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Breaking down the Kentucky Derby field - NBC Sports

Breaking down the Kentucky Derby field
Sloppy weather conditions on Saturday figure to affect 139th Run for the Roses
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May 4, 2013, 4:00 pm

Here on the backstretch of Churchill Downs, people are not looking at the horses or the barns or the twin spires. They are looking at the sky. They are looking at the radar. All outdoor sporting events are affected by the weather, of course, but the weather is everything here. You know that story about how Eskimos have many different words for snow?*

*People are still arguing over this one. Many say it's a myth. But some say it absolutely is true.

Fast -- Basically means the track is dry.

Wet fast -- Usually happens after it just started raining -- it's wet on top but dry underneath.

Sloppy -- Water is visible and puddling on top of the track.

Muddy -- After the water has sunk into the track and all that's left is mud.

Good -- Usually represents when the track is drying out but isn't completely dry yet.

Each of these conditions means a completely different kind of race, so everybody watches very closely. One thing I've learned this week is that many experts will have three different horses chosen for the Kentucky Derby (or any big race) and will wait until the track conditions have become clear before choosing their winner.

This year, most of the experts I've spoken with seem to agree if the conditions are fast then Orb is the best horse at the Derby. He's won his last four races and he's apparently looked incredible this week. But if the track is a bit off, a lot of people are switching to Revolutionary, who has won three races in a row and has Churchill Downs master Calvin Borel as jockey. Then, if the track is sloppy, it's wide open.

For your ease, I've tried to take the information I've been given all week and reduce it to a couple of sentences. The only thing I would add are the words overheard at a betting window here at Churchill Downs: "I don't know anything myself. I just know what people tell me."

Post Position 1: Scratched

Black Onyx was supposed to start here, but he was scratched on Friday. Because of this, the post position will not be filled.

* * *

Post Position 2: Oxbow

Morning line: 30-1

What's interesting: Oxbow hasn't shown much. He finished fifth in his last start at the Arkansas Derby, and he simply has not shown a lot of speed. But he is owned by Calumet Farm, who owned Triple Crown winners Whirlaway and Citation among many other greats. He is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who has won four Kentucky Derbies. His jockey is 50-year-old Gary Stevens, who had retired and is racing in his first Derby in seven years. Stevens says he intends to go to the front and try to hold on as long as he can.

* * *

Post Position 3: Revolutionary

Morning line: 10-1

What's interesting: The name is kind of cool -- his sire was "War Pass" and his dam was "Runup the Colors," so Revolutionary was a pretty good choice. . The key for Revolutionary is jockey Calvin Borel, who was just elected into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame and who has won three of the last six Kentucky Derbies. His amazing ride on "Mine That Bird" remains one of the most legendary in the race's history. Revolutionary has been inconsistent, but with Borel onboard and rain in the forecast (it just started raining pretty hard here at 9:20 a.m. ET), a lot of people are betting Revolutionary.

* * *

Post Position 4: Golden Soul

Morning line: 50-1

What's interesting: Not a lot -- he's not even the most intriguing horse in this Derby with "Golden" in his name. . Has not won a race since last year. Rallied from last place at the Louisiana Derby, but "rallied" is a pretty strong word since he finished a well-beaten fourth. That rally convinced his owner to enter him in the Derby, but he needed other horses to drop out just to get into the field. . His accomplished jockey, Robby Albarado, has won more than 4,000 races, but no Kentucky Derby.rightfalsefalse


Celebrities at the Kentucky Derby

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Derby celebs

Stars show up at Churchill Downs for 138th Run for the Roses.

