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Early-morning is busy time at Churchill Downs

Kentucky Oaks Horse Racing

Horses train on the track before the 144th running of the Kentucky Oaks horse race at Churchill Downs Friday, May 4, 2018, in Louisville, Ky. The 144th Kentucky Derby is Saturday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Under the famed Twin Spires, 20 horses set to run in the Kentucky Derby work out in the early morning hours at Churchill Downs.

Some step on the dirt track before dawn, with the moon still visible. As sunrise approaches, pinks and oranges streak the sky. More horses emerge from their stalls on the track’s backstretch. Exercise riders get a leg up on their 1,000-pound mounts and take to the oval for a timed workout.
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The 3-year-old colts prepare for their one and only chance at running in the Derby by jogging and galloping on the track. Others practice standing in the starting gate or walking to the paddock to get used to the conditions on race day, when over 100,000 people jam the venerable track and create a noise level most horses aren’t used to.

The 144th edition of America’s greatest race will be run at 1 \ miles on Saturday.

This year’s morning-line favorite is Justify at 3-1 odds. The Southern California-based horse is trained by four-time Derby winner Bob Baffert.

The second choice is 5-1 Mendelssohn, an Ireland-based horse that will try to become the first from Europe to win the Kentucky Derby.

Magnum Moon is the 6-1 third choice. Audible and Bolt d’Oro, named in part for retired Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt, are the co-fourth choices at 8-1.

After their workouts, the horses walk back to their barns where they stand outside for a bath. Grooms spray them with hoses, scrub them with sponges soaked in soapy water from a bucket, and wash them off. Their manes are combed, their bodies dried and a blanket is tossed on their back before they are led into their stalls.

A meal often awaits or the horses snack on hay. They usually sleep standing up and will eat again in the evening before the stable area grows quiet for the night.

Before dawn, the ritual begins again.