Todd Pletcher is going after the Kentucky Derby with numbers again.
The trainer who has won the America’s greatest race once could saddle four horses Saturday in the 140th Derby. Little-known Mike Maker could have three starters, while three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert has two contenders.
Art Sherman has just one. But it’s a really good one.
California Chrome is expected to be the favorite. The colt brings a four-race winning streak into Churchill Downs, having won those by a combined 24¼ lengths.
“I’ve never had a horse that did that before,” said Sherman, who began training in 1980 after being a jockey for 21 years and later a racing official. “He’s a gutty little horse.”
Pletcher knows something about luck.
Four years ago, he ended an 0-for-24 skid when long shot Super Saver, one of four horses he entered, won under a rail-hugging ride by Calvin Borel. That was the year Pletcher had the favorite, Eskendereya, who was forced to drop out six days before the Derby with a leg injury. He also had the horse to beat in 2011, Uncle Mo, who was scratched with a stomach ailment on Derby eve.
This year, Pletcher’s quartet is made up of Arkansas Derby winner Danza, Risen Star winner Intense Holiday, Spiral Stakes winner We Miss Artie and Vinceremos, who finished 14th in the Blue Grass.
California Chrome will need some luck tangling with an expected full field of 20 horses for the 1¼-mile race at Churchill Downs. The final lineup won’t be known until Wednesday, when entries are drawn and post positions are assigned.
Baffert’s ace is Hoppertunity, who won the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The colt will try to buck a Derby jinx that has no horse since Apollo in 1882 winning without racing as a 2-year-old.
“You need a really good horse because you need a lot of luck,” said Baffert, who also has Sunland Derby winner Chitu.
Maker’s trio of contenders is Louisiana Derby winner Vicar’s in Trouble, General a Rod and Harry’s Holiday.
“I think it’s going to be a very lively pace,” he said. “I feel my horses they can adjust to whatever the pace calls for.”
Maker has had five previous Derby starters, including Hansen, who was ninth in 2012. Both he and Pletcher are former assistants to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Derby winner.
Vicar’s in Trouble will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who will try to become the first female jockey to win the Derby. Her husband, Joe Sharpe, is an assistant to Maker.
Last year, Napravnik rode Mylute to a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby behind Orb and a third-place finish in the Preakness behind Oxbow. Those finishes were the best by a female rider in each race.
Sherman is going for a bit of history himself.
The 77-year-old could become the oldest trainer to win, surpassing Charlie Whittingham, who was 76 when Sunday Silence won in 1989.
Graham Motion, who trained 2011 Derby winner Animal Kingdom, is back with Ring Weekend, who won the Tampa Bay Derby.