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Searching for a Derby star

If your profession involves being able to pick a winning race horse, you hate it when you like the favorite. It is about as original as vanilla ice cream. That said, heading into Saturday's Kentucky Derby, there is a feeling that favored California Chrome could win for fun.

It's a hard point to argue.

The colt has done little wrong this year and is undefeated as a 3-year-old. He comes into the Derby off an impressive victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, he has one of the best storylines of the year, and he has looked impressive during his time at Churchill Downs.

Whether he can get the Derby distance of 1 ΒΌ miles is a bit of a question mark, but that is true for most of the field. Traveling to Kentucky is new for the California boy, but he has seemed to handle the trip just fine.

"He's feeling good, and he's doing good," trainer Art Sherman said. "He's coming up to this race right."

However, there is a reason they actually run the race. Sometimes it goes according to plan, and other times the world is stunned by what happens. So while admitting California Chrome is the likely winner, I have also been keeping my eye out for some horses with a little more value.

One entrant who has looked like a beast on the track every morning is Danza, the upset winner up the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. The chestnut colt lit up the tote board when he claimed that prize at odds of 41-1.

If he runs back to the performance, I think Danza will be a horse to be reckoned with Saturday. The Arkansas Derby was only his fourth-career start, and it was his first attempt at grade 1 company. The likes of Ride on Curlin, Bayern and Tapiture were all left in his wake in the stretch.

I am always intrigued by horses who are figuring the game out at the right time. Danza very well could be one of those, and he certainly physically appears to be in amazing condition. Of course, everyone has noticed how happy he looks, so who knows if his odds will offer any value by the time the race actually rolls around.

Another horse who has been eye-catching this week is Medal Count, the second place finisher of the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. His connections have grown more confident in the colt every single morning, and with good reason.

"I feel better than I ever have about any of my chances going into the Derby," trainer Dale Romans said. "I think that we really fit well with this group. I think he's peaking at the right time. I think he's got all the parts that it takes to win a Derby."

One thing Medal Count definitely has going for him is his pedigree. His sire, Dynaformer, is best known for his 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro. Dynaformer died in 2012, and Medal Count is likely his last hope to get another Derby winner.

Medal Count was given morning line odds of 20-1, and that is pretty fair, as there is a question about his ability to run on dirt in top-class company. However, he has a fantastic pedigree, is in good form, and the fact he was willing to go six-wide in the Blue Grass is something to ponder, given the notorious traffic problems the Kentucky Derby is known for.

There are also two horses this year who have captured my heart from a purely "I admire that" standpoint. I don't think there are two more game horses on the grounds right now than Samraat and Wildcat Red. I can't bring myself to say they are going to win Saturday, but I do think they will try harder than any of the other horses in the field.

By pedigree, Wildcat Red should be a stone-cold sprinter, but he just keeps running, and running well. In fact, in seven lifetime starts, he has won four times and finished second three times. Realistically, the Derby distance is probably going to be too much for him, but class carries a horse farther than a piece of paper ever has.

"I don't pay too much attention to the comments," trainer Jose Garoffalo said. "You just do what you have to do. The way he trains and the races he's run, he's proven he can go longer. It's like that in every sport; there are a lot of opinions. After the wire, we'll see who is wrong or right."

Samraat is another horse who has danced every dance well but hasn't garnered attention like other members of his crop. His first loss in six starts came in the Wood Memorial, which was won by Wicked Strong.

Physically, Samraat isn't much to look at, and he is a New York-bred, which means he was born with more modest expectations than some of his regally bred counterparts, but he is a game runner.

"He always trained well and came out of Jim Crupi's farm in Florida -- they liked him and they thought he had some talent," trainer Rick Violette said. "He's a New York-bred and you're hoping that he could run a little bit. It was the Withers that gave us an indication that he was better than just a good New York-bred. I think the Gotham confirmed that."

Gritty, gutsy horses are hard to ignore and harder to hate.

The great thing about the Kentucky Derby every year is that depending on what happens when they hit that wire, it could turn out we are looking at the next Secretariat.

Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No. It is the ultimate dream in horse racing for a reason.