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Kentucky Derby: Favorites often flop, but Orb may be exception

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Exercise rider Jenn Patterson rides Kentucky Derby entrant Orb for a workout at Churchill Downs Monday, April 29, 2013, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

By Steve Luhm

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published May 03 2013 02:19PM
Updated May 4, 2013 12:01AM

Being favored in the Kentucky Derby is a blessing and a curse.

Favoritism shows a horse has performed well enough in the months preceding the Derby to make the betting public believe it will win one of the world’s greatest races.

On the other hand, being the favorite means little once the starting gate at Churchill Downs springs open and the 20-horse field begins its grueling 11/4-mile journey.

Consider:

Since the great Spectacular Bid romped in 1979, only four favorites have won the Kentucky Derby.

Big Brown is the most recent favorite to win, doing so in 2008. But the last four race-time favorites have finished second, eighth, sixth and 18th.

Meanwhile, winners I’ll Have Another, Animal Kingdom, Super Saver and Mine That Bird have gone off at odds of 15-to-1, 20-to-1, 8-to-1 and 50-1.

Hello, Orb.

The winner of four straight races, including the Florida Derby in his final tune-up, Orb is the morning line favorite and presumed betting choice for Saturday’s 139th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Orb is trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who hasn’t saddled a Derby starter since 2002. Clearly, McGaughey doesn’t take horses to Louisville just to be part of the fun. He runs them in the Derby when he thinks they are deserving of the opportunity.

The already successful and rapidly maturing Orb fits nicely into that category.

"I’m really excited about the whole thing," 62-year-old McGaughey told reporters this week. "Since the Florida Derby, everything’s gone well for us. ...

"I’m as excited as I’ve been in a long time about a race. I haven’t been like this in a long time — maybe ever, really. We’ve got a horse that’s going in the right direction."

Orb will be ridden by red-hot jockey Joel Rosario, who just broke a 23-year-old record for wins at the spring race meet at Keeneland.

Orb and Rosario will break from the No. 16 post, which could be perfect for the horse’s patient running style.

"I’m pleased with the [post]," McGaughey said. "We’ll try to hold our position and creep in a little bit around the first turn. Then [Rosario] can watch what’s going on inside of him."

The probable second choice in the betting will be undefeated Verrazano.

One of five horses in the race from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, Verrazano didn’t race as a 2-year-old but has won four straight, including the Wood Memorial in his last start.

Pletcher has started 31 horses in the Derby during his career, although he’s only won once.

"You have to have everything go right on the day of the race and during the race," Pletcher says. "You have to get lucky with the weather, the track condition, all those things. That being said, we couldn’t be more happy with the cards that we’re holding at the moment."

Goldencents is another prime contender. If successful, jockey Kevin Krigger will become the first African-American jockey to ride a Derby winner since 1902.

"It’s a lifetime achievement," Krigger told reporters after Goldencents’ impressive win in the Santa Anita Derby. "It’s going to mean everything to me. Every horseman dreams about getting into the Run for the Roses."

Goldencents is trained by Doug O’Neill, who seeks his second straight Kentucky Derby win after sending out I’ll Have Another last year.

"The dream seems to be getting better," O’Neill said. "Having got it done [once], this year’s dream just seems more real — like we could possibly do it back-to-back."

Goldencents’ connections also include Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, who owns 5 percent of the horse.

Another jockey with a shot at history is Rosie Napravnik, who is aboard Mylute. She is trying to become first woman to win the Kentucky Derby and the second to win a Triple Crown race. Julie Krone won the 1993 Belmont Stakes aboard Colonial Affair.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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