Saturday, May 01, 2010

Full field expected despite dismal Derby weather

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Rain pounded Churchill Downs early Saturday, but boggy conditions at the historic track weren't expected to deter hopefuls for the Kentucky Derby, first jewel of US flat racing's Triple Crown.

The heavy rain prompted the postponement of early workouts, but all 20 Kentucky Derby entrants were expected to go to the gate at 5:24 pm (22:24 GMT).

"I think they'd run over crushed glass," joked Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who will be seeking his fifth Derby win with Dublin.

Light rain was expected to continue throughout the afternoon, but at least predictions of 3-6 inches of rain were not expected to materialize.

Few in the field have experience in the mud. Trainer Bob Baffert said it remained to be seen how the country's top 3-year-olds will react.

"It hits their belly and face," Baffert said. "They throw their head up, they lose interest and they get scared."

The race was already wide open. Eskendereya, the horse to beat in the build-up to the Derby, was withdrawn last weekend with an injury in his left front leg.

Baffert's Lookin At Lucky was the 3-1 morning favorite, but has drawn the unfavorable first post.

Second choice Sidney's Candy (7-1) is a synthetic specialist who has never raced on dirt and will start from the outside 20th post in the auxiliary gate.

Baffert said the conditions are perfect for an upset, like the one sprung by 50-1 shot Mine That Bird last year under Calvin Borel.

"It's huge because horses either on the lead win it or a deep, deep closer," Baffert said. "A long shot has a chance."

The Kentucky Derby is the first race of the Triple Crown, which also includes the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

No horse has completed the coveted treble since Affirmed in 1978.

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