All signs point to epic Kentucky Derby

5/4/2018 2:30:36 AM EST

The Kentucky Derby is the world's most famous horse race and the most exciting two minutes in sports, but it's also one of the most difficult events to predict, and this year's 144th running on Saturday evening at venerable Churchill Downs is no different.

Yes, there are plenty of superstar 3-year-old-horses set to test the 1 1/4-mile race, namely race favorite Justify, who has won all three of his prep events including the prestigious Santa Anita Derby; Eclipse Award recipient Good Magic, who took the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall; and European invader Mendelssohn, who was last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner and this season's runaway UAE Derby champion.

Then there's Florida Derby winner Audible, undefeated Arkansas Derby winner Magnum Moon, Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso, and Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy, all of whom are in top form and threats to capture the Run for the Roses.

Five of the 20 horses in the field will be saddled by trainers who are already in the Hall of Fame (Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, Jerry Hollendorfer, D. Wayne Lukas and Bill Mott), while four more are conditioned by Todd Pletcher, a trainer who has sent more horses to this race that any other horseman.

The wild card here might be Mendelssohn, the horse from Ireland who has been pointed to this race by Aidan O'Brien, the superstar European trainer who last year set a single-season record with 28 Grade 1 or Group 1 stakes victories.

In all, the trainers of the 20 runners have combined for 10 Derby wins and 23 Eclipse Awards as outstanding trainer, both the most ever for a single running of the Derby.

The top contenders in this Derby have held their form all spring and have recorded fast speed figures. It's likely the most talented group of runners this race has seen in a quarter-century, especially among the top 10 horses in the field.

"The race is pretty top-heavy," said Baffert, who sends out Justify and a long shot, Solomini. "All the final prep races I thought were pretty good."

All the guesses and handicapping using various angles can be ignored as the gates open on Saturday, when more than 150,000 fans are in full throat and 20 horses barrel down the front straightaway at Churchill Downs just hoping to survive the crush that heads into that first turn.

Justify will try to become the first horse to win the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.

"I don't look at Apollo's curse," Baffert said. "I'd rather have the best horse than a horse who's run 10 times. Just going there with a horse who's very good, having a chance with a superior racehorse is special. It's a challenge just to get (to the Derby)."

Pletcher, a two-time Derby winner trying to become the first trainer in 20 years to win consecutive Derbies, sends out the aforementioned potent foursome of Audible, Magnum Moon, Noble Indy and Vino Rosso, all winners of major preps in their most recent races.

"We've had a great spring," said Pletcher, who is tied with Lukas for the most Derby starters with 48. "The horses are doing well. I feel good. But I appreciate how difficult it is to win."

Good Magic, trained by two-time Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown, is the "live" long shot in this race, with the Derby as the third start of his form cycle this year. He has moved across the track at Churchill Downs in training like a locomotive, and he looks bigger and stronger than he did prior to his win last year in the sport's biggest race for 2-year-olds.

"Good Magic looks to really be in a zone right now," said Brown, who is still seeking his first Derby victory. "We set up a plan, hoped the horse would cooperate, and he has."

Mendelssohn captured the UAE Derby in his dirt debut and will try to give O'Brien and British jockey Ryan Moore their first victory in one of the few international races that the duo has not paired to win.

Mendelssohn had his first morning on the track Thursday after clearing quarantine Wednesday, and he spent it getting used to his new surroundings. No winner of the UAE Derby has continued on to win in the Kentucky Derby, with the best result in nine tries a sixth-place finish.

Bolt d'Oro and the lightly raced Hofburg have to be considered as well, if not as highly as some of the others in the race. Bolt d'Oro was a sharp second behind Justify in the Santa Anita Derby and could make Mick Ruis, his owner and trainer, a Derby winner in his first try. Hofburg is trying to give Mott his first Derby winner, and he has had a head-turning week of training that illustrates why a conservative trainer like Mott is taking on the Derby with a horse with so few starts.

If a full field of 20 starters, the gross purse of the Derby will be $2,192,000, with $1,432,000 going to the winner.

Since a maximum of 20 horses can run but 21 were entered Tuesday, Blended Citizen -- as the horse with the fewest points earned in Derby prep races -- was placed on the also-eligible list. He only can get in if one of the 20 in the main body of the race is withdrawn by scratch time, which is 9 a.m. ET Friday.

Weather could be a factor as well, as forecasts for Derby Day call for a 40 percent chance of rain, with showers in the afternoon and a high of 76 degrees.

