LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Reuters) - The $2.2 million Kentucky Derby on Saturday is unlikely to unearth a potential Triple Crown winner with the 20-strong field featuring a solid yet unspectacular crop of three-year-olds.
Wood Memorial champion I Want Revenge is a 3-1 favorite to win America’s most prestigious race, with Dunkirk and Pioneerof the Nile next at 4-1 and Friesan Fire a 5-1 choice.
The rest of the capacity field for the mile-and-a-quarter race have double-digit odds, perhaps signaling there are few, if any, colts capable of claiming the Triple Crown in 2009.
Only 11 horses have won the Derby, the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes and none since Affirmed in 1978.
Yet even without a Triple Crown on the horizon, the Derby can yield some surprising finishes, like in 2005 when 50-1 longshot Giacomo edged 71-1 choice Closing Argument.
The dark bay I Want Revenge will break from the 13th post, 19-year-old jockey Joe Talamo and his connections preferring to stay out of trouble before heading to the rail.
All of the contenders are happy to be breaking from the auxiliary gate, posts 15 to 20, since six Derby winners have started from there in the last 13 years.
Florida Derby runner-up Dunkirk opens from the 15 post with Edgar Prado in the saddle, while the Bob Baffert-trained Santa Anita Derby champion Pioneerof the Nile is just outside at 16.
Friesan Fire, the bay son of 1992 Belmont Stakes champion A.P. Indy, opens a little closer to the rail at six but trainer Larry Jones told reporters, “We are in good shape.”
Jones’s grey filly Eight Belles broke both ankles and collapsed shortly after finishing second in the 2008 Derby and had to be euthanized. But the Kentucky native hopes to repeat what had been an uncontested ride around the fabled Churchill Downs track.
”We had the five last year with Eight Belles and worked out a great trip,“ he said. ”(Friesan Fire) should be laying anywhere from third to fifth early and suck back behind the speed.
“Hopefully he’ll get a clear run when the real running starts.”
Others with a chance to claim the $1.4 million winner’s purse include Blue Grass Stakes runner-up Hold Me Back, Arkansas Derby champion Papa Clem, and Illinois Derby winner Musket Man.
Even four-times Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas believes his Kentucky-bred bay, Flying Private, has a chance despite reaching the winner’s circle just once in 10 tries.
”He’s as good as some of them I brought here, including some of them who have won,“ said the Hall of Famer. ”Charismatic went on to be Horse of the Year (in 1999) but at this stage he’s every bit as good as Charismatic.
“And I think he’s better than (1996 Derby champion) Grindstone.”
Editing by Justin Palmer