The Kentucky Derby magnifies everything -- competitors, personalities, events and effects. Everyone and everything appear larger, grander and more significant when viewed through the roseate prism, especially by fans and media that notice the sport for only a week or two each year.
Because these magnified perceptions and impressions endure in the popular culture, the Kentucky Derby has the potential to produce whatever's worst or best for the sport's future. That said, with the Derby looming just two weeks down the calendar, the question arises: What would be the best possible outcome for the sport at Churchill Downs on May 4?
1. No doubt about it: A Rosie Napravnik victory on Mylute in the Kentucky Derby would be the best possible thing that could happen to horse racing. She could lead the sport into new provinces of popularity. Women, and their ability to compete on equal footing with men in every capacity and at every level, could become the most telling advantage horse racing has over other professional sports, and a Napravnik victory in the country's most famous race would make that point most vividly. If horse racing is ever going to return to the covers of popular national magazines, it'll happen when a woman wins the Derby.
2. African-American jockeys won 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derbies, but none since Jimmy Winkfield on Alan-a-Dale in 1902. That's why a Derby victory by Kevin Krigger on Goldencents would be one of the best possible outcomes, sending a resounding message of salubrious diversity.
3. A highly contentious Derby culminating in a three-horse photo finish and preferably a dead heat could remind fans of all that's great about the sport and recall the Triple Crown excitement of 2007 (Street Sense, Hard Spun, Curlin) or maybe even 1997 (Silver Charm, Captain Bodgit, Free House).
4. A dominating victory, by pick-your-favorite horse, could signal the start of an historic Triple Crown and the emergence of something the sport badly needs, a superstar.
5. Calumet Farm bred nine Kentucky Derby winners and raced all but one of them, Strike the Gold in 1991. A win by Calumet's Oxbow would recall not just the storied farm's celebrated history but the sport's as well. Moreover, an Oxbow victory would dramatize Calumet's resurgence under Brad Kelley and D. Wayne Lukas.
Three of these five outcomes could involve horses from ESPN.com's Top 10 Kentucky Derby contenders. As for the other two positive potentialities, Mylute and Oxbow have both spent some time in the Top 10.
Winning Cause won the Lexington Stakes but is only a possibility for the Derby. The Top 10 went largely unchanged this week, except for Vyjack advancing one spot, to No. 8, possibly as a result of his having his first workout since the Wood. Only one points race remains, the Derby Trial on opening night at Churchill Downs, where Titletown Five, Forty Tales, Declan's Warrior, Red Rifle and Zee Bros are among those nominated.
On Sunday at Payson Park, the winner of the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:02.20, with a final quarter-mile in 23.80 seconds. Working in company, he reportedly finished just ahead of stablemate Puzzling before galloping out strongly to complete six furlongs in 1:14.80. His trainer, Shug McGaughey, expressed his satisfaction and described Orb as very calm. On Monday morning, Orb took up residence at Churchill Downs, where he'll have one workout before the Derby.
On Sunday, Verrazano had his first workout at Churchill Downs. Starting about a length behind stablemate Authenticity, Verrazano edged clear at the wire after running the final quarter-mile in 23.28 seconds, according to Mike Welsch of The Daily Racing Form, and completing five-eighths in 59.95 (1:00.20 on the official clock). His trainer, Todd Pletcher, described the work as "very excellent." Verrazano is to have his final pre-Derby workout Sunday.
The Louisiana Derby winner also worked Sunday at Churchill Downs. With Calvin Borel riding, Revolutionary cut the corner inside stablemate Red Rifle and ran the final quarter-mile in 23.57. Revolutionary finished about a half-length in front (but both colts officially completed the half-mile in 48.80) before galloping out strongly and leaving Red Rifle far behind. Revolutionary will work again Sunday.
4. Normandy Invasion
Normandy Invasion worked on his own Sunday at Churchill Downs. He didn't have a workmate to encourage him, but he still seemed very eager, starting with an opening quarter-mile in 23.40 seconds and completing the half-mile in 48.20 while in hand. Under exercise rider Javier Herrera, Normandy Invasion galloped out strongly. His trainer, Chad Brown, said he was very happy with the move.
The Santa Anita Derby winner worked a half-mile in 48.40 seconds last week in California, where he'll have one more serious workout before traveling to Churchill Downs on Saturday. The goal with his preparation, according to trainer Doug O'Neill, has been to teach the colt to control his natural speed, which will be necessary if he's to succeed at the classic distance of 1¼ miles.
The Holy Bull Stakes winner worked a mile at Calder in 1:43.10, with the final quarter-mile in 24.80 seconds. His trainer, Eddie Plesa Jr., said, as trainers are wont to do, he couldn't be more pleased. Itsmyluckyday will do easy work in Florida this week before traveling to Kentucky on Friday.
Overanalyze wasted no time in getting to Kentucky. A day after winning the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, he arrived at Churchill Downs, where he has galloped in recent days. He is to have one serious workout there prior to the Derby.
After he finished third in the Wood Memorial, Vyjack received treatments in the hyperbaric chamber at the Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center for an apparent lung infection. After working an easy half-mile, he arrived at Churchill Downs on Sunday, traveling by van from Fair Hill, Md.
9. Java's War
He won the Blue Grass Stakes with a powerful last-to-first move, but will that style be effective in the Kentucky Derby, and will he be able to transfer that Polytrack performance to the track at Churchill? Those are big questions for a big colt. He has arrived at Churchill and started local preparations.
10. Will Take Charge
For the second time in nine days, Will Take Charge worked a mile. But Sunday's move at Churchill Downs was very unlike the mile he put in before departing Oaklawn Park, where he started fast and finished with modest energy. On Sunday, he ran the final quarter-mile in 24.80 seconds, completed the mile in 1:41.60 and drew well clear of stablemate Channel Isle.
Also receiving votes: Mylute (22), Palace Malice (15), Lines of Battle (14), Oxbow (12), Governor Charlie (8), Flashback (4), Dreaming of Julia (3), Black Onyx (2).
How they voted: To see how our experts voted, click here.
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