--By Steve Habel, Field Level Media

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Mon, 18 Jun 2018 22:03:39 EST Seattle group hires ex-Coyotes coach Tippett as adviser
Mon, 18 Jun 2018 15:41:36 EST Trotz resigns as coach of Capitals, reportedly over contract stalemate
Sun, 17 Jun 2018 00:51:32 EST On heels of unpopular trade, Domi reaching out to Montreal fans
Sat, 16 Jun 2018 01:29:42 EST Coyotes deal LW Domi to Canadiens for C Galchenyuk

WTA Stories

Thu, 21 Jun 2018 16:17:20 EST WTA roundup: Strycova upsets Muguruza at Birmingham
Wed, 20 Jun 2018 14:45:41 EST WTA roundup: Svitolina into Nature Valley quarters
Tue, 19 Jun 2018 17:46:49 EST WTA roundup: Kvitova downs Konta at Birmingham
Mon, 18 Jun 2018 17:48:38 EST WTA roundup: Rybarikova tops Pliskova at Birmingham in Wimbledon rematch
Sun, 17 Jun 2018 12:50:49 EST WTA roundup: Krunic rallies again to capture first title
Sat, 16 Jun 2018 15:55:53 EST WTA roundup: Krunic stuns top-seeded Vandeweghe in semis
Fri, 15 Jun 2018 12:13:44 EST WTA roundup: Vandeweghe survives to reach Libema semis
Thu, 14 Jun 2018 16:16:08 EST WTA roundup: Barty, Konta advance to Nottingham quarters
Wed, 13 Jun 2018 15:53:51 EST WTA Roundup: Vandeweghe reaches quarters at Libema Open
Tue, 12 Jun 2018 16:57:48 EST WTA roundup: Pair of top-5 seeds swept out early in Libema Open
Mon, 11 Jun 2018 14:49:50 EST WTA roundup: Rybarikova, Osaka need three sets to survive at Nottingham
Sat, 09 Jun 2018 11:40:16 EST Halep rallies past Stephens for first Grand Slam title
Thu, 07 Jun 2018 14:27:18 EST Halep, Stephens earn spots in French Open final
Wed, 06 Jun 2018 11:00:34 EST Muguruza rolls over Sharapova into French Open semis
Tue, 05 Jun 2018 12:22:26 EST Stephens, Keys win to set up All-American semis at French Open
Tue, 05 Jun 2018 10:56:29 EST Serena Williams 'super excited' after doctor visit
Mon, 04 Jun 2018 15:45:43 EST No. 2 Wozniacki bounced by Kasatkina
Mon, 04 Jun 2018 10:03:34 EST Serena Williams withdraws from French Open with pectoral injury
Sun, 03 Jun 2018 14:24:44 EST Williams sisters eliminated in French Open doubles
Sun, 03 Jun 2018 15:45:37 EST Stephens, Keys hit milestones by making French Open quarters

LPGA Stories

Sun, 17 Jun 2018 18:19:37 EST Ryu prevails at Meijer LPGA Classic for sixth career win
Sat, 16 Jun 2018 19:11:23 EST Pace, Nordqvist grab share of lead at Meijer LPGA Classic
Fri, 15 Jun 2018 20:24:26 EST Ryu seizes control of lead at Meijer LPGA Classic
Thu, 14 Jun 2018 20:13:16 EST Shon, Ryu share lead at Meijer LPGA Classic
Sun, 10 Jun 2018 20:07:41 EST Annie Park shoots 63 to claim first LPGA Tour victory
Sat, 09 Jun 2018 21:27:23 EST Herbin, Kim share ShopRite lead with Round 2 suspended
Fri, 08 Jun 2018 19:27:53 EST Diaz, 43, part of 3-way tie for ShopRite lead
Sun, 03 Jun 2018 21:21:08 EST Jutanugarn recovers to win U.S. Women's Open in playoff
Fri, 01 Jun 2018 21:28:57 EST Smith in control at U.S. Women's Open as rain suspends play
Thu, 31 May 2018 21:31:43 EST Jutanugarn among three atop U.S. Women's Open
Thu, 31 May 2018 14:25:19 EST Ariya Jutanugarn (67) grabs early lead at U.S. Women's Open
Wed, 30 May 2018 13:49:54 EST 13-year-old alternate Pano bails on U.S. Women's Open
Wed, 30 May 2018 12:49:02 EST USGA: Ball played as it lies at soaked U.S. Women's Open
Sun, 27 May 2018 20:15:54 EST Lee earns 4th LPGA win on 22nd birthday
Sat, 26 May 2018 23:29:22 EST Lee surges to two-stroke lead at Volvik Championship
Fri, 25 May 2018 21:25:16 EST Hataoka takes one-shot lead at Volvik Championship
Thu, 24 May 2018 20:14:48 EST Four tied for lead at Volvik Championship
Thu, 24 May 2018 02:27:16 EST LPGA announces new South Korean event
Tue, 22 May 2018 17:07:45 EST LPGA legend Mann dies at 77
Sun, 20 May 2018 21:39:08 EST Jutanugarn birdies playoff holes, wins LPGA tourney

