Saturday marks the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Nineteen three-year-old horses will go to the post late in the day for the first leg of racing's Triple Crown.
Originally, 20 horses were scheduled to run. But Friday morning, it was announced that Black Onyx had been scratched from the Derby and no other horse will run from his post position.
USAToday.com reported that this year, a points system based on horses' performance in pre-Derby races dating back to late last year was used to determine the final list of competitors.
For the first time, preference to get into America's most revered race was determined by a tiered points system comprising 36 races, with the emphasis on races at longer distances and later in the spring. Previously, it was based on who had the most earnings in graded-stakes races.
With such a large field, two trainers will continue a recent pattern of saddling multiple horses for the Derby. D. Wayne Lukas, a Hall of Fame trainer who has won the Derby four times, has two horses in the field. This year, he will enter Oxbow, winner of the Lecomte Stakes in January, and Will Take Charge, who won the Rebel Stakes in March.
Todd Pletcher, who used to work for Lukas before winning the Derby on his own in 2010, will have five horses in the Triple Crown race. Some observers think that Verrazano could win the mile-and-a-quarter race. Pletcher is also saddling Revolutionary, who is also generating some pre-race buzz. In addition, Overanalyze, Palace Malice, and Charming Kitten are under Pletcher's direction.
Shug McGaughey, another long-time trainer, will ready a horse that is getting a lot of attention prior to Saturday's 'Run for the Roses.' Orb has won the last four races he's entered, including both the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby earlier this year.
Orb drew the No. 16 starting spot in Wednesday's Kentucky Derby post position draw, which caused some anxiety for the horse's trainer.
“There was a lot of anticipation, maybe more anticipation than I remember, but I’m pleased with the 16 and we’ll take it from there. I think from where he is we’ll try to hold our position and maybe try to creep in a little bit around the first turn, and then (Joel Rosario) can watch what’s going on inside of him," McGaughey told reporters following the draw.
One other sidebar to the Derby is University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino. The longtime coach was recently selected for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and his Cardinal team won the NCAA national championship early last month. Along with that, he owns a small share of Goldencents, who is in the mix of potential top finishers.
"If we don't win it, I'd like to see somebody like Shug McGaughey win it. He's never won a Derby, and he's certainly been a great trainer and a friend of mine. ... It's anybody's ballgame. It's not like basketball where you can look at a team and say, 'Well, they've got a little more firepower,'" Pitino told USAToday.com Wednesday.
Saturday's Kentucky Derby will be televised on NBC, with the race starting shortly after 6 p.m. Eastern Time.