CRAWFORD | Handicapping the Kentucky Derby's top ten storylines - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Handicapping the Kentucky Derby's top ten storylines

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Detail of the Kentucky Derby winner's trophy, by Eric Crawford, WDRB. Detail of the Kentucky Derby winner's trophy, by Eric Crawford, WDRB.
Sunrise on the backside at Churchill Downs on the day before Oaks - now known as "Louisville's Day at the Races." Sunrise on the backside at Churchill Downs on the day before Oaks - now known as "Louisville's Day at the Races."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- They used to call the Kentucky Oaks "Louisville's Day at the Races." But with that race having grown to a spectacle nearly on par with the Kentucky Derby (100,000-plus in attendance), today, Oaks Eve, has become Louisville's day at the races.

It has dawned with a brilliant sunrise over the Twin Spires, and for those who haven't been doing their homework all along, or those still hung over from an NCAA championship in the city, a quick spin through ten stories to watch (at least in advance) of the 139th Kentucky Derby, in no particular post-position order:

10. Track security. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Churchill Downs officials expanded their list of banned items for Derby to include things like cameras with detachable lenses or lenses of six inches or longer, camcorders, etc. The usual items, like booze, remain no-nos. The camera restrictions have rankled some fans, who call into question whether it's security or some other motivation driving some of the moves, but in the end, it's a way of life in an age of terrorism. Prepare for thorough security screenings, and see this story for a list of items not allowed at the track.

9. Todd Pletcher. He'll tie a record with five entries, including No. 2 choice in the morning line, unbeaten Verrazano. Pletcher also sends the always-dangerous Calvin Borel out on Revolutionary. He also has Overanalyze, Palace Malice and Charming Kitten.

8. D. Wayne Lukas has a shot. Lukas has freely admitted this week that he's come to the Derby at times feeling less-than enthusiastic, having entered a colt more out of owners' enthusiasm and direction than out of Derby readiness. But he thinks he has a shot with Will Take Charge or Oxbow, both of whom opened at 20-1 in the morning line. With a win, Lukas, 77, would become the oldest Derby-winning trainer, though he doesn't look it. That honor currently begins to Charlie Wittingham, who won it at 76.

7. Gary Stevens will ride Oxbow, coming out of a retirement that began in November of 2005. Stevens had begun an acting career --  he had a major role in the 2003 film "Seabiscuit" and a regular role in the short HBO series "Luck" -- and was widely praised for his horse racing commentary for NBC. The Hall of Famer and three-time Kentucky Derby winner also has been involved in training.

6. Rick Pitino. The biggest throng on the Churchill Downs backside this week was for the University of Louisville basketball coach and newly elected member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, who owns five percent of Goldencents, winner of the Santa Anita Derby. He's getting 100 percent exposure, however, and enjoying every minute of it. After winning an NCAA title, reaching the Hall of Fame and owning part of the Santa Anita Derby winner all in about a week's time, plenty of patrons figure to be betting his streak of good fortune will continue. "If he wins," Pitino said. "I'll definitely be looking for the storm clouds somewhere, worried lightning will strike me."

5. Kevin Krigger. In terms of historical perspective, Pitino isn't even the biggest storyline with his own horse. Krigger, a native of the Virgin Islands, is vying to become the first African-American to win the race since Jimmy Winkfield in 1902. Krigger has come to Churchill Downs with an appreciation of that history, and says he's amazed to have the opportunity. "I came from the littlest place on the map — St. Croix," Krigger said. "It's just a dot. They don't even have a shape for it on the map. They just put a dot and St. Croix next to it. Coming off of that dot and being right here right now is a heck of a feeling." For the definitive look at the history on the line, see Melissa Hoppert's excellent New York Times piece here.

4. The weather. It's always a preoccupation at Derby, but WDRB meteorologists now say rain on Derby day may be one of the safest bets at the track, the only real question is when, and how much. WDRB chief meteorologist Marc Weinberg says computer models are showing an erratic, slow moving storm system hitting the area this weekend, with most models predicting three inches of total rainfall from Saturday through Tuesday. One model, however, doesn't have the storm hitting until late Saturday. Keep watching WDRB News as Derby Day gets closer and the weather team is better able to pinpoint the extent and timing of the expected rainfall. Weinberg breaks it down in his blog here. As for the race itself, it might be worth a check of the form to see just who has proven anything on an off track.

3. The Mansion. You won't get to see it, nor will I, but Churchill Downs' ultra-exclusive new club, which used to be the track's press box, opens up for invitation-only guests this week. It's billed as the most luxurious venue in American sports. You can judge for yourself in the WDRB Photo gallery here.

2. Rosie Napravnik. She became the first woman to win the Kentucky Oaks a year ago and owns the highest finish by a woman in a Derby at ninth in 2011 and won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall. This year she's on Mylute, a Tom Amoss-trained colt who has a shot. He came running late to finish second by a neck in the Louisiana Derby, and will have more closing room in the mile-and-a-quarter Kentucky Derby. Napravnik is a serious rider, and had the mount on early Derby favorite Shanghai Bobby before he fell off the trail. She's coming off her third straight riding title at Fair Grounds, and if you had to place a bet on "first woman to win the Kentucky Derby," her odds would have to be better than even money.

1. Sentimental (and morning-line) favorite. Claude R. "Shug" McGaughey III has won nearly 250 graded stakes in a training career that spans 37 years. He's an Eclipse award-winning trainer who has won just about every race on the books, including the Belmont and nine Breeders' Cup stakes. A Lexington native who has long based his operations in New York, he went into the racing Hall of Fame nine years ago. He hasn't had Derby fever in his career, and doesn't come unless he thinks he has a shot, having saddled only six starters. He's only been back once since eventual Hall of Famer Easy Goer was beaten by Sunday Silence in 1989. Orb has been the "hot" horse at the track this week, looking magnificent in workouts. McGaughey is well-liked around the sport. A Derby victory would be seen as only fitting in a Hall of Fame career. "I've never won it, so I don't know what the feeling's like," he said. "But I'm looking forward to the day I do know what it's like, and hopefully it'll be sooner than later. I was hoping it would happen a lot earlier so I wouldn't have to worry about it anymore."

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