The 141st running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled to go off at 6:34 EST on Saturday. It is the 11th race of the card at Churchill Downs and will be televised on NBC Sports. Here are the top four contenders for this deep contentious field.
American Pharoah – (5/2) Trainer: Bob Baffert / Jockey: Victor Espinoza
(Pedigree) Sire – Pioneerof the Nile / Dam – Littleprincessemma (Yankee Gentleman)
The most imposing one in this group, American Pharoah brings a ton of talent combined with an intimidating presence. As a two-year-old American Pharoah won the 2014 Eclipse Award for two-year-old colts without even running in the Breeders’ Cup. This had everything to do with his two dominant Grade 1 victories including the Front Runner Stakes at Santa Anita.
After a nice winter layoff American Pharoah came back at Oaklawn Park winning both the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby in impressive fashion.
The ease in which he has won these races will give skeptics enough reason to point to the fact that he has not been sufficiently tested to justify favorite status in a race as difficult as the Derby. Another knock will be that he hasn’t shown an ability to sit off the pace and rate. Conversely that can be attributed to the colt’s natural high cruising speed and that he has simply outrun his opponents wire to wire.
American Pharoah possesses what all truly great horses possess and that is the deceptive ability to gallop fast. He has a smooth effortless stride that eats up track without looking like he is working hard. For this reason he is definitely the horse to beat.
The Pioneer of the Nile colt is trained by Bob Baffert and owned by Zayat Stables and will most likely be the post-time favorite for the Derby.
Dortmound – (3-1) Trianer: Bob Baffert / Jockey: Martin Garcia
(Pedigree) Sire – Big Brown / Dam – Our Josephina (Tale of the Cat)
Dortmound is the ‘other’ bullet in the Baffert chamber. Unlike his stable mate American Pharoah, Dortmound has definitely been tested in his prep races for the Derby. The son of Big Brown has turned back every challenge sent at him, and he has had his share. In the Los Alamitos Futurity he gutted out a three-horse blanket finish. The other two horses on the wire that day were Firing Line and Mr. Z.
Next race out Dortmound would pull off his most impressive win against that same opponent, Firing Line. In the Robert B. Lewis Stakes he should that he had another level to his desire to win. After gutting out very fast fractions for the first half of the race, Dortmound and Firing Line found themselves neck and neck as they hit the turn for home. However after they straightened out, Firing Line pulled a length ahead of Dortmound and had him pinned between against the rail. To his credit Dortmound dug in to pull out the win that day.
Firing Line flattered the effort of Dortmound by winning the Sunland Derby by 14 ½ lengths.
Materiality – (12-1) Trainer: Todd Pletcher / Jockey J.J. Castellano
(Pedigree) Sire – Afleet Alex / Dam – Wildwood Flower (Langfuhr)
Materiality may be the most fascinating of all the logical contenders in this race. In his short career Materiality has done nothing wrong, he has run the highest speed figures, has the best connections, and despite that has been somewhat overlooked by the press in the run-up to this race. This may have to do with the light seasoning he has had and also that he will bring into this race the ‘Apollo Jinx’. The ‘jinx’ is the statistic that no horse has won a Kentucky Derby without running as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882. And there is no question that when he is mentioned in the post parade on Saturday some announcer will make this point. However the upside to that is that this horse has a very good shot on Saturday of doing just that.
Coming from the sire line of Afleet Alex – winner of the 2005 Preakness and Belmont. Materiality certainly has the pedigree to break the 133-year streak. That is at least what the owners of Alto Racing in New Mexico thought when they went to Maryland and purchased him for $400,000.
Materiality enters the Derby undefeated but in only three starts all coming at Gulfstream Park. Despite his inexperience Materiality has run in two very competitive two-turn races and has showed an ability to sit off the pace setters. More importantly he also has shown an ability to get into a street fight and out dueled his opponents.
Materiality has earned the top speed figures for this race. In only his second race the Ismalorada States he ran a 104, and then followed that up with a 110 running big in the Florida Derby. This is very good sign for a lightly raced horse with plenty of room for improvement.
Carpe Diem – (8-1) Trainer: Todd Pletcher/ Jockey: J.R. Velazquez
(Pedigree) Sire Giant’s Causeway / Dam – Rebridled Dreams
Whenever a horse is purchased for 1.6 million dollars people sit up and take notice. Even among the gaudy amounts paid for by an exclusive owner like Winstar Farms. Most of the time the horse doesn’t come close to panning out or even breaking even. There are countless tales of high priced busts; there are also countless stories of a low-cost horse beating all the royally bred horses. The story for Carpe Diem is still unfolding, but as of right now he looks every part the shrewd investment.
Part of that is that Carpe Diem still looks like a horse that has yet to run his best race. That is saying a lot considering that as a two-year-old he won the Breeders’ Futurity, and followed that up with a tough second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. As a three-year-old, Carpe Diem won both his Derby preps (Tampa Bay Derby, Bluegrass Stakes) with such ease that there is no way to tell yet what this horse maybe capable of.
Although much is known about Carpe Diem’s sire Giants Causeway there isn’t much about the mare Rebridled Dreams. The first thing to notice from her name is that she is out of Unbridled’s Song, a successful dirt sire earning over $90 million from his progeny. The second thing is that she had success running on dirt, getting third in the Grade 2 Silverbulletday and winning the Money Penny Stakes. Both of these races were at 1 1/16th distance, which shows that she can transfer routing and dirt ability. As a mare she has had six runners five of who have won. In 2010 her foal J.B.’s Thunder won the Breeders’ Futurity, as did Carpe Diem last year.