Kentucky Derby preview: The 139th Running of the Roses

Kentucky Derby favorite Orb is washed following a morning workout earlier this week at Churchill Downs.
(Rob Carr / Getty Images)

First things first: Grantland has a terrific look-back at Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” I always start the Derby primer with a link to this story -- and by always, I mean I also did it last year -- and this adds even more context to how the story came about.

A very popular question I receive from fellow Baltimoreans upon my return to our fair city by the bay is: How does the Derby compare to Preakness? The answer I ended up giving usually went something like this: The Preakness debauchery seems to be compressed into one day and in one spot, the infield, where once upon a time people ran across the portable toilets for sport. Take all of that energy, turn it up a few notches, and spread it around an entire town and over a few weeks and you have the Derby.

It’s rainy here today, which means thousands of people walked to Churchill Downs under umbrellas they weren’t supposed to bring into the facility (it enacted stricter rules for what people could bring in the wake of the Boston bombings.) Plenty of people are wearing ponchos or trash bags. Others are just getting soaked.


The track has been downgraded all the way to “sloppy” -- the worst ranking there is -- and the rain will continue. Post time for the race is not until 6:34 (it’s been moved back 10 minutes.)

Live betting definitely reflects the feeling that Calvin Borel, who twice won the Derby on wet tracks, is best suited to handle this weather. His horse, Revolutionary, is down to a 5-1 betting favorite after being the No. 4 pick on the morning line at 10-1.

Goldencents, trained by Doug O’Neill, is the bettors’ second choice at 6-1 (after starting 5-1) and Normandy Invasion has gone from 12-1 to 7-1. Orb, the morning-line favorite at 7-2, is at 7-1 as of about 12:30, and Verrazano and Itsmyluckyday are both at 9-1.

As I wrote in my Kentucky Derby advance, there are plenty of intriguing stories here. Chief among them is the chance for one of the country’s oldest horse racing families to win their first Kentucky Derby. I wrote about Stuart S. Janney III, a Maryland resident who bred and owns Orb with his cousin Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, earlier this week.

Here are other stories worth checking out:

Joe Drape writes in The New York Times that horsemen and racing fans are upset that Churchill Downs has turned its focus away from racing. Certainly an interesting read here. Those same groups in Maryland have long complained that Pimlico owner Frank Stronach hasn’t invested enough in the track, but it’s difficult to question his dedication to racing because he breeds and owns so many horses.

Melissa Hoppert, who once toiled at The Sun, wrote this profile on Goldencents jockey Kevin Krigger, who could become the first black jockey to win the Derby since 1902. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Dwyer also writes about the confident jockey from the Virgin Islands.

The Washington Post profiled Gary Stevens, the 50-year-old who’s making a return to riding after eight years spent as a commentator -- and actor.

And here’s Jennie Rees of the hometown Courier-Journal on Todd Pletcher and his five -- yes five -- Derby entrants.

USA Today has done the best job examining an issue that was on all of our minds after the Boston Marathon bombings: how safe are our sporting events?

And if you’re simply looking for the most savvy handicappers out there, may I suggest: Drape and Hoppert, Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News, and our own Liam Durbin.

Now it’s time to put on the poncho and wait for the race. I originally picked Orb, and I guess I should stick with it. But I think Vyjack could make a run from the outside.