On Saturday afternoon, 19 three-year-old colts and one filly will attempt to win the greatest thoroughbred race in America, the Kentucky Derby. Once the starting gate opens, these horses will run the longest race of their career, in the largest field of their career, in front of the largest crowd they will ever see. And when the field passes the legendary twin spires for the second time, one horse will earn a place in racing history.
With such a large field, sorting through all the horses, jockeys, and trainers can be a daunting task for the casual Derby observer, many of whom will make their picks due to name, color, lucky number, or a combination of factors. In order to help clarify the picture, I’ve provided a brief overview of this year’s Kentucky Derby contenders.
American Lion: The first of the many speed horses entered in this year’s Derby, American Lion ran his first ever race on dirt in the Illinois Derby and it produced the best race of his career. He’s a long striding colt that may find it difficult to easily secure the lead on Saturday.
Awesome Act: Won the Gotham Stakes in New York this spring and then finished 3rd to the since scratched Eskendereya in his final prep race. Awesome Act is a patient horse that should be able to sit back and make a move late in the race. He’s got a great chance to win and could be available at odds of somewhere around 15/1 on Derby day, depending how things shake out.
Backtalk: A closer that currently might not make it into the Derby due to a lack of graded earnings. If he does draw in, he might be a short on stamina as he’s never won a race at a distance longer than a mile. Backtalk is sired by 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Smarty Jones.
Conveyance: Another of the many speed horses in this year’s Derby, Conveyance has never won a race when he didn’t lead the entire way. He and Sidney’s Candy should be fighting for the lead going into the first turn.
Dean’s Kitten: This colt has only run on dirt once in his lifetime where he lost by 33 3/4 lengths – not really the type of result you want to see from a horse in the Kentucky Derby. Dean’s Kitten likes to do his running late in the race so he could benefit if there’s a fast pace and a bunch of tired horses sucking oxygen in the stretch.
Devil May Care: The lone filly in this year’s field, Devil May Care has run some very nice races against female horses in her career but will try the boys for the first time on Saturday. No filly has won the Kentucky Derby since 1988, and only three have won in the 135 year history of the race (Regret, Genuine Risk, and Winning Colors).
Discreetly Mine: Another speed horse that has never won a race where he didn’t have the lead every step of the way. It’s very tough to make a case for this horse when you factor in the presence of other dominant speed horses like Conveyance, Sidney’s Candy, and Line of David. It will be tough for him to grab the lead.
Dublin: Sired by 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner, Afleet Alex, this colt has tons of talent in his pedigree but not a whole lot of career wins to show for it. He’s come up just short in all his races this spring but Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas appears to have him sharp for the big one. Dublin is a dangerous horse because it’s easy to think he’s going to finally win until you watch him run 2nd or 3rd.
Endorsement: A lightly raced colt that blew away the competition in the Sunland Derby in late March. This colt appears to have a ton of talent and a very high ceiling, but he’s short on experience. The Derby is the most difficult race in America to win and it’s even more difficult for an inexperienced colt like Endorsement. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him run huge or to see finish well back of the field.
Homeboykris: Hasn’t won a race since last October and finished second in a non-stakes race in Florida two months ago. This horse would produce payouts along the lines of Giacomo and Mine That Bird if he were to win the Derby.
Ice Box: If the pace is fast enough early, this hard-closing winner of the Florida Derby could find himself passing a lot of tired horses in the stretch. Ice Box is a very intriguing long shot possibility considering that the pace should be quite fast this year. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito will be attempting to win his third Kentucky Derby, and his first since 1994.
Interactif: A turf horse that will be trying the dirt for the first time since last summer when he was as two-year-old. Interactif had an awful morning work on Monday and doesn’t appear to be training well heading into the biggest race of his life.
Jackson Bend: Another horse trained by Nick Zito, Jackson Bend is the direct beneficiary of the scratch of both Eskendereya and Rule, as he will now likely draw into the Derby field. He hasn’t won a race since last October, but he’s run credibly in all three of his starts this spring.
Line of David: Ran a huge race when he won the Arkansas Derby last time out but he’s struggled a little bit with his morning works over the last week. His sire, Lion Heart, ran second to Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby.
Lookin At Lucky: If you were wondering who the favorite in this year’s Derby would be after Eskendereya had to withdraw due to an injury, look no further than Lookin At Lucky. Lucky was the champion two year old colt in America last year after winning three graded stakes races and finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Bob Baffert is still one of the most charismatic trainers in the game and he has this colt working like a freight train in preparation for Saturday’s race.
Make Music for Me: This colt currently doesn’t have enough graded earnings to get into the Derby but if some of these others don’t enter he could squeak into the field. He’ll be a huge long shot to win as he’s never even won a graded stakes race in his career.
Mission Impazible: This colt’s races don’t exactly "wow" you but he’s definitely a horse that keeps running and running through the stretch. He might not make a great bet to win but he could be a horse to play in a trifecta or superfecta wager.
Noble’s Promise: Always a bridesmaid and never a bride, this colt has finished right behind Lookin At Lucky three times in his career. He had some troubles in the Arkansas Derby in his last race but has come back to post a couple of great works at Churchill Downs over the past week. When he’s on his game, he can run with the favorite.
Paddy O’Prado: Another colt that has spent most of his career racing on grass prior to his attempt at the Derby. He hasn’t run on dirt since last July is a mystery as to what he’ll do on Saturday. Paddy is trained by local Louisville trainer Dale Romans.
Sidney’s Candy: The undisputed King of California after he swept all three races he ran at Santa Anita this spring, including the Santa Anita Derby in his final prep race. Look for him to be out front early as he’s won all three races this year by leading every step of the way. Sidney’s Candy will be ridden by young gun, Joe Talamo.
Stately Victor: If you’re looking for this year’s Mine That Bird, this would be your colt. On paper, this horse looks to be completely outclassed by this field ... but they don’t run the Derby on paper. Stately Victor wants to see a fast, fast pace so that he call roll by the field in the stretch when all the others are tired. His two previous attempts to run on dirt, however, were not very strong.
Super Saver: There is so much to like about this horse -- he’s won a stakes race at Churchill Downs already in his career, he’s got Calvin Borel in the saddle (last year’s winning jockey), and he’s seems to be improving with every race this spring. This colt might be the sleeper of the entire Derby and it’s very possible that he could be the one to beat.
Head to And Down The Stretch They Come for full coverage of the Derby, and all three Triple Crown races from Matt.