Kentucky Derby impressions: Last time on the track before the draw

Crowds are beginning to swell here at Churchill Downs.

"They let everybody in here," said Hamilton Smith, the long-time Laurel Park fixture who has a horse in the Kentucky Derby for the first time. "Just look at 'em."

Indeed, there was a Blood Mary or 437 spotted before the sun had lit the track fully. One guy lugged a giant Starbucks cup filled with a golden-hued beverage not sold by Starbucks. The horse that got an uneven share of cheers? Why, that was "I'll Have Another," of course.

Hey, even revelers need time to acclimate to the track.

Most of the commotion calmed at about 8:25, after the dirt was cleared so that only the Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses could train. Much attention was paid to Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister and his trainer, Bob Baffert. You could also see eyes following Union Rags, the Michael Matz-trained colt who had such a poor trip in the Florida Derby. Thought it was difficult to tell anything from their short time on the course today, neither did anything to dissuade odds makers. In fact, Churchill Downs odds maker Mike Battaglia has said that, unless either horse gets a bad draw, Bodemeister will be the favorite and Union Rags won't be far behind (the Courier-Journal had the story.)

The draw will be held tonight at 5, and televised on NBC. Battaglia's actual morning line should be out by 5:45.

Other observations and notes from today:

  • Dullahan appeared eager to run today, picking up considerable speed his second time around the track.
  • The irrepressible Calvin Borel, who has gone to the winner's circle three times after a Kentucky Derby, buzzed around the stables giving interviews and greeting fans. He then took Take Charge Indy out on the track.
  • Rosie Napravnik, whose ninth-place finish last year was the best ever by a female jockey in the Derby, does not have a ride this year. Mark Valeski was pulled from the race because his connections did not like the colt's chances.
  • Optimizer took Mark Valeski's place, giving D. Wayne Lukas a chance to win his fifth Kentucky Derby.
  • For the first time, the Kentucky Derby has an also eligible entered. My Adonis will run if any of the other 20 horses are scratched between now and Friday morning.
  • Among the things I overheard most while walking the barns was the debate on how to say "Bodemeister." It's BO-dee-meister, not Boad-meister. As has been written frequently, the horse is named for Baffert's son, Bode. And Bode is named for Bode Miller, the skier.
  • The first syllable in Dullahan, by the way, is Dool, not Dull. (UPDATE: I stand somewhat correctedon this. There's actually quite a bit of contention about how to say the name. In fact, Mark Emmert of the Des Moines paper wrote this story on the controversy.)
  • Fair Hill-based trainer Graham Motion admits to feeling less daunted by the Kentucky Derby after winning it last year with Animal Kingdom, but says the task will be no easier. There's no magic formula to be figured out and re-applied. Still, look for bettors to place a lot of faith in Motion, Team Valor and their horse Done Talking.

I'll have more throughout the day. You can also follow me on Twitter for updates as they come.

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