LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Who will be the racing gods’ chosen one? He’ll avoid traffic problems in the rodeo ride to the first turn and have the holes open on cue the rest of the way. If he’s fast enough and can stay 1 1/4 miles, he’ll be wearing the blanket of roses today.
This Kentucky Derby is far more complicated than last year’s, when it was Big Brown and 19 other 3-year-olds. Long Island-based IEAH Stables owned Big Brown, and this time has a 50-percent share in I Want Revenge, the 3-1 morning-line favorite.
IEAH co-president Michael Iavarone likes his chances of seeing the red, white and blue colors designed by his wife, Christine, in the Derby winner’s circle again.
“In the Wood (Memorial), this horse showed he can overcome any trouble,” Iavarone said. “The question is whether he’s fast enough. He has the foundation and never has run a bad race. He’s done everything you’d want to see in a Derby horse, and I’m very confident.
“The horse that makes the lead at the top of the stretch usually wins the Derby, and I see him in that position.”
On paper, I Want Revenge’s main challengers are the 4-1 co-second choices, Dunkirk and Pioneer of the Nile, and 5-1 Friesan Fire. All four are gifted, and all have holes. I Want Revenge and Dunkirk haven’t beaten a top-class rival. Neither has Friesan Fire, and he hasn’t raced in seven weeks.
Pioneer of the Nile defeated I Want Revenge twice in California but has never run on conventional dirt. Sixteen in the field of 20 were listed at 15-1 or higher on the morning line, and Mine That Bird, Join in the Dance, Atomic Rain, Summer Bird, Nowhere to Hide and Flying Private are automatic throw outs.
But contrarians looking for value can make cases for Hold Me Back, Desert Party, Chocolate Candy, Papa Clem, Musket Man and General Quarters.
Pace makes the race, and this Derby lost a ton of speed last month when injuries knocked out The Pample mousse, Old Fashioned and likely favorite Quality Road.
“That really changed the pace situation,” said Larry Jones, who trains Friesan Fire and also had Old Fashioned, who was retired because of a knee injury. “You hate to lose horses, but that’s what makes it the Derby. Things can change in a hurry.”
Regal Ransom and Join in the Dance look like the front-runners, but they might not go fast enough to set up closers Dunkirk and Hold Me Back, which would help stalkers I Want Revenge, Friesan Fire and Pioneer of the Nile.
And what about the weather? Knowledge of off-track pedigrees could be crucial.
Churchill Downs’ main track was sloppy Friday for the first six races after overnight rain, then was rated muddy. It didn’t rain Friday afternoon, but plenty more was on the way. The National Weather Service predicted a 70-percent chance of more overnight rain, with three-quarters of an inch possible.
Saturday’s forecast was for showers and at least another quarter-inch, even if thunderstorms don’t materialize.