Owner Bob Yagos agreed to sell Archarcharch (center) after a win at the Southwest Stakes in February, but he had a change of heart after the other party returned the contract 15 minutes late. The result? A come-from-behind victory at the Arkansas Derby on April 16. Archarcharch came from 10th place, making a move after the mile marker to secure the win. The extra 1/8-mile at the Derby will benefit horses that can hang onto the pace and finish hard. If Archarcharch can stay out of trouble along the rail, he could put extra money in Yagos' pocket.
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His name looked like a punch line until halfway through last month's Blue Grass Stakes. The Tom Albertrani-trained horse went from last to first in that race, edging fellow Derby participant Twinspired by a nose on the final stride. Another horse without experience racing on dirt, Brilliant Speed isn't near the top of the list of contenders. He's won only twice in eight career starts. But as Albertrani said after the Blue Grass, "Why not?"
3 of 19Bill Frakes/SI
Twice the Appeal
What would the Run for the Roses be without Calvin Borel? Until 10 days before the race, the jockey extraordinaire was without a ride. But Twice the Appeal's owners -- Edward Brown, Victor Flores, and Henry Hernandez -- voted to let Borel take over for the Sunland Derby winner. That should inspire fear in the competition. Borel has won the Kentucky Derby in three of the past four years -- with Street Sense (2007), Mine That Bird (2009) and Super Saver (2010). He would become the first jockey to win three years in a row with a victory. "Bo-rail," as he's sometimes called for his love of the inside, also must be happy with his post position.
4 of 19Eric Kalet/Eclipse/Zumapress.com
Like many trainers in this year's field, Todd Pletcher, who won last year's Derby with Super Saver, has a horse coming off a poor performance at the Florida Derby. After racing to a 3 1/4-length victory in his season debut at the Gotham Stakes, Stay Thirsty finished seventh in Florida. At Gotham, the horse found another gear when he needed it. Against better competition in Florida, he didn't. He'll probably need at least two more gears to challenge this weekend.
5 of 19Bill Frakes/SI
Trainer Juan Arias and jockey Kerwin Clark make their Derby debuts with Decisive Moment -- a horse who has consistently stayed with the leaders, but has struggled to close out races. In his last start, at the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes, he was caught late by Animal Kingdom. Being outfinished was also a factor at the Delta Jackpot Stakes in November. If Decisive Moment finds a couple extra surges, he could stay in contention. But it seems unlikely given his past.
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Comma to the Top
Since the horse won the Grade I CashCall Futurity in December for his fifth straight win, his path to Churchill Downs has gotten bumpy. First, trainer Pete Miller announced in March that the horse wouldn't be racing in the Derby. Then, after a runner-up finish at the Santa Anita Derby -- and a decision to enter him in the Derby after all -- jockey Corey Nakatani chose to race Nehro at the Derby. But Comma to the Top's new jockey is no slouch. Veteran Patrick Valenzuela piloted Sunday Silence to victories in the 1989 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. And he's landed in prime real estate: seven of the past nine Derby winners have come from post position 4-10.
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Pants on Fire
Pants on Fire only went to the Louisiana Derby to serve as a rabbit for stablemate Nacho Business. But he forgot to give up the lead. The surprise victory at the $1 million stakes gave Pants on Fire a spot at Churchill Downs this weekend, and no one knows what to expect. Will the middle-of-the-pack finisher from other races show up, or will it be the horse that topped Nehro and Mucho Macho Man in March? Replicating the Louisiana Derby performance is the only way Pants on Fire could win this weekend, and the speed horse landed a good position for a quick start.
8 of 19Eclipse/Zumapress.com
The betting favorite in the Derby, Dialed In emerged as a threat after a 1 1/2-length win over an accomplished field at the Holy Bull Stakes in January in only his second career start. He cemented that status with a win at the Florida Derby on April 3, using his usual late-kicking manner to edge Shackleford at the wire. He also has a good support staff. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito has plenty of experience, and jockey Julien Leparoux has raced the Kentucky Derby four times, including a fifth-place finish on Sedgefield in 2006. If Leparoux can keep Dialed In close to the leaders through the mile mark, he'll have to like his chances.
9 of 19Mark Zerof/US Presswire
Trainer Mike Maker almost didn't get any horses into the field. But Twinspired moved into the field last week, and now, after Wood Memorial winner Toby's Corner withdrew Tuesday, Derby Kitten slides into the field as Maker's second participant. Derby Kitten would prefer a sloppy track, but even that might not be enough to mount a run for the Roses. The last horse to win the Lexington Stakes and Kentucky Derby in the same year? Charismatic, who Maker worked with as an assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, in 1999. The team's best hope is that Derby Kitten responds well to a step up in competition, and he should benefit from posting next to favorite Dialed In.
