Kentucky Derby 2014: Six horses to watch, and then some

Kentucky Derby 2014 breaks from the starting gate early Saturday evening at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The race will be televised on NBC.

Charlie Riedel/AP
Kentucky Derby entrant California Chrome reacts as he gets a bath after a morning workout at Churchill Downs Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Louisville, Ky.

Some of the best horses in America will be vying for the first leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown on Saturday.

How did we get here? And which of those horses should we focus on?

While many folks in the US were in perpetual hibernation from January into April this year due to another harsh winter, those that follow the sport kept a sharp eye on the hundreds of horses that could qualify for the 140th Kentucky Derby.

Over 30 prep races that started last fall helped to determine the up to 20 horses that could make up this year's Kentucky Derby field. As we discussed in Tuesday's Derby article, this is the second consecutive year that a points system was used in creating the final lineup of horses in the mile and a quarter race.

Marquee events like the Fountain of Youth Stakes, the Wood Memorial, the Santa Anita Derby, and other stakes races gave horses and their connections opportunities to earn points. The highest point getters by late April could gain entry into the horse race, billed as the "fastest two minutes in sports."

Wednesday, Kentucky Derby officials held their post position draw at Churchill Downs race track in Louisville for Saturday's big event. 20 horses were selected to race on Saturday.

However, it was announced Thursday morning that Hoppertunity has been scratched from the Derby by trainer Bob Baffert. Alternate Pablo del Monte was selected to replace Hoppertunity in the field.

Friday came news that the owners of Pablo del Monte will not put their horse in the Derby. 19 horses will now start the race.

Based on the points system in place, here are six that bear watching in the Kentucky Derby:

California Chrome earned 150 points over the winter, 100 of those coming by way of his victory in the Santa Anita Derby in early April.

Vicar's In Trouble was next in points with 120 after winning the Louisiana Derby at the end of March.

Next, with 108 points, is Dance With Fate, who won the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky almost three weeks ago.

Wicked Strong, the Wood Memorial winner last month, has earned 102 points in the run up to the Kentucky Derby. Placed in the number 20 post position and the furthest from the rail at the start of the race, it will be interesting to see how jockey Rajiv Maragh manuevers his horse in the Derby's early stages.

There are a pair of horses that have earned 100 points coming into the Derby. Danza won the Arkansas Derby earlier this spring, while Samraat won the Gotham Stakes and finished second to Wicked Strong in the Wood.

A handful of other horses to keep an eye Saturday include Wildcat Red, winner of the Fountain of Youth. Intense Holiday, who won the Risen Star Stakes, and General A Rod are also possible Derby top finishers. Ride On Curlin deserves consideration, due to his thoroughbred lineage and three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel.

The 140th Kentucky Derby is scheduled to go off at 6:32 p.m. Eastern time Saturday. The race will be televised on NBC.

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