seasoned as a juvenile, perfect in trio of starts at three.
17. Will Take Charge (20-1) – Career top in Rebel. Rested since to avoid bounce, but gap is long.
18. Frac Daddy (50-1) – Huge maiden win over strip is only positive.
19. Java’s War (15-1) – Surface doubts not quelled by Churchill race resulting in worst effort.
20. Vyjack (15-1) – First start away from Aqueduct, where four wins came against lesser competition.
AE Fear the Kitten – Scratched.
Marc Doche is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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