By BETH HARRIS, AP Racing Writer
The Kentucky Derby is up for grabs.
The starting gate will once again be full with 20 horses vying to wear the garland of red roses.
Most of the 3-year-olds will be running 1 1/4 miles for the first time on Saturday. Besides the distance, the traffic-choked conditions typically eliminate half the field in the opening quarter-mile.
Here are five horses to watch:
Appears to be coming into his own after impressive five-length win in Florida Derby. Always Dreaming has the potential to be the first Derby favorite for trainer Todd Pletcher, who will have two other starters in the race. The dark bay colt prefers to run at the lead or close to it. His sire Bodemeister finished second in the 2012 Derby. He has three wins in five career starts and earnings of $648,900. Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez have one Derby win apiece. The main knock against the colt is that his two wins as a 3-year-old have come against lesser competition.
The colt won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on his way to earning 2-year-old male champion honors. Then again, only three other colts have won year-end honors since 2000 and gone on to win the Derby the following season. Classic Empire has the highest earnings of $2.1 million among the horses expected to make the field, with five wins in seven career starts. He’s coming off a win in the Arkansas Derby. Trainer Mark Casse has never won the Derby and neither has jockey Julien Leparoux. His sire Pioneerof the Nile was second in the 2009 Derby and he also sired 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.
The colt topped the Derby leaderboard with 152 points earned in prep races. But the Louisiana Derby winner has a crack in his right front hoof that has compromised his training in the last week. Trainer Joe Sharp has used a special shoe, a hyperbaric chamber and therapeutic waters to get Girvin in shape to run on Saturday. Sharp is married to retired jockey Rosie Napravnik, who exercises the colt and is her husband’s assistant. Girvin has won three of four starts, with his only loss on turf. His jockey is Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who has a reputation for winning big-money races. Smith has never ridden Girvin, but he picked up the mount after Mastery, his top Derby contender, got hurt.
The chestnut colt is a closer ready to pounce if he gets set up by a strong early pace. His earnings of $1.1 million are second-most on the Derby leaderboard. This is the first Derby starter for trainer Antonio Sano, who survived two kidnappings in his native Venezuela before moving to Miami. Jockey Javier Castellano, also from Venezuela, was just elected to racing’s Hall of Fame and in search of his first Derby win. His best finish was fourth in 2013. The colt has four wins in nine career starts and finished third in the Florida Derby. His sire, Dialed In, won the 2011 Florida Derby and finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby.
IRISH WAR CRY
Had solid victories in Holy Bull and Wood Memorial, making it seem like the Fountain of Youth was an off day for him. The colt is a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, who finished third in the 2007 Derby. Has four wins in five career starts. The chestnut colt likes to press the pace. No New Jersey-bred horse has won the Derby since Cavalcade in 1934, and none has run in the race since Dance Floor took third in 1992. Owner Isabelle de Tomaso, who is in her 80s, is the daughter of Amory Haskell, for whom the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park is named. Tomaso was a race car driver in the 1950s. Trainer Graham Motion won the Derby with Animal Kingdom in 2011; jockey Rajiv Maragh has never won it.
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