It’s hot – but not too hot – and humid – but not too humid – here as 150,000 people make their way toward
Hard rain fell overnight, leaving the track sloppy in the morning and preventing any of the Derby’s 20 contestants from going to the track (it has since been upgraded all the way up to fast). Graham Motion, the Fair Hill trainer who won the Derby last year with
"At this point in the week," he said early Friday morning, "everybody just has so much pent up energy. There's so much anticipation. You're building until the race. But at the same time you have ot sit and wait. I'd prefer to get the horse out there, let him run it out a bit."
That’s something unique about the Kentucky Derby. Usually a trainer has many
"I've never gone this long without riding on a daily basis," he said.
Russell has much to gain this week. Like many top jockeys whose careers bloomed in Maryland – such as Oaks winner
Today he'll get a good sense of how he compares. Already this week he's had a chance to meet many of the legends in his business – including Jerry Bailey -- and to spend time with those at the top of the field now.
Now, to the race: For up-to-the-minute odds, go here.
When asked for my pick, I went with Hansen. There are major questions about his ability to handle the mile and a quarter distance, but I think his post position – he'll start from No. 14 – gives him a chance to stay outside of the early frenzy that will develop around the two favorites – Bodemeister and Union Rags – leaving from the sixth and fourth posts, respectively. Hansen has shown he can hold back when needed, and my thought is that he'll have more in reserve than he did last year when he was almost caught by Union Rags in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile here.
Our official handicapper, Liam Durbin, offers his thoughts here.
As you prepare for the most exciting two minutes in sports, here are a few stories from us you may have missed this week:
Union Rags is a horse right out of a dream. But he's lost his two biggest races and faces questions about his ability to run through trouble.
Bodemeister is a special horse for trainer Bob Baffert, who suffered a
Hammy Smith has trained horses for 36 years, the last 30 or so spent mostly in Maryland. The Laurel-based trainer will have his first Triple Crown starter today, finally, and he has his brother Frank and a couple of local owners -- childhood friends who went to Atholton -- to thank.
Rosie Napravnik, who went to Hereford High and was a top jockey in Maryland, became the first woman to win the Oaks on Friday. She's not riding this year, but she's going to have many chances to duplicate the feat in the Derby.
Othere interesting reads on today's race can be found here:
- Rick Bozich of The Courier-Journal reminds us of how little anybody knows when it comes to predicting the winner of a big horse race.
- Yahoo's Pat Forde explains the process of going from 36,850 foals -- the number born in 2009 -- to the 20 who will race today. Makes you understand what these owners, trainers and jockeys go through.
- Not to be a total drag on a day like this, but here's a clear-eyed, wholistic look at horse racing today from the Atlantic. Bottom line: it's not in good shape.
And if you're looking for some heavier reading leading up to the Derby, here are a few suggestions. In its heyday, horse racing drew many of this country's very best writers:
- Here's a PDF version of "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved," by the great Hunter S. Thompson. It's got foul language, and it pobably doesn't totally capture the experience of being here in 2012 -- or of anybody's reality, really, other than Mr. Thompson's -- but they'll read it long after you and are gone.
- No story explains the world of horse racing better than Pure Heart, by William Nack. To many, horse racing is significant for a month each year as a group of 3-year-olds chases the roses and then one of them gets a chance at the Triple Crown. But if you want to know how the whole thing feels -- how it is to have a colt and have him grow so strong and fast and then to see him stud and eventually die -- this is the best place to go.
Now, a few notes of interest about two of the horses we haven't talked about much here: