The last of the of qualifying races has come and gone, and the group of challengers to favorite California Chrome at the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby has been whittled down to a handful of contenders.
Last weekend’s Coolmore Lexington was the final race where thoroughbreds and their connections could qualify for the “Run for the Roses," and the result proved largely inconsequential for the 20-deep Derby field with non-contender My Speaker taking the checkered flag.
This year the Derby instituted a points system for those hoping to race for the $1.4 million purse at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 3. A top-four finish at designated prep races earned a thoroughbred points with results at non-Derby qualifiers acting has tiebreakers.
The standings shook out with California Chrome in first with 150 points, trailed by Louisiana Derby-victor and the Mike Maker-trained Vicar’s In Trouble with 120 points, Dance With Fate at 108 points, Wicked Strong at 102 points, and Samraat rounding out the top five with 100 points.
No other thoroughbred can technically qualify by winning a race, but with a week and a half until the Derby several would-be contenders like Rontos Racing Stable’s Social Inclusion and Kaleem Shah’s Bayern could still enter the Churchill gates if any one above them in the standings defects. A full list of the standings can be found at Daily Racing Form.
UAE Derby winner Toast of New York is one of several top contenders to already pull out. His connections are reportedly focused on “top-level turf races” rather than the dirt track at Churchill Downs, according to ESPN. His defection is just one of many that come about this time of year due to an owner’s last minute change of heart or injury (like the one Cairo Prince sustained to his left front ankle), which could open the door for underdogs.
Winning consecutive races at the Grade II San Felipe and Grade I’s Santa Anita Derby has positioned California Chrome high atop the qualifying board and the betting world as the proverbial Derby favorite. A jockey for 20 years turned trainer, Art Sherman could take his first colt to Louisville and capture his first Derby at the age of 77.
Standing in Sherman’s way is Vicar’s in Trouble and Dance With Fate.
Vicar’s In Trouble essentially punched his ticket for the Derby with the win at the Louisiana Derby earning 97 points at the Fair Grounds, and he has the late kick to erase any lead California Chrome might have heading into the final turn. However, his pedigree suggests Vicar’s In Trouble could bolt from the gate and tire halfway through unless his jockey preserves his sprint for the final quarter-mile.
Dance With Fate was only recently confirmed as a participant in the Derby, despite his huge victory at Blue Grass earlier this month and his runner-ups at the El Camino Real Derby and FrontRunner.
Originally, trainer Peter Eurton hadn’t planned on Dance With Fate entering any of the Triple Crown races, and he actually set a goal just a bit lower.
"I wanted to enjoy the Blue Grass win, and to me it was just the ultimate," Eurton said to USA Today last week. "Maybe I got caught off-guard a little too quick. But I wanted to see how he came back, and he came back so well, I thought Churchill could be a possibility.
"If he does as well two weeks from now as he is now, I'll be one happy camper."