A trainer flooding the field with five horses. A black jockey trying to make history, and a woman rider, too. Louisville coach Rick Pitino seeking a double — champions in racing and basketball. He’s sure in the right place.
The 19-horse field for today’s Kentucky Derby is balanced, with no definitive favorite.
Orb is the pre-race choice, just barely. Nearly overshadowed is his trainer, Shug McGaughey, who really, really wants this race. Doug O’Neill trying to win back-to-back. And then there’s the threat of rain, which has done in some of the best-laid plans on race day.
It sure looks like a topsy-turvy Derby.
“I don’t think we’ve got Secretariat in this bunch, even Seattle Slew,” four-time Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said, “so I think it’s going to boil down to the trip and the pace and a lot of other things.”
Todd Pletcher will saddle a record-tying five horses — undefeated and early second choice Verrazano, Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Palace Malice and Charming Kitten.
“We laid out a plan to get here with them, and it’s all come down pretty much like we hoped,” said Pletcher, who has one Derby win with 31 previous starters.
Verrazano is 4-0 in his young career, not having run as a 2-year-old. He’ll be trying to disprove an old Derby jinx: no horse since Apollo in 1882 has won without racing as a juvenile.
Relative unknown Kevin Krigger will be aboard Goldencents, trying to become the first black jockey to win since Jimmy Winkfield in 1902.
“I’m going to ride us the race that should get us to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle,” Krigger said.
The colt is partly owned by Pitino, whose Cardinals won the NCAA championship last month. The coach recently got elected to basketball’s Hall of Fame, so a Derby win would complete the ultimate trifecta.
Rosie Napravnik wants to grab history for herself, too.
No female jockey has ever won the Derby, although she came closest, with a ninth-place finish in 2011. Napravnik will ride 15-1 long shot Mylute.
“He feels great, he’s acting great and I’m very confident heading into the Derby,” she said.
Orb was the narrow 7-2 early favorite for the 139th Derby. He comes in on a four-race winning streak for McGaughey, the 62-year-old trainer whose Hall of Fame resume lacks a Derby victory. He’s making his second appearance since 1989, when he finished second with Easy Goer.
“I hope the track is fast and safe for everybody and nobody has any excuses, and let the best horse win,” McGaughey said.
Goldencents will be trying to deliver for more than Krigger and Pitino. He’s trained by O’Neill, who put unknown Mario Gutierrez aboard I’ll Have Another last year and won. The trainer is following the same script this time, giving Krigger a big break while trying to become the first trainer to win back-to-back Derbies since Bob Baffert in 1997-98.