• California Chrome early favoriteat Kentucky Derby, draws 5 post
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     | May 01,2014
     
    AP PHOTO

    Exercise rider William Delgado plays with Kentucky Derby hopeful California Chrome after a morning workout at Churchill Downs on Wednesday in Louisville, Ky.

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. — California Chrome was made the early 5-2 favorite for the 140th Kentucky Derby on Wednesday, with Hopportunity the second choice in the full field of 20 horses.

    Trained by 77-year-old Art Sherman, California Chrome drew the No. 5 post. Eight horses have won from there, most recently Funny Cide in 2003. Sherman could become the oldest trainer to win the Derby, surpassing Charlie Whittingham’s mark of 76 when Sunday Silence won in 1989.

    California Chrome comes into the Derby having won his last four starts by a combined 24 lengths.

    Hopportunity, who lost to California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby, drew the No. 11 post and is 6-1 for the race Saturday at Churchill Downs. He’s trained by Bob Baffert, a three-time Derby winner with two starters.

    Wicked Strong, named for the victims of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, is the 8-1 third choice and will break from the 20th post on the far outside.

    California Chrome, Hopportunity and Wicked Strong were the only horses listed at single digits by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.

    Danza is the 10-1 fourth choice and drew the No. 4 post. He’s one of four horses trained by Todd Pletcher. The others are: Intense Holiday, 12-1; Vinceremos, 30-1; and We Miss Artie, 50-1.

    Mike Maker will saddle a trio of horses: General a Rod, 15-1; Harry’s Holiday, 50-1; and Vicar’s In Trouble, a 30-1 shot that drew the dreaded No. 1 post. Rosie Napravnik will be aboard that horse trying to become the first female jockey to win the Derby. She was fifth last year with Mylute, the highest finish by a woman in history.

    The other 50-1 shot is Commanding Curve, who will break from the No. 17 post.

    The 21st horse on the points list is Pablo Del Monte, an also eligible who would need a defection before 9 a.m. Friday, when Derby wagering opens, to get into the $2.2 million race.

    Post time is 6:32 p.m. EDT Saturday.

    GOOD FORECAST: Derby week got off a stormy start on Monday and Tuesday. Things look brighter the rest of the way, especially for race day.

    Saturday’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the upper 60s.

    HOOPERTUNITY KNOCKS: Hoppertunity could knock for Bob Baffert in the Kentucky Derby, giving the Hall of Fame trainer a fourth victory in the Run for the Roses.

    The colt with the unusual name has also lifted the spirits of a couple trying to conceive their first child.

    Hoppertunity earned his way into the Derby with a win in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park and a second-place finish behind California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby.

    He started out with another unusual name, Anyway U Way.

    “I was getting ready to run him and I really didn’t like that name,” Baffert said Wednesday.

    So he had a horse with no name.

    Baffert’s wife, Jill, is a friend of Kathleen Hopper, a designer cookie maker in Pasadena, California. At that time, Kathleen and Chad Hopper were trying to have a baby.

    “We were all excited for them,” Baffert said. “But it didn’t take and they were pretty sad. Kathleen said, `Well, we missed another Hoppertunity.”’

    The Bafferts seized on the name, and colt was off to the races.

    “It was an uplift for them,” Baffert said. “They feel like they’re part of the horse. As soon as I named him, he started to come around.”

    After running fifth in his debut in January, Hoppertunity won his next race at Santa Anita with Kathleen Hopper there to root him on.

    Now comes the biggest test, the 1 -mile Derby. Baffert feels Hoppertunity has a chance if he is in contention at the top of the stretch.

    ”He’s a good horse, and he can handle a lot of pressure,” Baffert said. “He’s not going to freak out. It’s not going to bother him, being in with a lot of horses. I feel confident if he’s in the top four turning for home, he’ll be really competitive.”

    Baffert also sends out Chitu, the Sunland Derby winner, who has been battling a foot fungus that requires special care and shoeing by a blacksmith.

    BUSY HORSE: Medal Count faces a very rigorous schedule.

    The Derby will be his third race in less than a month. Most runners in the field have had at least three weeks rest. Orb had a 34-day break before winning last year’s Derby.

    Medal Count is a throwback to an era when horses made more starts over longer seasons. Cannonade ran twice in one week in winning the 1974 Derby.

    Medal Count’s last two efforts came on the synthetic track at Keeneland. He captured the Transylvania Stakes on April 4, a race originally scheduled for the turf. He followed that with a fast-finishing second in the Blue Grass Stakes eight days later.

    Trainer Dale Romans feels the stout son of the late Dynaformer has the pedigree to handle the workload. And he’s sorry to see the bloodline end.

    Dynaformer passed away two years ago. He was best known as the sire of 2006 Derby winner Barbaro.

    “I think he was a very good sire,” Romans said. “If we could get a good Dynaformer colt like this into the breeding shed, I think it would be important for the future of racing. Those are good, rugged, hearty horses.”

    Barbaro suffered a catastrophic breakdown in the Preakness that led to his demise after a fight for survival.

    “It’s just a shame what happened with Barbaro, that he couldn’t get to the breeding shed with those bloodlines,” Romans said.

    With a Derby win, Medal Count might carry on the family tradition.

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