There is the little colt Vicar's In Trouble, with the effervescent Rosie Napravnik aboard, who was purchased for $8,000 but has won $788,000 for his owner, the ubiquitous Ken Ramsey (who has yet another horse in the race named We Miss Artie).
But why could this be Chrome's year? Because Wicked Strong has the furthest outside post, at 20, and Vicar's in Trouble has the further inside post, at 1. The last horse to win from there in a 20-horse field was War Admiral in 1937.
You can't swing a horse without hitting a Todd Pletcher entry in the field—he's got four of them. That's one more than Mike Maker. Bob Baffert has a horse, too, and jockeys Calvin Borel and Gary Stevens (combined age: 98) will leave the gate side-by-side from posts 18 and 19. And then there is "Bronco" Bill Gowen's colt, Ride On Curlin, purchased on the ninth day of an 11-day auction "when the guys with the jets leave and the guys with the cowboy hats and boots come in."
So the odds are good that the horse who wins Saturday will be worth rooting for two weeks later at Pimlico. What's less predictable is how the sport is going to deal with the latest wave of discord that has washed over it in these past months. There is the fight over animal cruelty, which broke out in March. There is the fight over the use of race-day medication. There is the fight over the lack of uniformity among regulators who punish those who cheat in the sport.
Some of these fights are old. But what seems new today is the level of commitment from within the industry to do more to fix its obvious problems. For example, a group of high-profile owners and trainers moved last month to raise transparency about the (legal) drugs they give their horses. And one in particular, the controversial Frank Stronach, issued a strong directive for his many tracks that could revolutionize the way the industry operates.
What we may be seeing here—at least what I hope we are seeing here—is the long-delayed expression of pent-up frustration from the many good and honest people in this sport who have stood by for too long and lamented how hard change would be. And if that is the case, if the momentum for reform finally reaches a point of no return, then the entire industry will benefit no matter who wins or who loses on Saturday. This race, to save the sport, is really a race against time.
But as much as we all should demand reform—on integrity, on drug use—all we really want to see between now and dusk on Saturday are safe days of great racing (the Kentucky Oaks, for fillies, on Friday, is often more interesting than the race for the colts). Days when folks can appreciate what's at the core of all of this—and why it's a sport worth fighting for. At the core are these magnificent animals. And, win or lose, when they run, they take your breath away.
* My track record (it's not a cliche when you are actually writing about your record at the track) of picking Derby winners is atrocious. I'm not so bad that you want to automatically rule out my picks but I'm not remotely good enough to be trusted. For what it is worth, the best handicapper I know, New Jersey's own Dan Baer, says that he likes Wicked Strong, Samraat, and Candy Boy with Chrome. And I wouldn't be surprised if Intense Holiday were close as well.