Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Always unpredictable Kentucky Derby race known for bringing heartbreak to favorites


Exercise rider Jenn Patterson rides Kentucky Derby entrant Orb for a workout at Churchill Downs Friday. Orb is favored to win today, but history shows that is no guarantee of success.


LOUISVILLE — There is no reason to pick against Orb in the 139th Kentucky Derby today.

The colt has won his last four races. His jockey, Joel Rosario, is riding like a guy determined to make Bill Shoemaker blush. His trainer, Shug McGaughey, had his Hall of Fame credentials polished nearly a decade ago. His crackling workouts have inspired railbirds to double-check their stopwatches.

There is no reason to pick against Orb in the Kentucky Derby.

Except there is every reason to pick against Orb today.

Logic is a 5-to-2 bet to collapse when the 19-horse field winds into the starting gate at Churchill Downs for the 1 1/4-mile race.

The best 3-year-old doesn’t always win. The Derby is more likely to stop a Triple Crown dream than the Preakness or Belmont. The Derby scene is sentimental, spectacular, and harsh.

Ask Curlin, Point Given, or Holy Bull. Hall of Fame trainers have gone home with heartburn when trainers like Chip Woolley or Cam Gambolati have arrived from Anonymity Downs to win. Nobody could outride Laffit Pincay or Pat Day. Except in the Derby. They were 2 for 43 here.

You have been warned. Now you should be advised that story lines abound even if you don’t want to stick your nose in a Daily Racing Form.

The first story about a female jockey winning the Kentucky Derby was written in 1970. Diane Crump finished 15th. It has been written six more times. Female jockeys have scored in other big races, including the Belmont Stakes, but a woman has never finished in the top five in the Derby.

Rosie Napravnik is here to change that aboard Mylute. The more than $12 million that Napravnik’s mounts won last year confirms she is not afraid to split horses or move to the rail. She ranks second nationally with 116 wins this year. But the first thing she wants you to say about her is that she can really ride.

Kevin Krigger is another jockey who wants you to compliment his work in the saddle. He is a native of the Virgin Islands. African-American jockeys won 15 of the first 28 Derbies. Then they were edged out of the game. The last African-American jockey to win the Derby was Jimmy Winkfield — in 1902.

Krigger placed phone calls to two of Winkfield’s grandchildren Thursday. He told them he intends to change that statistic when he rides Goldencents, the likely third choice as the winner of the Santa Anita Derby.

Goldencents has a minority owner named Rick Pitino. Although Pitino owns five percent of the colt, he has drawn 99 percent of the publicity because of the work he did coaching the University of Louisville to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball title.

There are other places to focus your binoculars. Baby boomers will be rooting for the Golden Boys—trainer D. Wayne Lukas (77) and jockey Gary Stevens (50).

If Oxbow wins, the combined age of the trainer/jockey (127) will tie the record that trainer Charlie Whittingham (73) and Shoemaker (54) set when they scored on Ferdinand in 1986.

Todd Pletcher will become only the third trainer to saddle five horses in the race, including Wood Memorial winner Verrazano, the likely second choice. Pletcher wins more races than anybody in the game, but Derby success has been mostly a mystery to him. His record is – ouch! – 1 for 31.

Don’t forget Calvin Borel. He will ride Revolutionary for Pletcher. Borel is going into the Hall of Fame this summer — and he is riding another stretch-running colt today.

But in the end, it all comes back to Orb, the winner of the Florida Derby. Even fierce rivals confess nobody does a better job of preparing a horse than McGaughey. Rosario, his jockey, leads the nation with 126 victories.

Unlike the other top contenders, Orb has proven than he can run through a crowd. He has not taken the lead until the stretch in three of his four wins.

“I think he’s probably got the running style that fits the Derby scheme,” McGaughey said. “If we get a decent trip and we’re good enough, I think we’ll have an awfully good chance.”

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and WDRB-TV of Louisville. Rick Bozich is a columnist for WDRB.

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