LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Steve Coburn, whose California Chrome is the favorite for the most famous of races, said the Kentucky Derby is a "done deal," and the racing gods wept. Or at least that explains the showers this week.
Many people subscribe to the theory that some deity or perhaps a fraternity of deities -- maybe even a sorority -- looks over the Kentucky Derby. The theory arises from the hope that everything, even the seemingly inexplicable, has an explanation, a reason and a purpose. Or maybe -- well, the racing gods have it all in their control, but they're especially focused on the Kentucky Derby.
They'll even encourage some horses into the winner's circle and block others, or so goes the thinking. And how could you doubt their divine intervention if, for example, you saw Unbridled win the 1990 Kentucky Derby as trainer Carl Nafzger described the race for the horse's 92-year-old owner, charmingly venerable Frances Genter. The racing gods obviously decided that Genter must win, that the Derby would be the culmination of a lifetime's dedication to the sport, a career-topping cherry atop her sportsmanship. Lil E Tee and Cal Partee, Grindstone and W. T. Young and Sea Hero with Paul Mellon and Mack Miller -- they were all destined, weren't they, to win the Kentucky Derby? The racing gods intervened, didn't they, smoothed the path a little, opened up a hole for Lil E Tee, put a little moisture in the surface for Sea Hero and added a few whiskers to Grindstone's nose.
And so, what will they do Saturday? Whose destiny in their hands will find roses? Well, candidates are numerous.
Surely the racing gods have a soft place in their collective heart for Art Sherman, the 77-year-old trainer of California Chrome, the Derby favorite. In 1955, Sherman, who was Swaps' exercise rider, accompanied the great horse to Kentucky from California. Exercise rider, jockey and trainer -- Sherman has done it all in a long career, and a Derby victory could be his just reward.
But the Derby is never a "done deal," and the racing gods tend to frown on those who underestimate its challenge or make any assumptions about events that are so obviously in the their hands. They might even encourage speedy California Chrome to involve himself in a lively pace debate, which could seriously compromise his chances. If that happens -- well, there are other candidates for the racing gods' favor.
There's Samraat, for example, the King of Queens, whose owner, Leonard Riggio, is known for his philanthropy and whose trainer, Rick Violette, is one of the game's most eloquent and intelligent spokesmen. Or the racing gods could happily smile on Uncle Sigh, whose ownership group includes Wounded Warrior Stables. It donates 10 percent of the horse's earnings to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Perhaps, though, the racing gods will feel compelled to honor a debt to jockey Robby Albarado. In 2011, when entries were taken, Albarado was named to ride Animal Kingdom, but he was injured that very day, on Wednesday of Derby Week, in a post parade accident. John Velazquez replaced Albarado on Animal Kingdom and, of course, won the Derby. In this 140th Derby, Albarado rides Medal Count, a horse that has trained eagerly and impressively all week.