Your A-to-Z Guide to the 2015 Kentucky Derby
With six days to go before the Kentucky Derby (G1), let the alphabet guide you through the main players in the 141st Run for the Roses.
A is for American Pharoah, the presumptive Derby favorite who extended his winning streak to four with an eight-length rout of the Arkansas Derby (G1). Last year's champion two-year-old male has always been a "Grade A" type from the beginning, making him much more than just the alphabetical leader. This pharaoh is a natural, with a superbly efficient stride that could propel him into the history books.
B is for his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner who is loaded for bear for number four. In addition to American Pharoah, he's got another prime threat in Dortmund (filed under the letter D). But we can't leave the letter B without mentioning Derby rival Bolo, better known for his turf exploits and third in his dirt preps at Santa Anita.
C is for Carpe Diem, the most accomplished of trainer Todd Pletcher's quartet (see the letter P). A $1.6 million auction purchase as an unraced two-year-old, the well-bred son of Giant's Causeway has won four of five, topped by the Blue Grass (G1) last time out. Carpe Diem could be ready to live up to his Latin name -- "seize the day."
D is for Dortmund, a giant of a horse who's a perfect six-for-six so far. Named for the German soccer team, Dortmund came to hand later than stablemate American Pharoah, but he's been rivaling him in the headlines. And after surviving a couple of tough fights, the son of 2008 Derby champ Big Brown has begun to stamp his superiority, as glimpsed in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Also worth noting is Danzig Moon, an improving blueblood who comes off a second to Carpe Diem in the Blue Grass.
E is for El Kabeir, meaning "The Boss," winner of last fall's Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) here at Churchill Downs. After a productive winter at Aqueduct, where he most recently finished third in the Wood Memorial (G1), the gray will reunite with the jockey who last rode him in the Jockey Club -- three-time Derby winner and Hall of Famer Calvin Borel.
F is for four -- as in four Derby contenders with names beginning with this letter: Frosted, Firing Line, Far Right and the "bubble" horse Frammento (who needs one defection to get into the field). Frosted has had better luck in New York than he did in Florida, earning his way in with a career-best score in the Wood Memorial (G1). Firing Line couldn't find a way to beat Dortmund at Santa Anita, so he instead went to New Mexico and crushed the Sunland Derby (G3). Far Right was the best locally-based sophomore at Oaklawn this spring, but no match for American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby. Frammento is a deep closer who has not rallied fast enough to threaten in his preps.
G is for Godolphin, the international operation spearheaded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, who has made it a longstanding goal to win the Kentucky Derby. The ruler of Dubai, and his family members, have yet to muster a placing, however. Frosted will be the ninth horse to try in the Godolphin silks. The Godolphin team hopes to meet the other "G" in the winner's circle -- Governor Steve Beshear, who will present the coveted trophy.
H is for the Hall of Fame connections in the Derby. Aside from Baffert and Borel, other Hall of Famers involved are jockeys John Velazquez (Carpe Diem), Mike Smith (Far Right), Gary Stevens (Firing Line), Kent Desormeaux (on Keen Ice; see the letter K), trainer Nick Zito (if Frammento gets in) and a certain legendary trainer filed under L. And that's not even counting the trainers and riders who are on Hall of Fame-worthy career trajectories, or the Hall of Fame horses in the contenders' pedigrees.
I is for International Star, who completed a sweep of Fair Grounds' preps in the Louisiana Derby (G2). The son of 2000 Derby hero Fusaichi Pegasus would become an "international star" if he can be as adept versus a deeper cast at Churchill. Another "I" is Derby rival Itsaknockout, who has something to prove off his bad fourth in the Florida Derby (G1). But his name does provide a neat tie-in to the eagerly anticipated bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao later Saturday night.
J is for Josh Groban, the international star who will sing the national anthem prior to Kentucky Derby 141. But "J" is always for julep too, as in the minty, bourbon-y beverage that is de rigueur at the Derby.
K is for Keen Ice, who just made it into the Derby field through a rival's defection last Friday. Campaigned by Donegal Racing, which has placed third with both of its past Derby starters, the stoutly bred closer hopes that the added ground will help his cause.
L is for Lukas, as in Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who is ensconced in the Derby record book. Lukas already owns the record for most Derby starters (47), and will make it 48 when Mr. Z goes into the gate on the first Saturday in May. He is also tied for second for most wins in Derby history with four. Moreover, Lukas is leaving a permanent legacy in the training ranks through a number of proteges, including Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin (trainer of Frosted), Mike Maker (trainer of International Star) and George Weaver (Tencendur, filed under T).
