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Kentucky Derby: Rain-Soaked Track Awaits A New Champion

Horses run on the muddy backstretch in an undercard race before the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. NOAA predicted a 90 percent chance of rain Saturday afternoon.
Doug Pensinger
Horses run on the muddy backstretch in an undercard race before the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. NOAA predicted a 90 percent chance of rain Saturday afternoon.

It's Derby Day in Kentucky, where days and weeks of anticipation will culminate in a race that lasts just over two minutes. When the starting gates open at 6:24 p.m. EDT, the 139th Kentucky Derby will have 19 horses in the field.

The track's condition has been downgraded to "sloppy," reports the Churchill Downs site, thanks to a steady rain. Rollers are being used to try to keep the surface from turning too loose and muddy. But more rain is called for Saturday afternoon.

The race will be televised by NBC. As of 3:15 p.m. EDT, six horses had odds of better than 10-1, according to the Kentucky Derby website:

  • Revolutionary: 5-1, running from the third post.
  • Normandy Invation: 8-1, running from the fifth post.
  • Goldencents: 7-1, running from the eighth post.
  • Itsmyluckday: 9-1, running from the twelfth post.
  • Verrazano: 9-1, running from the fourteenth post.
  • Orb: 8-1, running from the sixteenth post.

As of Friday afternoon, the consensus of experts' picks had Orb as the favorite, followed by Revolutionary, Goldencents, Itsmyluckyday, and Normandy Invasion.
So, those are the names that are attracting buzz, and bettors' money. But in the Kentucky Derby, the favorites don't have a strong history of winning. As The Wall Street Journal points out, "the favorite has only managed to win four times in the last 33 years (or 12% of the time, but who's counting)."

Here are some other facts that might distract you during the lead-up to the post time:

Rains soaked the Churchill Downs track by early Saturday afternoon, with steady showers making the surface muddy and the track's condition downgraded to "sloppy." The National Weather Service predicted a 90 percent chance of rain Saturday afternoon.

Three horses have had strong showings on sloppy surfaces, according to Daily Racing Forum: Itsmyluckyday and Vyjack won stakes races, and Palace Malice finished second.

J.J. Hysell of The Louisville Courier-Journal says Palace Malice (23-1) "has moved up with the addition of blinkers." Hysell's long-shot pick is Golden Soul (which had been at 50-1 but has moved to 29-1), because he "likes the surface and boasts a long-distance pedigree."


Friday's Kentucky Oaks was won by Princess of Sylmar, which like Palace Malice is ridden by Mike Smith and trained by Todd Pletcher. Princess of Sylmar broke from the sixth post position, while Palace Malice will start in the tenth slot.

Jockey Kevin Krigger is looking to become the first African-American to win the Kentucky Derby since 1902," as he tells Gabe Bullard over at NPR's Code Switch blog. Krigger will be aboard Goldencents in the Kentucky Derby.

Another jockey, Rosie Napravnik, could also make history as the first woman ever to win the Kentucky Derby, aboard Mylute (13-1). Napraavnik finished ninth in the 2011 Derby. As 60 Minutes reports, Napraavnik, 25, has "won more than 1,500 races" since she began racing at 17.

Frac Daddy has already won attention with his name. While America's youth may think he's named after a musician, the horse is actually named as "a shout-out to the oil industry and its workers," reports The Missoulian. Frac Daddy is owned by two oilmen in Billings.

Writer Hunter S. Thompson famously called the Kentucky Derby "decadent and depraved." Thompson's frequent collaborator, the artist Ralph Steadman, recalls their trip to Louisville for All Things Considered.

It has been five years since the tragic death of Eight Belles, the filly that narrowly lost to Big Brown -- and then collapsed with two broken ankles. Louisville's WFPL notes a decline in horse fatalities at Kentucky's tracks since then.

Our friends at Smithsonian Magazine remind us that the Kentucky Derby is "the longest continually held sporting event in the United States -- the horses have run without interruption since 1875, even during both World Wars."

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