For two Saturdays a year, and ideally three, it seems like everyone is a horse racing fan. That's especially the case during the first Saturday in May each year when Churchill Downs plays host to more than 100,000 people, decked out in their hats and sipping mint juleps before singing "My Old Kentucky Home." The Kentucky Derby itself, over in just two minutes, almost seems like an afterthought.
But for 20 of the best 3-year-old colts -- or more specifically, for the people who own and breed them, and the ones who train and jockey them -- it's the biggest event of the season and the culmination of years of effort and untold dollars spent. Just making it to the Derby is a feat, earned by victories in lesser races throughout the country during the prior year and the months leading up to the Run to the Roses. By the time they reach the stalls in Louisville, the competitors are familiar names to each other and to racing fans across the nation.
Yeah, yeah. Just tell me who to pick.
Nyquist. Or Exaggerator. Or maybe Mohaymen or Danzing Candy or even Mor Spirit. Those are five of the favorites, as selected by oddsmaker Matt Battaglia following the post position draw on Wednesday.
There's no super horse in the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby. Nyquist is the morning line favorite at 3-1, entering with an unblemished 7-for-7 record. The other four named above, along with Creator, all range from 8-1 to 12-1 odds, and the winner could very well be any of those five, too.
Nyquist sounds more like a hockey player than a horse.
Good call, and he might be a popular sentimental pick around Michigan and Sweden. The winner of both the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Florida Derby is owned by Red Wings fan Paul Reddam. So, what better way to honor his favorite hockey player, Gustav Nyquist, than name a horse after him?
Trained by Doug O'Neill and jockeyed by Mario Gutierrez, who teamed up to win the 2012 Kentucky Derby with I'll Have Another, Nyquist seems as good a pick as any. The recent trend has been for the favorite entering the race to be the one to win it. Although Nyquist didn't get the best draw, starting in the 13th stall, it wasn't the worst one, either. A good, fast horse like Nyquist can certainly win.
Betting the favorite is boring. Gimme a different name.
Exaggerator seems like a great pick if you're looking elsewhere. He's of four colts opening between 8-1 and 10-1 odds, proof that nobody quite knows how to sort out the top of this field. Exaggerator has some pretty strong connections, as well. He's jockeyed by Kent Desormeaux, winner of the Kentucky Derby three times with four more top-three finishes. Exaggerator is trained by Keith Desormeaux, Kent's brother.
Exaggerator isn't the favorite because he doesn't quite have the track record of Nyquist. In fact, he's only won three of seven graded races. (Those are the ones that matter, with Grade 1 having stronger competition than Grade 2.) And one of his losses was to Nyquist. But he's coming off a rather impressive win against several derby competitors, including another colt from the Derby field whose name you'll almost definitely hear the track announcer call, Danzing Candy.
And then there's the finish at the Santa Anita Derby, which Exaggerator won in April. Just watch this. If this doesn't excite you, nothing will.
I want to look smart right from the start.
Danzing Candy is fast. Real fast. As you can see in the video above, Danzing Candy can flat out haul. Starting on the outside, it would be no surprise to see Danzing Candy, who actually beat Exaggerator and Mor Spirit in a race in March, go to the front. But the mile-and-a-quarter Kentucky Derby will be his longest race yet. The fade at Santa Anita doesn't bode well for going the distance.
How about a sentimental favorite?
How can you not like Mor Spirit, trained by Bob Baffert and jockeyed by Gary Stevens? The 53-year-old Hall of Fame jockey has ridden in thousands of races, won nine Triple Crown races, played a role in the 2003 movie Seabiscuit, and battled his body from childhood and throughout his career. Just check out the story we ran on him a few years ago. How can you not root for Gary Stevens?
His colt, Mor Spirit, has won two of five graded races, but finished runner-up behind Exaggerator and Danzing Candy in his past two. One thing you'll be sure to hear: No horse breaking from the 17th position, as Mor Spirit will do, has ever won the Kentucky Derby. Baffert, who trained last year's Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, admits he'd rather have drawn No. 16.
Anyone else to watch?
Mohaymen has lost only one race in his career, that being the Florida Derby last month, to Nyquist. It's clear he had a bad race, starting slow, drifting, battling heat and humidity after a 45 minute trip to the track the day of the race.
So, Mr. Expert, who are you taking?
I like Exaggerator to win, followed by Nyquist and Mohaymen. But this one's really hard to pick. There are so many good races this could go any number of ways. Just choose the horse that has some meaning to you, have a mint julep and enjoy yourself.
Here's how to watch the Kentucky Derby:
NBCSN will have television coverage from noon to 4 p.m. ET. NBC takes over at 4, and the Kentucky Derby itself will be run at 6:34. NBC Sports Live Extra will stream it all.
The entire field
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