M is for Materiality, the unbeaten Florida Derby winner who will try to buck 132 years of Derby history. Unraced as a juvenile, he hopes to become the first horse who started his racing career at three to win the Derby since Apollo all the way back in 1882. (If you're looking for a certain other, exotic M, you can find him under Q for "quest.")
N is for NBC, the television home of the Derby with 15.5 hours of coverage on tap across its two channels. NBCSN will broadcast Wednesday's draw at 5:30 p.m., Thursday's Kentucky Derby Access show at 4 p.m., Friday's Kentucky Oaks (G1) beginning at 12:30 p.m., and Saturday's Derby Day coverage from noon to 4 p.m. (all times EDT). NBC takes over at 4 p.m. on Derby Day.
O is for Ocho Ocho Ocho, who was unbeaten at two but still trying to find his way this year at three. He can point to some illustrious relatives, though: sire Street Sense remains the only Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner to go on and capture the Derby; his broodmare sire is South African Triple Crown winner Horse Chestnut; and his great-granddam in the female line is undefeated Hall of Famer Personal Ensign.
P is for Pletcher, who is second only to his mentor Lukas with 40 career Derby starters going into this year. His only Derby winner so far is Super Saver (2010), and just five other trainees have cracked the top three. Pletcher is expected to send out no fewer than four runners on Saturday -- the aforementioned Carpe Diem, Materiality and Itsaknockout along with Stanford (see the letter S).
Q is for the quest undertaken by Mubtaahij, who seeks to become the first Dubai shipper to win the Derby. The cosmopolitan colt was bred in Ireland, raised for a time in France, and began his career in England before wintering in Dubai. He thrived on the dirt there, as evidenced by his eight-length demolition job in the U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2). Mubtaahij boasts international connections as well. He is trained by the globetrotting South African Mike de Kock, ridden by the internationally acclaimed Christophe Soumillon, and races for Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum -- a cousin of Godolphin's Sheikh Mohammed. Wouldn't it be fascinating if the first Maktoum to land the Derby is this Sheikh Mohammed, and not the more famous one? Mubtaahij means "elated," and that would sum up his connections' reaction if he can plunder the prize.
R is for the Ramseys, Ken and Sarah. Although the Ramseys are the perennial leading owners at Churchill and Keeneland, the Derby has eluded them. They are 0-for-6 so far, a record that International Star hopes to correct by garnering the other "R" – the roses. Ken Ramsey alluded to the traditional Derby winner's garland when naming one of his past prospects "Roses in May." He wasn't ready in time for the 2003 Derby, but later won the world's richest race, the 2005 Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1).
S is for Stanford, who brings an elite pedigree, if not results, to the Derby. By Malibu Moon, the sire of 2013 Derby hero Orb, the Pletcher pupil was run down late by International Star in the Louisiana Derby.
T is for Tencendur, who nearly upset the Wood Memorial before being collared by Frosted. Hoping to become only the second New York-bred Derby winner, emulating the trailblazing Funny Cide (2003), he is named for Charlemagne's warhorse in the Song of Roland.
U is for Upstart, who's no upstart in this field. One of a trio of New York-breds (with International Star and Tencendur) here, Upstart has won or placed in all seven lifetime starts, including a smashing win over Frosted in the Holy Bull (G2). He was a battling second to Materiality in the Florida Derby in his latest, and is back training sharply after a minor illness.
V is for value, which is what every Derby bettor is looking for when analyzing the contenders' odds in light of their win chances. But from a broader industry perspective, it's all about breeding value, and the Derby winner's worth as a stallion prospect.
W is for War Story. As the lone gelding in the field, he won't have a stud career on his mind. Instead, he'll be trying to figure out a way to beat International Star after dropping three straight to him at Fair Grounds.
X is for X-factor, that combination of raw talent, athleticism, mental toughness, and all-important luck in running on the day.
Y is for Yum! Brands, the giant restaurant conglomerate that serves as the presenting sponsor of the Derby through the year 2020. Handicapping and enjoying the races can certainly work up an appetite.
Z is for Zayat Stables, the nom de course of Ahmed Zayat, who could at last end his Derby heartbreak. Zayat might well have won the 2010 Derby with hot favorite Eskendereya, only to have him suffer a career-ending injury a week out. He has also finished second three times, with Bodemeister (2012), Nehro (2011) and Pioneerof the Nile (2009). The latter could make amends through his son, American Pharoah, who spearheads a three-pronged challenge for Zayat this year, along with the aforementioned El Kabeir and Mr. Z.
So we've gone full circle with this A-to-Z guide, coming right back to where we started with American Pharoah.