The month of May brings with it many notable events on the sports calendar, but none have the majesty and pageantry of the Kentucky Derby. The field for this year's event is still coming into focus, though it won't be finalized until next week.
Despite not knowing all of the horses ready to run for the roses on May 3, we can assess the field as it currently sits. With so much left to be decided, and no dominant stud this year, it's shaping up to be one of the best Derby fields in a long time.
Who knows if there's a future Triple Crown winner among this year's crop of three-year-olds, probably not, so let's just enjoy this year's Kentucky Derby race for being one of the great sporting events without attaching extra meaning to it.
To do that, here are the top contenders to watch at Churchill Downs.
No horse will enter the Kentucky Derby with more momentum, if you think such a thing exists in horse racing, than California Chrome. He has won four consecutive races, including the prestigious Santa Anita Derby by 5.25 lengths on April 5.
Making that victory more impressive, and showing why California Chrome will likely enter the Derby as the odds-on favorite, was his ability to recover after a slow start, via KentuckyDerby.com.
"California Chrome got off to an awkward start in the Santa Anita Derby. Shuffled out of position momentarily, he quickly recovered for regular rider Victor Espinoza, and forced the pace set by Dublin Up through fractions of :22 4/5 and :47."
The three-year-old will be entering new territory, having never run a race outside the state of California. He's proved to be a versatile runner throughout his career, as Ed Burgart of Los Alamitos Racing noted on Twitter.
I like the facts that California Chrome has won on dirt, cushion and poly track. He has not been one dimensional either. Has won on/off pace— Ed Burgart (@qheddie) April 20, 2014
The Kentucky Derby is a dirt track, same as the Santa Anita Derby, so California Chrome has the pedigree and track record to justify being the favorite, assuming he is when the odds come out.
Dance With Fate
It wasn't a guarantee that Dance With Fate would be in the Derby field because trainer Peter Eurton didn't want to push the colt after running in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 12.
Eurton's daughter, Britney, told TVG Racing (via Jennie Rees, USA Today Sports) on April 18 that Dance With Fate would be running at Churchill Downs because he was running so well on dirt.
"Obviously there was a lot of discussion about the timing and surface he was running on. ... They have decided that because the horse is doing so well, and if he’s doing as well up until the race, they are going to run in the Derby."
Three weeks isn't ideal recovery time for Dance With Fate, though it's no different than if he runs the second leg of the Triple Crown, so there shouldn't be any problems with his stamina.
You can understand why Dance With Fate's owners want to capitalize on this moment, as the thoroughbred has won two of his last three races and finished second at the El Camino Real Derby in February.
Hoppertunity's biggest problem leading up to the Kentucky Derby is racing against California Chrome. He finished a distant second to the likely Derby favorite at the Santa Anita Derby but has won twice this year, including at the Rebel Stakes in March.
Despite not getting the spotlight his talent would normally deserve, Hoppertunity does have the historical pedigree working for him.
You history buffs should like Hoppertunity. Lots of Calumet influence in pedigree. Bull Lea, Tim Tam, etc. Davona Dale is third dam.— Kurt Becker (@BeckerTrackside) April 19, 2014
It also doesn't hurt that Hoppertunity is being trained by Bob Baffert, who has won the Kentucky Derby three times and nine Triple Crown races total.
One thing that will challenge Hoppertunity is the length at Churchill Downs. He's yet to run a race this year as long as the 1.25-mile Kentucky Derby, winning races around the one-mile mark. He's coming into the race with a four-week layoff, so fatigue shouldn't be a problem come race day.
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