WNCAAB Stories

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 15:42:54 EST Former Tennessee great Charles-Furlow dead at 49
Fri, 06 Apr 2018 23:51:39 EST South Carolina's Wilson earns Wooden Award
Mon, 02 Apr 2018 15:50:53 EST UConn's Stevens skipping final season, entering WNBA draft
Sun, 01 Apr 2018 21:15:27 EST Easter stunner: Irish win title on last-second 3-pointer
Sat, 31 Mar 2018 18:07:32 EST South Carolina's Wilson wins Naismith player of year
Sat, 31 Mar 2018 00:26:56 EST Ogunbowale's shot lifts Notre Dame over UConn in OT thriller
Fri, 30 Mar 2018 21:46:41 EST Mississippi State outlasts Louisville in OT to advance to national championship
Mon, 26 Mar 2018 23:16:06 EST Notre Dame downs Oregon to charge into Final Four
Mon, 26 Mar 2018 23:01:32 EST UConn routs defending champion South Carolina to reach Final Four
Sun, 25 Mar 2018 21:57:47 EST McCowan, Mississippi State outmuscle UCLA to reach Final Four
Sun, 25 Mar 2018 22:04:33 EST Durr scores 18 as Louisville romps into Final Four
Sat, 24 Mar 2018 20:46:48 EST Oregon cruises past Central Michigan to advance to Elite Eight
Sat, 24 Mar 2018 21:11:38 EST Notre Dame edges Texas A&M to make Elite Eight
Sat, 24 Mar 2018 20:52:26 EST Collier paces top-seeded UConn in win over Duke
Sat, 24 Mar 2018 20:57:12 EST No. 2 seed South Carolina pulls away late to top Buffalo
Sat, 24 Mar 2018 00:34:21 EST NCAA women's roundup: Oregon State stuns Baylor
Fri, 23 Mar 2018 23:54:01 EST Louisville overpowers Stanford in regional semis
Fri, 23 Mar 2018 23:40:30 EST UCLA edges Texas to reach Elite Eight
Fri, 23 Mar 2018 23:42:57 EST Oregon State ends Baylor's 30-game winning streak in Sweet 16 upset
Fri, 23 Mar 2018 23:19:07 EST Mississippi State cruises past NC State to advance to Elite Eight

USA Stories

Tue, 19 Jun 2018 16:16:19 EST Report: NFL invited to testify at congressional hearing on sports betting
Mon, 11 Jun 2018 23:10:39 EST Drag racing legend Tom 'The Mongoose' McEwen dead at 81
Mon, 11 Jun 2018 22:49:22 EST Bode Miller's 19-month-old daughter drowns
Mon, 11 Jun 2018 17:10:47 EST N.J. governor signs sports betting into law, wagering to begin Thursday
Sun, 10 Jun 2018 13:25:55 EST Justify expected to race rest of 2018
Sun, 10 Jun 2018 01:43:26 EST Report: Justify worth record $75M value
Sat, 09 Jun 2018 19:34:13 EST Justify wins Belmont Stakes, becomes 13th Triple Crown winner
Fri, 08 Jun 2018 13:35:45 EST Justify has 'smooth' final workout ahead of Belmont
Thu, 07 Jun 2018 22:43:04 EST Sports betting bills sent to N.J. governor for approval
Thu, 07 Jun 2018 16:21:10 EST Justify roaring and ready to claim Triple Crown at Belmont Stakes
Thu, 07 Jun 2018 14:03:16 EST Justify impresses in gallop at Belmont Park
Wed, 06 Jun 2018 19:07:05 EST Delaware receives $322K in bets on first day
Wed, 06 Jun 2018 18:07:29 EST Triple Crown hopeful Justify arrives in New York
Tue, 05 Jun 2018 23:01:36 EST WCWS: Florida State sweeps for 1st NCAA title
Tue, 05 Jun 2018 21:28:58 EST Ex-USA Gymnastics CEO pleads 5th at Senate hearing
Tue, 05 Jun 2018 18:51:23 EST Justify seeking Triple Crown from No. 1 post at Belmont
Tue, 05 Jun 2018 10:40:30 EST XFL hires Oliver Luck as commissioner
Mon, 04 Jun 2018 22:10:44 EST WCWS: Seminoles blank Huskies, take 1-0 finals lead
Sun, 03 Jun 2018 21:50:04 EST WCWS: Washington, Florida State reach title series
Fri, 01 Jun 2018 00:43:24 EST WCWS: Oregon routs Arizona State in opener

INDY Stories

Sun, 27 May 2018 17:54:42 EST Power finally claims elusive Indy 500 victory
Sun, 27 May 2018 17:40:48 EST Patrick crashes out of final Indy 500