Saturday, May 3, 2014
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — California Chrome has the Kentucky Derby post that trainer Art Sherman wanted and a sparkling resume that has made him the horse to beat in the 140th edition at Churchill Downs.
By maximizing that position to get ahead of a speedy 19-horse field, he could earn a garland of red roses Saturday and take an important first step toward ending a 36-year Triple Crown champion drought.
Both are huge challenges, but the chestnut colt seems capable of getting a leg up in the sport's marquee race. California Chrome is unbeaten as a 3-year-old and has six wins and a second in 10 starts.
Starting from the fifth position as a 5-2 morning-line favorite, he aims to become the first California-bred Derby winner in 52 years and make Sherman, 77, the oldest winning trainer.
The scheduled post time is 6:24 p.m. EDT with temperatures expected in the low-70s and a 10 percent chance of showers, conditions that Sherman hopes will pay off for California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza.
"I like it fine," Sherman said after Wednesday's post draw. "Victor says he likes it. Says he won the Kentucky Derby from the five (on War Emblem in 2002). I'm happy and I feel no pressure."
Whether California Chrome applies or receives pressure from the quick field around him, and how much, are the big questions. While his four-race winning streak coming in proves that he has had the final word, several horses could make the opening statement.
Vicar's In Trouble isn't expected to make it as a 20-1 longshot starting from the first post position, but his jockey is motivated by a shot at history. Rosie Napravnik aims to become the first female to win horse racing's marquee event and comes in riding momentum from Friday's victory by filly Untapable in the Kentucky Oaks.
That win also positioned her to become the first woman to accomplish the Oaks-Derby double and the first rider to do so since Hall of Famer Calvin Borel did it in 2009. Napravnik was fifth in last year's Derby and is confident about one of three mounts trained by Mike Maker.
Maker's other horses are General a Rod (15-1) and Harry's Holiday (50-1), which starts alongside Vicar's in Trouble.
"We got the first half completed, so we're moving on to the second half of the double," Napravnik said after the 4½-length victory.
Added co-owner Ken Ramsey: "Well, the 1-hole is the closest way home. ... We're going to save a little ground. He's got tactical speed."
One early push could come from 6-1 second choice Wicked Strong, named for victims of last year's Boston Marathon bombings. Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, he won the Wood Memorial with a strong finish and will go off from the far post position with Rajiv Maragh aboard.
"It might be that speed is quick and they get to rolling in a clump and he can draft in behind them and it'll work out OK," Jerkens said. "The one positive is that he's not in the gate very long. I'm trying to convince myself that it's not a bad post, but I don't know if I can."
Then again, don't be shocked if one of Todd Pletcher's four Derby horses make a charge. Arkansas Derby winner Danza is listed as a 10-1 shot, Intense Holiday is 12-1, while Vinceremos and We Miss Artie are 30-1 and 50-1, respectively.
Tapiture is 2-2-2 in seven starts with trainer Steve Asmussen, who is under investigation by Kentucky and New York racing officials after an animal rights group allege that he and his former assistant mistreated horses in their care.
Asmussen didn't address the matter when asked after winning the Oaks with Untapable. He wants to see if Tapiture can continue his success at Churchill Downs, where the horse had a win and two thirds as a 2-year-old.
"I've been very pleased with who he is since he came back to Churchill and I think a lot of that has to do with his experience here all last fall," Asmussen said. "He's a horse that spent a lot of time here, in this barn, and has had a lot of success over this racetrack."