This is setting up to be one of the most exciting and anticipated Kentucky Derby races in recent memory.
For the first time in two years, capacity crowds should fill historic Churchill Downs today for the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby.
More than 150,000 spectators are expected even though rain showers are predicted. That means some $1,000 dresses and hats will be ruined and Mint Juleps will be watered down, but no one will complain.
The 2020 running of the Derby was delayed until Labor Day weekend, then held without spectators. The following year, while the Derby was held on the first Saturday in May, there was limited capacity.
So with COVID-19 restrictions lifted, all eyes will be on the 20 3-year-olds expected to load into the starting gate at 6:57 p.m. There doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming favorite, though several of the horses have had remarkable campaigns.
It’s time for Rick’s Picks, my annual attempt at predicting the top three finishers in the Derby, which is as easy as selecting the eventual high school valedictorian from a class of kindergartners.
WIN: Zandon. He will race out of the No. 10 post position and is also coming off a way-off-the-pace victory in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland. He will be ridden by jockey Flavien Prat who has an impressive Derby record. Derby favorites have won only 35% of the time. Odds: 3-1.
PLACE: Taiba. He has only raced twice, but was victorious in both races; most recently by 2 ¼ lengths in the Santa Anita Derby. No horse has won the Derby after only two starts since Leonatus in 1883. Jockey Mike Smith, at 56, is trying to become the oldest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. Four years ago, Smith won the Triple Crown aboard Justify. Odds: 12-1.
SHOW: Messier. Named after the great hockey player, Messier, a Canadian-bred, will be ridden by John Velazquez, 50, who would have four Derby wins had Medina Spirit not been disqualified after last year’s race due to a failed drug test. Messier is trained by Bob Baffert’s former assistant Tim Takteen. Odds: 8-1.
BEST LONGSHOT: Cyberknife. Don’t be surprised if this horse hits the board. Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by jockey Florent Geroux, Cyberknife has run six times and finished outside the money only once. He’s named for a non-invasive treatment for tumors. Odds: 20-1.