LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Two trainers saddling three horses each. A horse trying to win for the first time. The early favourite whose training was interrupted. Another attempting to overcome irascible behaviour.
The 20-horse field for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby lacks a dominant runner. The winter prep races did nothing to establish a clear favourite.
Classic Empire is the 4-1 pre-race choice. The horse is trained by Mark Casse, named Canada’s top trainer on nine occasions.
Two horses, Always Dreaming and McCraken, are the co-second choices at 5-1. Toss in the threat of rain early in the day, which could soak well-dressed racegoers wearing fancy hats, and it all makes for a most unpredictable Derby.
Todd Pletcher will saddle three horses — 5-1 shot Always Dreaming, 20-1 Tapwrit and 30-1 Patch, the one-eyed horse. Pletcher is 1 for 45 in the Derby.
With no left eye, Patch will only see the crowd as he breaks from the far outside spot in the gate. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione figures to hustle him over to the rail to save ground as the field makes its way to the traffic-choked first turn.
Steve Asmussen also has three runners, and they’re all longshots: 15-1 Hence, 20-1 Lookin at Lee, and 30-1 Untrapped. He is winless in 15 tries, the only hole in his Hall of Fame resume.
“The Kentucky Derby would look really good to add to the list,” he said.
Don’t look for four-time winner Bob Baffert. The white-haired trainer doesn’t have a horse this year, but like everyone else, he has an opinion.
“There’s a lot of parity. There are some nice, solid horses,” he said. “I think Classic Empire is probably the best horse in the race. Todd’s horse has brilliance, Always Dreaming. If they can get him figured out, he could steal it. The rest are bombers.”
The rain is predicted to end hours before the race goes off in the early evening. The last Derby run on an off-track was 2013 when Orb splashed home in front.
Favourites have won the Derby the past four years, the longest such streak since the 1970s.
Sonneteer will try to overcome that bit of history. He’s 0 for 10 in his career. He would be just the fourth maiden and the first since Brokers Tip in 1933 to wear the roses.
Classic Empire sure looked like the early Derby favourite last year when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was named 2-year-old champion. He made his 3-year-old debut with a third-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes in February. Then came two more months off caused by hoof and back injuries. Twice, the bay colt didn’t want to train.