Kentucky Derby 2012: Who to watch in first leg of Triple Crown

Kentucky Derby 2012: Is this the year when the Kentucky Derby winner becomes the Triple Crown winner, ending a streak of 33 years?

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    Kentucky Derby entrant Bodemeister trainer Bob Baffert leads his horse to the track for a morning workout at Churchill Downs Thursday, May 3, in Louisville, Ky.
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The 138th running of the Kentucky Derby takes place this Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

A full field of 20 thoroughbred horses have been entered in the mile and a quarter race.

Much like the Daytona 500 kicking off each NASCAR season, the Kentucky Derby is considered the 'Super Bowl' of thoroughbred racing.

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The Derby is the first of three races in horse racing's 'Triple Crown,' meant to determine the top three year-old horse in any given year. It's followed by the Preakness Stakes two weeks later in Baltimore, then the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 9.

The last time a thoroughbred won all three races in the same year was 1978, when jockey Steve Cauthen rode Affirmed to the Triple Crown.

This year's running of the Derby features several horses that won major prep races in 2011 and earlier this year.

Bodemeister has been tabbed as the early favorite to win Saturday's race. The horse, which won the Arkansas Derby on April 14, is trained by two-time Derby winner Bob Baffert. Bodemeister will begin the 20-horse race from the No. 6 position in the Churchill Downs starting gate. Baffert told KentuckyDerby.com he's happy that his horse won't start up against the track's inside rail.

“I was relieved that he didn’t get the one hole. I just didn’t want to be stuck on the rail, like I was with Lookin at Lucky and had that horrible feeling. I think all the good horses drew really well for this race. It’s going to be very competitive," Baffert said.

Union Rags is another proven winner, having captured the Fountain of Youth Stakes in late February in Florida. Union Rags will start the race from the No. 4 spot. Trainer Michael Matz, another former Derby winner, also expressed concern about starting near the rail, according to KentuckyDerby.com.

“We’re going to have him run out of there a little bit, but that’s not the worst thing in the world. My original thought was that I wasn’t crazy about it, but where everybody is, I don’t think it’s so bad.”

Dullahan comes to Kentucky Derby No. 138 with two wins, including the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 14. Trainer Dale Romans, a Louisville native, hopes his horse can repeat some Derby history by starting in between Bodemeister and Union Rags.

“It’s obviously a good spot when the five-hole is one of the winningest post positions in Derby history (eight wins, tied for second-most since 1930)," Romans said after Wednesday's post position draw. "I don’t think the post draw was quite as important to our horse compared to some of the other speed horses, or when we had Shackleford last year. It’s good to be there in post five.”

Two other horses of note, Gemologist and Hansen, will start next to each other from the No. 15 and 14 post positions, respectively.

The Kentucky Derby will be run shortly after 6 p.m. ET Saturday and will be  televised by NBC.

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