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Because 3-year-old thoroughbreds are the equine equivalent of maturing teenagers, and because none have ever raced at the classic distance of 1¼ miles—or, in the case of most, ever will again—let alone in an overcrowded field of 20, the Kentucky Derby is a uniquely challenging handicapping exercise. Half the field is eliminated in the wild first half-mile, regardless of class. Others are compromised by overeager jockeys making poor decisions. Still others should never have been entered, but their connections can't resist the lure of running a horse in by far the most important race in America, though a new entry-by-points system has helped keep some of the pretenders out.
Unbeaten in four starts, including the Wood Memorial on April 6, and named for the bridge that connects Staten Island to Brooklyn, Verrazano is fighting a time-honored streak: No horse unraced as a 2-year-old has won the Derby at three since 1882; Verrazano's first race was on Jan. 1.
Trainer Shug McGaughey, who last saddled a Derby horse in 2002 (Saarland, finished 10th), has guided Orb through a flawless spring campaign, culminating with a win in the March 30 Florida Derby. Orb is a big bay colt who likes to come from behind, which leaves him at the whim of race traffic.
Conditioned by Doug O'Neill—who trained last year's Derby-Preakness champ, I'll Have Another, while facing scrutiny for his doping record (the California Horse Racing Board banned him for 45 days in 2012 for one violation)—Goldencents won the Santa Anita Derby on April 6 going away.