LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Big Brown’s all in and so is the filly Eight Belles, a perfect combination for an intriguing 134th Kentucky Derby.
Unbeaten in three career starts, Florida Derby winner Big Brown was stamped the 3-1 favorite for Saturday’s 1 1/4-mile Derby after drawing the far outside No. 20 post position. Eight Belles, taking on the boys for the first time, drew the No. 5 post and was 20-1 on the morning line set by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.
“I feel that if we run our race, and he breaks clean, I don’t see a horse as of yet that can beat Big Brown,” trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. said Wednesday. “I just don’t see it. I don’t want to see it, either.”
The only Derby winner to leave from the No. 20 post was Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.
“We prefer just to break on the outside,” Dutrow said. “We get assured of a clean trip. If he breaks good, we figure it’s to our advantage. We had a few choices and felt we took the best shot.”
Colonel John, the best 3-year-old in the West, was the second betting choice at 4-1. Pyro, a one-time Derby favorite, was next at 6-1 in the full 20-horse field. Every other horse was 15-1 or higher.
Pyro leaves from the No. 9 post and Colonel John from No. 10.
Michael Matz, the trainer of 2006 Derby winner Barbaro, is back in the Derby with Visionaire, a 20-1 long shot. The colt drew the No. 8 post — the same post Barbaro left from.
Big Brown and Eight Belles each have their own history to overcome if they are to win America’s greatest race.
For the lightly raced Big Brown, it’s inexperience: The last Derby winner with just three previous career starts was the filly Regret in 1915; and only two winners in the past 60 years have overcome just two 3-year-old preps, Sunny’s Halo in 1983 and Street Sense last year.
For Eight Belles, it’s the competition: A filly hasn’t run in the Derby since 1999, and only three have won, with Winning Colors the last to do so in 1988.
“We’re going to give it a whirl,” said Eight Belles trainer Larry Jones, who finished second in last year’s Derby with Hard Spun. “If she runs her race against the colts and doesn’t get intimidated we feel like she can be right there.”
Big Brown will be ridden by two-time Derby winner Kent Desormeaux; Derby rookie Gabriel Saez has the call on Eight Belles, who brings a four-race winning streak into the Run for the Roses.
Big Brown burst onto the Derby scene with a 12 3/4-length romp in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on March 5. A five-length win in the Florida Derby made it 3-for-3. Last year, Curlin arrived for the Derby with a 3-0 record and finished third.
“I do think the people are going to bet on Big Brown, even though he is from the 20 post,” Battaglia said. “He’s undefeated. He looked awfully good in Florida. There are plenty of knocks on Big Brown, like the fact he has only raced three times.”
Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John is an interesting second choice since the colt will be making his first start on the dirt. Trained by Eoin Harty, Colonel John is 4-for-6 with two runner-up finishes. He had an exceptionally fast workout at Churchill Downs earlier in the week.
“The synthetic tracks make it very tough,” Battaglia said. “Look at Colonel John. He’s never raced on the dirt. That’s just a big X factor.”
Pyro is coming off the worst race of his career, a 10th-place finish in the Blue Grass in his only start over a synthetic surface. The colt trained by Steve Asmussen won the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby in his two previous starts.
“What do I do with the Blue Grass? Do you completely throw it out?” Battaglia asked. “Do you think he might be on the decline? You just don’t know.”
Asmussen, who also trains Z Fortune, says he expects Pyro to “run his lifetime best when it matters most.”
Three other trainers have two horses in the Derby, including Todd Pletcher. The nation’s top trainer sends out Monba and Cowboy Cal, the 1-2 finishers in the Blue Grass, in his quest to end an 0-for-19 Derby record.
Barclay Tagg sends out Tampa Bay Derby winner Big Truck and Wood Memorial winner Tale of Ekati, and two-time Derby winner Nick Zito has Anak Nakal and Fountain of Youth winner Cool Coal Man.
The field, from the rail out: Cool Coal Man (20-1), Tale of Ekati (15-1), Anak Nakal (30-1), Court Vision (20-1), Eight Belles (20-1), Z Fortune (15-1), Big Truck (50-1), Visionaire (20-1), Pyro (6-1), Colonel John (4-1), Z Humor (30-1), Smooth Air (20-1), Bob Black Jack (20-1), Monba (15-1), Adriano (30-1), Denis of Cork (20-1), Cowboy Cal (20-1), Recapturetheglory (20-1), Gayego (15-1) and Big Brown (3-1).