It's Derby week in Louisville, Kentucky and the city is abuzz with excitement for The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports to commence. Saturday, May 4 marks the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown. Twenty horses will enter the starting gate on Saturday evening, but only one will take home the Garland of Roses.
Let's break down the Derby favorites:
After humble starts in his first three outings, placing third, fourth, and fourth respectively, Orb is now riding a four-race win streak coming into the Derby. Most recently, Orb triumphed in the Grade 1 Florida Derby at the end of March, and in the Grade II Fountain of Youth in February, where he defeated Itsmyluckyday (placed second), whom he will face again on Saturday.
Orb is the top rated 3 year old, according to the latest NTRA rankings, and has been impressive in workouts at Churchill Downs this week. Trained by Hall of Famer Claude "Shug" McGaughey, Orb provides his best shot for winning the elusive Run for the Roses. Previously ridden by John Velazquez, Orb will take on a new jockey for the Kentucky Derby, as Velazquez will be riding another Derby favorite, Verrazano.
The jockey riding Orb on Saturday will be 28 year old Joel Rosario. This will be his fourth Derby start, and he has yet to finish in the money. It will be interesting to see if the jockey change affects Orb this weekend.
131 years have passed since a horse has won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2 year old. Derby contender Verrazano looks to do just that on Saturday with jockey John Velazquez onboard.
Verrazano is unbeaten in all four of his career races, including victories in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, and the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. In his last race, the Wood Memorial, Verrazano beat fellow Derby contender Normandy Invasion who came in second. Although Verrazano pulled out the win, this race raised some doubts as the colt only won by three-quarters of a length and turned in a slow time of 1:50.
As the son of More Than Ready, Verrazano has Derby winners in his bloodline: Barbaro, Sunday Silence, and Sunny's Halo. We will find out Saturday if Verrazano will be the next to make the list.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is saddling five horses for this year's Kentucky Derby. Verrazano is the favored horse out of his stable, but Revolutionary is a strong contender as well. Revolutionary has finished in the money in all six-career starts and has finished first in his last three races, including winning the Louisiana Derby in March. He has faced two other Derby runners, beating Mylute in the Louisiana Derby, and losing to Orb last November.
He too, is facing a jockey change for his most important race to date, but his new jockey is no stranger to the Derby. Calvin Borel, a three-time Derby winner will mount Revolutionary on Saturday. He last won the Derby in 2010 aboard Super Saver, another Pletcher-trained horse.Normandy Invasion
When Normandy Invasion steps onto the track on Saturday, fear and elation will intermingle as owner Rick Porter hopes for a far different outcome than his last Derby experience. Fans may remember Eight Belles, an energetic filly who showed true heart in a second-place finish against Big Brown in 2008, only to breakdown immediately after with two broken ankles. She was euthanized onsite. Normandy Invasion has a chance to provide Rick Porter with a more joyful memory of the Kentucky Derby.
Normandy Invasion has not won in a graded stakes race, with his last victory coming last November. He finished second behind Verrazano in the Wood Memorial, his most recent race. He looks to avenge his loss on Saturday.
Although not the heavy favorite, Goldencents is the favorite in Louisville, Kentucky. The colt is co-owned by Rick Pitino, the head coach of the 2013 NCAA basketball champion Louisville Cardinals. Rick Pitino has enjoyed a successful year on the hardwood, and he hopes to enjoy the same success at Churchill Downs on May 4.
This is not Rick Pitino's first foray into horse racing, he has also co-owned horses named after this season's basketball team: Russdiculous (after Russ Smith), Gorgui (after Gorgui Dieng) and Siva (after Peyton Siva). Goldencents, although not having a basketball namesake, is his most decorated horse.
After winning the Santa Anita Derby, Goldencents has now won two of his three races this year. Aboard Goldencents is jockey Kevin Krigger who has a shot at history if he wins the Derby. Krigger would become the first African-American to win the Derby since 1902.
This year's Kentucky Derby has no clear-cut favorite, but as a Louisvillian, I will be cheering for Goldencents this Saturday to keep the Garland of Roses in the bluegrass.
Brianna Brooks moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 2008.
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