Each prep race leading up to the Kentucky Derby had designated point values, with emphasis on distance and grade. The idea being that it would bring more qualified and seasoned 3-year-old colts to the gate. That remains to be seen, but there are 20 competitive horses heading to the gate nonetheless and maybe none scarier than Goldencents.
Goldencents, trained by Doug O’Neill and partially owned by Rick Pitino, the Louisville Cardinals head basketball coach, comes off a smashing win in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. He was positively stunning while winning on the front end, ultimately running the 1 1/8th miles in 1:47 and change.
Goldencents (5-1) drilled a solid six furlongs back at his home track at Santa Anita last week and has been galloping at Churchill Downs leading up to the big race.
He drew Post 8—a very favorable position—that should allow him easy clearance to the lead.
“I love it,” said O’Neill. “[Jockey] Kevin (Krigger) doesn’t have to sit in the gate; then he can pick his spot. We’re going to bring it back home.”
The morning-line favorite is Orb, the powerful winner of the Grade I Florida Derby. He is trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey. Orb has been atop many people’s list as the horse to beat since he has tactical speed and a great kick down the lane.
Orb has had five weeks to rest and his trainer is eager to see him perform. Orb drew Post 16 and is the 7-2 on the morning line.
“There was a lot of anticipation, maybe more anticipation than I remember, but I’m pleased with the 16 and we’ll take it from there,” McGaughey said. “I think from where he is we’ll try to hold our position and maybe try to creep in a little bit around the first turn and then (jockey Joel Rosario) can watch what’s going on inside of him. He can watch what Johnny (Velazquez) is doing on Verrazano. If Johnny thinks Orb is the horse to beat he’s going to be watch what we’re doing too.”
Verrazano, trained by Todd Pletcher, is the close second choice at 4-1. Verrazano, along with Orb, vies for favoritism after his gutsy win in the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Verrazano drew Post 14, which will give him plenty of space to his right as he is the last horse before the auxiliary gate.
Pletcher was worried when Verrazano’s number hadn’t been called as trainers never want the far inside in the Derby. It risks getting slammed and pinched back.
“We hadn’t gotten a spot for Verrazano and with some tough posts—the one and the two—still out there, I was concerned,” Pletcher said. “But then he drew the 14 and it was a sigh of relief.”
Pletcher will saddle five horses in this year’s renewal. He saddled five in 2007 and now, again, in 2013.
“Overall, from a saddling perspective, I like it,” Pletcher said. “With four of my horses side by side, it will make it easier for me to get those saddles on. I do think we did really well with our posts. Under the old system, where we would have been selecting our own posts according to the draw, I think we would have wound up in just about the same spots we got today. There wouldn’t have been much difference.”
WinStar Farm’s Revolutionary, another one of Pletcher’s trainees, drew Post 3 and is 10-1 on the morning line. Revolutionary gets newly-elected Hall of Famer Calvin Borel as his jockey and will, undoubtedly, take the inside path around the oval.
“I’m happy with it,” Pletcher said. “Calvin is going to want to get to the inside with this horse as soon as he can and drawing inside like this only makes it easier for him.”
Borel won his third Kentucky Derby in four years back in 2010 when he won aboard Super Saver. The win gave Pletcher and WinStar Farms their first Derbys.
Normandy Invasion, trained by Mechanicville-native Chad Brown, will be a late-closing threat on Saturday. Normandy Invasion comes into the Derby off a strong finish in the Wood Memorial. He drew Post 5—a number not lost on his owner, Rick Porter.
“Other than it was Eight Belles’ number (who broke down after finishing second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby), I’m happy with it,” Porter said. “I’m not going to be superstitious about that. With the numbers that were left, we were very happy with five. (Jockey Javier) Castellano wanted to be further inside than Chad. We were thinking eight, nine, 10, but Javier wanted to be further inside. I think he’ll be happy with it. If he’s happy, we’re happy.”
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, brings two horses to Churchill Saturday, Oxbow and Will Take Charge. Each horse has a different running style—Oxbow being the quicker of the two in terms of pace.
Oxbow drew Post 2 and is 30-1 on the morning line. The post isn’t great, but as Lukas noted, it may play into Oxbow’s strength.
“I wasn’t too crazy about the two hole (for Oxbow), but I realize there’s not a lot of speed on the inside. We might be clear,” he said. “There’s five or six horses right near us (Oxbow) that are not very quick, in my opinion, so we’ll probably get a pretty good run up the rail. It’s the shortest way around there if they’ll leave us alone.”
Will Take Charge, winner of the Rebel Stakes, drew Post 17 and is 20-1 on the morning line. No horse has ever won from Post 17, but post-position has little effect according to Lukas.
“We overanalyze this all the time,” said Lukas. “Everyone gets too involved, and we overanalyze it too much. I’m more interested in where the horses who have running style are placed in relation to my horses are in the gate. The four I won it with, I can’t remember their post position, so it must not have been too important.’’
Black Onyx (Post 1, 50-1), Charming Kitten (Post 15, 20-1), Palace Malace (Post 10, 20-1), Overanalyze (Post 9, 15-1), Falling Sky (Post 13, 50-1), Frac Daddy (Post 18, 50-1), Java’s War (Post 19, 15-1), Giant Finish (Post 7, 50-1), Golden Soul (Post 4, 50-1), Itsmyluckyday (Post 12, 15-1), Lines of Battle (Post 11, 30-1), Mylute (Post 6, 15-1) and Vyjack (Post 20, 15-1) round out the field.