10 of 19Ed Van Meter/Eclipse/Zumapress.com
The aptly named horse didn't officially get a spot in the field until JP's Gusto withdrew, but since then, he has added a Hall of Fame jockey. Mike Smith, who guided Giacomo to the 2005 Kentucky Derby win, will ride Twinspired this weekend. The horse could be peaking at the right time, after a second-place finish at the Blue Grass Stakes. Even that performance left his team wondering what could have been, as he wasn't passed until the final stride.
11 of 19Bill Frakes/SI
Master of Hounds
The lone European representative in the most important of American horse races is a bit of a mystery. Master of Hounds, who trains under Aidan O'Brien in Ireland, was the runner-up at the United Arab Emirates Derby early this spring and was sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs last November. O'Brien's last Derby participant was Johannesburg, an eighth-place finisher in 2002.
12 of 19Mark Zerof/US Presswire
In their only race together, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan and Santiva won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in November. Santiva hasn't won any of his other starts, but he'll have Bridgmohan on saddle again at the same track this weekend. The team needs any break it can get. Santiva was the favorite at the Blue Grass Stakes on April 16, but he finished a disappointing ninth. The only hope is that Bridgmohan rekindles the magic that made Santiva a horse to watch last November. Otherwise, Santiva won't be a factor.
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Mucho Macho Man
If the horse learned perseverance from his trainer, Kathy Ritvo, the field should be worried. Two years ago, Ritvo received a heart transplant. But she's back to doing what she's always done: training horses. And she has a good one this year. Mucho Macho Man earned Ritvo her first Derby starter after winning the Risen Star Stakes in February and taking third in the Louisiana Derby in March (despite throwing a shoe coming out of the gate). Maybe a storybook ending is on its way.
14 of 19Mark Zerof/US Presswire
Two weeks before the Derby, Shackleford was sitting outside of the top-20 graded stakes earnings list needed to make the Derby. But after JP's Gusto and The Factor withdrew, Shackleford slid into the field -- and not as a longshot. After a runner-up finish at the Florida Derby, the horse is seen as a threat. Trainer Dale Romans knows how to get his horses ready, too -- he nearly pulled off the win last year, when Paddy O'Prado took third.
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The Bob Baffert-Victor Espinoza trainer-jockey combination worked well in 2002 when they guided War Emblem to the Derby crown. In 2011, the partnership seems to be working again. Espinoza has guided Midnight Interlude in one race: a victory at the San Anita Derby on April 9. The horse ran down fellow Derby participant Comma at the Top at the wire to take the title. Baffert has saddled 18 horses in the Derby, including three winners, so he knows how to prepare. Even though Midnight Interlude is not among the favorites, he could be a factor.
16 of 19Bill Frakes/SI
By besting a pair of fellow Derby entrants (Decisive Moment and Twinspired) in winning the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes on March 26, Animal Kingdom punched his ticket to Churchill Downs. Trained by H. Graham Motion, the horse's main concern is the surface -- like many competitors, Animal Kingdom has never raced on dirt. But his workout last Saturday, when he covered six furlongs in 1:13, shows that he's growing more comfortable on the ground.
17 of 19Bill Frakes/SI
Before the Florida Derby, Soldat was considered one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby. But, after three wins and four runner-up finishes in his first seven starts, he faltered and finished eighth at Gulfstream Park. Now, he might be the biggest wildcard in a year full of wildcards. Jockey Alan Garcia has one big win on his record: He spoiled Big Brown's Triple Crown attempt atop Da'Tara at the Belmont Stakes in 2008. Soldat's odds show bettors judge his Florida Derby performance as a fluke. But the fast starter may struggle to set his preferred pace coming from so far outside.
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No horse should benefit more from the 1 1/4-mile distance at the Derby than Nehro. In his last two starts, Nehro came up a neck short. He took second to Pants on Fire at the Louisiana Derby and second to Archarcharch at the Arkansas Derby, each by 1/4-length. But each of those preps was a 1/8-mile shorter than this weekend. What would have happened if Nehro had the extra distance? It's only speculation, but some experts think he would have won. Like Uncle Mo, he'll be battling history with his starting position, tempering expectations slightly.
19 of 19Bill Frakes/SI
Watch Me Go
The good news? Watch Me Go has experience running on a wet track, which they've been dealing with at Churchill Downs this week. The bad news? That experience isn't all positive. Watch Me Go struggled to a sixth-place finish on a wet track at the Illinois Derby in April. But during his early Derby-week workouts, he has earned positive reports from observers for the way he navigated the terrain. With many horses lacking any wet-track experience, more rain could be one of the many breaks the longshot needs to contend.
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