/NBCSports/Components/Slideshows-NBC_sports/Horse racing/Kentucky Derby Celebs/2013/130504_LukeBryantWife_4x3.jpg164048000#000000http://msnbcmedia.msn.comDarron CummingsAPAPCountry singer Luke Bryan arrives with his wife Caroline to attend the 139th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 4, 2013, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)SRACKentucky Derby Horse RacingLouisvilleKYUSA6350322240000000001DBY157Pfalsefalse

/NBCSports/Components/Slideshows-NBC_sports/Horse racing/Kentucky Derby Celebs/2013/130504_LukeBryantWife_16x9.jpg1100056300#000000http://msnbcmedia.msn.comDarron CummingsAPAPCountry singer Luke Bryan arrives with his wife Caroline to attend the 139th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 4, 2013, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)SRACKentucky Derby Horse RacingLouisvilleKYUSA6350322240000000001DBY157Pfalsefalse

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* * *

Post Position 5: Normandy Invasion

Morning line: 12-1

What's interesting: Came from way back to almost win the Wood Memorial . this is the sort of performance that gets trainers and owners and some bettors excited. This is especially true because the Wood Memorial was the first time that jockey Javier Castellano rode Normandy Invasion. Some believe that combination is golden. . A big finisher, if he can get a good ride and is in position coming down stretch, he could be a real threat to win. He is getting quite a bit of early betting action.

* * *

Post Position 6: Mylute

Morning line: 15-1smit

What's interesting: This is the horse that Rosie Napravnik is riding -- she is trying to become the first woman jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. She was the first woman jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks last year. .. Mylute ran well at the Louisiana Derby but was held off by Revolutionary down the stretch. Napravnik was not on Mylute that day, though -- the last time she rode Mylute he won, but that was last December.

* * *

Post Position 7: Giant Finish

Morning line: 50-1

What's interesting: Well, he was a late addition. As his trainer Tony Dutrow said, "Heck, why not?" . He ran a very slow third in the Spiral Stakes in Cincinnati, which does not bode well for his chances here. He is a New York bred horse -- the last horse to arrive at Churchill downs - and he will probably go off as a the longest shot at the Derby. But, hey, apparently he's relaxed. And he did get the lucky No. 7 post.

* * *

Post Position 8: Goldencents

Morning line: 5-1

What's interesting: Many, many things. It's been a long time since a single horse had so many great story lines going all at once. The jockey, Kevin Krigger, is trying to become the first black jockey to win the Derby in more than 100 years. Louisville coach Rick Pitino is a part owner. And his trainer is the delightful Doug O'Neill, who became a huge favorite last year when his horse I'll Have Another won the Derby and Preakness. . Goldencents has shown great speed, but nobody seems to know how that will translate to a new track and stiffer competition. And nobody knows how he will run on an off-track. Bettors, so far, have been skeptical.

* * *

Post Position 9: Overanalyze

Morning line: 15-1

What's interesting: You know, often a horse is named by trying to combine the names of the parents. Well, Overanalyze's father was Dixie Union and his mother was Unacloud. Try to come up with some combination of those two. I think that's how you get Overanalyze. . He won a slow Arkansas Derby, but people don't seem too excited about him. Trainer Todd Pletcher has five horses in the field, and Overanalyze sometimes might be getting overlooked.

* * *

Post Position 10: Palace Malice

Morning line: 20-1

What's interesting: Has not been overly impressive -- a good second at the Blue Grass got him to the Derby after his no-show seventh place run at the Louisiana Derby. Nobody seems too excited about him. But his Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, just won his first Kentucky Oaks on Friday and he says Palace Malice has trained really well this week and might have a surprise for everyone.

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Post Position 11: Lines of Battle

Morning line: 30-1

What's interesting: Horse came over from Ireland, where he mostly ran on turf and all-weather tracks . He is trained by Aidan O'Brien who, bless his soul, keeps trying to win the Kentucky Derby. O'Brien's horses have won in Ireland, England, France, Italy and in America at the Breeder's Cup, among others. But he has not been able to win at the Kentucky Derby despite many tries. "God loves a trier," his assistant trainer TJ Comerford says.

* * *

Post Position 12: Itsmyluckyday

Morning line: 15-1

What's interesting: Well, what's not interesting is the name. I do not like names that squish a bunchofwordstogether. Naturally, of course, this is my daughter's favorite name. . Could be a hot bet come Saturday, though, because Itsmyluckyday is one of only two horses in the field to win a sloppy track. The horse also has a lot more experience than most of the others, this will be his 11th start. He finished second at Florida Derby but was really outclassed by one of the Derby favorites, Orb.

