Few sports fluctuate as much as horse racing and even fewer races are as unpredictable as the Kentucky Derby.
This year’s race, at Churchill Downs on Saturday, is no different and looms as one of the most open in decades.
The early favorite is Orb, who won the Florida Derby, one of the key traditional lead-up races, in brilliant fashion.
His main challenger, at least in betting circles, is the unbeaten Verrazano, but this is anything but a two-horse race.
With a capacity-field of 20 impeccably bred 3-year-olds, the 139th Kentucky Derby has all the makings of a classic. An expected crowd of more than 160,000 will cram into the track while tens of millions of people will watch the race, dubbed the most exciting two minutes in sport, on television.
The only sure bet is that the winner of the Run for the Roses will instantly be feted as the sport’s new great hope, raising expectations he can win the Triple Crown.
But the Triple Crown will have to wait. With no obvious standout horse from this year’s field, no one is taking anything for granted before the mile and a quarter race on dirt, one of the toughest tests for a thoroughbred.
Orb was installed as the 7-2 favorite after winning each of his three runs this season, including the Florida Derby, but his trainer Shug McGaughey said he would still need some luck after drawing the 16 hole.
A Hall of Fame trainer who has prepared nearly 250 graded stakes winners but never a Kentucky Derby winner, McGaughey said his prospects could be decided at the first bend.
“Hopefully, he’ll get a clean trip around the first turn, which I think is very important,” McGaughey told reporters. “That’s where all the jamming up comes. Going down the backside, hopefully, he can ease in and save a little ground, but not be down in there and not be able to make a run when the time comes.”