Big Brown Leads Wide-Open Field at 134th Kentucky Derby
Big Brown by John Sommers ll/Reuters
Of the near-record 459 horses nominated in January for Triple Crown consideration, only 20 get to dig their hooves into the Churchill Downs dirt for Saturday's 134th
(May 3, 5 pm/ET, NBC). This year's Run for the Roses includes a thusfar underachieving crop of three-year-olds, with undefeated Florida Derby winner Big Brown looming largest. "He clearly has fewer blemishes than any other horse going into the race," says NBC analyst Bob Neumeier, "but he still has his own questions." Such as only having run three races in his lifetime - a historical Derby no-no's. (Though Curlin fared well last spring in that role: Third in Derby, first in Preakness, second in Belmont, on his way to Horse of the Year.)
More helpful to handicappers like Neumeier is that Big Brown's pre-Louisville resume does not include races on the game's perplexing new synthetic-surfaced tracks, on which fellow top contenders Pyro (trained by Curlin's Steve Asmussen) and Colonel John ran their last preps. "We say anything can happen in the Derby and that's what makes it interesting and fun, but you're really throwing a dart at a board when you have to factor in the synthetic tracks. In a game where there's already a lot of guesswork, it multiplies the guesswork about 10-fold."
Breaking from the far outside in post 20, Big Brown has the services of Kent Desormeaux, the only active jockey with multiple Derby wins (on Real Quiet in 1998 and Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000). Among top trainers, Todd Pletcher (with Monba and Cowboy Cal) and Asmussen (with Pyro and Z Fortune) both have multiple shots at their elusive first trip to racing's most-coveted winner's circle, with Pletcher having saddled a record 19 Derby horses previously without seeing a winner. "Pletcher's always dangerous," Neumeier says. "If he's not the best in the game then he's in the top three."
And if last year's headline-making female was Queen Elizabeth at her first Derby, this year's can be found in a different kind of royal box---post No. 5 in the starting gate. That's where Eight Belles is slotted as the first filly to take on the boys since 1999. (Only three fillies have ever won.)
Here's a look at the entire expected field for the "Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" (post time 6:04 pm/ET): 1) Cool Coal Man 20-1 (morning line); 2) Tale of Ekati 15-1; 3) Anak Nakal 30-1; 4) Court Vision 20-1; 5) Eight Belles 20-1; 6) Z Fortune 15-1; 7) Big Truck 50-1; 8) Visionaire 20-1; 9) Pyro 6-1; 10) Colonel John 4-1; 11) Z Humor 30-1; 12) Smooth Air 20-1; Bob Black Jack 20-1; 14) Monba 15-1; 15) Adriano 30-1; 16) Denis of Cork 20-1; 17) Cowboy Cal 20-1; 18) Recapturetheglory 20-1; 19) Gayego 15-1; 20) Big Brown 3-1.
- Roger Leister