* * *

Post Position 13: Falling Sky

Morning line: 50-1

What's interesting: Not a lot of interesting stuff here. Fell way off at the end in both the Arkansas and Tampa Derby so you wouldn't bet on him being able to go the distance here. . He is the grandson of Derby winner Sea Hero . Look for Falling Sky to go out fast and be in the lead early along with Gary Stevens' and Oxbow. Nobody really expects either horse to last, though.

* * *

Post Position 14: Verrazano

Morning line: 4-1

What's interesting: The main thing that's interesting is that there seems to be surprisingly little action on Verrazano, even though he's undefeated in his four races. He was awfully good in both the Tampa Derby and Wood Memorial. His jockey, John Velazquez, is one of the best in the business -- he has won more than 4,000 races including the 2011 Kentucky Derby -- and he CHOSE to ride Verrazano over the expert's favorite Orb. Does he know something?

* * *

Post Position 15: Charming Kitten

Morning line: 15-1

What's interesting: One of the five horses in the Derby trained by Pletcher -- the Todd Squad, the Daily Racing Form calls them . Good stock, his father is Kitten's Joy, who has become a top sire -- in fact, Charming Kitten's last win was at a race named for Kittens Joy at Gulfstream Park. . He has not run much on dirt, but people who know a lot more than I do like the fight he showed in finishing third at the Blue Grass Stakes.

* * *

Post Position 16: Orb

Morning line: 9-2

What's interesting: Here's your favorite, though the Derby has not been kind to favorites (only four have won in the last 33 years). Orb comes in with an impressive record, having handily won the Florida Derby and coming from behind to win the Fountain of Youth. But it is really Orb's workouts in Louisville that have people fired up. . Trained by the great Shug McGaughey, who was born in Lexington and has dreamed his whole life of winning a Kentucky Derby. This might be his best chance, though early bettors were surprisingly staying away, perhaps because of the rain forecast.

* * *

Position 17: Will Take Charge

Morning line: 20-1

What's interesting: Was a big surprise winner at the Rebel Stakes, chasing down Oxbow down the stretch. . Trained by D. Wayne Lukas and the grandson of Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. Will Take Charge is not interesting the bettors early because of questions about him making the distance and this race being a big step up in class. But he paid 28-1 at the Rebel, so he's been underrated before.

* * *

Position 18: Frac Daddy

Morning line: 50-1

What's interesting: He did close well at the Arkansas Derby, finishing second to Overanalyze, but one of the early mysteries of the betting is why people are betting him up. As of Saturday morning, his odds were all the way down to 14-1. One theory is that he does run well at Churchill Downs -- he won by 10 lengths in November as a 2-year-old. Unfortunately, that's his only victory. Another theory is the name. But, generally speaking, the experts seem baffled why he seems to be the early choice of the fans.

* * *

Position 19: Java's War

Morning line: 15-1

What's interesting: Won the Blue Grass Stakes by a neck despite getting off to such a sluggish start that he was dead last the quarter-pole. He beat Derby contenders Palace Malice and Charming Kitten with a very strong close. . Until last year, no horse had won from the 19th post position, but "I'll Have Another" broke that streak. . The key seems to be the start because Java's War does figure to close fast.

* * *

Position 20: Vyjack

Morning line: 15-1

What's interesting: He has won four of his five races and ran pretty well in a third-place finish at the Wood Memorial. . The experts seem to think that with this horse, a lot depends on the weather. On a fast track, not a lot of people like Vyjack because of his outside post position and unfamiliarity with Churchill Downs (he's only raced at Aqueduct). But if it gets muddy, Vyjack is suddenly a major threat. The outside post position could play into his favor then, and he's one of only two horses to win on a sloppy track.

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Joe Posnanski is the national columnist for NBC Sports. Follow him on twitter @JPosnanski

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