LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Nick Zito began the year with two of the top-rated 3-year-olds: Birdstone and Eurosilver. The Cliff's Edge was almost an afterthought, at best, third on the roster.
A rare glandular infection knocked Eurosilver off the Derby trail. Birdstone finished a dull fifth as the 3-5 favorite in the Land's End Stakes and then got sick and was scratched from the Blue Grass. He's the longest shot in the Derby morning line at 50-1.
Meanwhile, The Cliff's Edge closed for third in the Florida Derby and then ran down the speedy Lion Heart to win the Blue Grass. Suddenly, he became not only No. 1 in Zito's barn, but also the morning-line favorite at 4-1 for the Derby.
"It's been a long, long Derby for me already," Zito said. "Now I know how Tom Hanks felt in Cast Away. At least I get food and water every day. ... We're lucky, because Cliff has carried the barn."
The Cliff's Edge merits extra consideration because he's already won two races at Churchill Downs: the Iroquois and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, both last year. Birdstone hasn't raced at Churchill, although he's trained well here.
Rested and then some
Friends Lake and Read the Footnotes are bucking history by trying to win the Derby after a seven-week layoff. The last Derby winner who hadn't raced within a month of the Derby was Needles in 1956.
Nevertheless, John Kimmel, who trains Friends Lake, and Rick Violette, who trains Read the Footnotes, are as confident as any trainers here that they've brought their horses to the race the right way.
"If we get beat," Violette said, "it won't be because of the seven weeks. It'll be because we weren't fast enough, we couldn't go that far or we had a bad day."
Read the Footnotes ran perhaps his best race in the Fountain of Youth off an 11-week layoff. Four weeks later, he finished fourth in the Florida Derby as the even-money favorite. He hasn't run since.
Friends Lake hasn't run since the Florida Derby, either. He won that race off an eight-week layoff.
"I know this horse," Kimmel said. "And I know for him the layoff is not going to be a problem. ... The Kentucky Derby is obviously a great race to win, but I've tried to leave something in the tank so the rest of his career isn't in jeopardy."
Bobby Frankel, center of attention last year with Empire Maker, has had a relatively quiet week with Master David, second in the Wood behind Tapit. Frankel seems to have grown more confident in Master David in the last week, but still said: "He's got a chance like about 10 others."
Castledale, who won the Santa Anita Derby, has been virtually ignored at Churchill despite a pedigree that screams a mile and a quarter. Bred and raced initially on turf in Ireland, Castledale has run only twice on dirt after eight efforts on turf.
"I guess people think he's just a turf horse or something," said Jeff Mullins, his trainer. "That doesn't bother me. I kind of like it. I can tell you this, though: He's probably better than he's ever been. And he's definitely bred to get the distance."
Slop enters equation
If you're a handicapper, then you'd better start handicapping for mud. The forecast calls for rain and thunderstorms today and tomorrow.
These Derby horses have never raced in mud: Lion Heart, Action This Day, Wimbledon, Minister Eric, Master David, St Averil, The Cliff's Edge, Read the Footnotes, Castledale, Tapit and Quintons Gold Rush.
Friends Lake has not raced in mud, but he won the Sleepy Hollow at Belmont on a "good" track.
These have raced in mud and lost: Limehouse (third in Saratoga Special) and Borrego (second in Arkansas Derby).
These have raced in mud and won: Song of the Sword (maiden), Imperialism (twice, claiming and allowance), Birdstone (maiden), Smarty Jones (Arkansas Derby), Pollard's Vision (maiden) and Pro Prado (Mountain Valley Stakes, also third in Arkansas Derby).
Six stakes offered today
Churchill runs six stakes today, including the Grade I Kentucky Oaks, featuring an intensely competitive group of top-rated 3-year-old fillies, and the Grade II Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap, featuring the outstanding 5-year-old mare Sightseek.
Field for 130th Kentucky Derby
PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 Limehouse Todd Pletcher Jose Santos 30-1
2 Song of the Sword Jennifer Pederson Norberto Arroyo Jr. 30-1
3 Lion Heart Patrick Biancone Mike Smith 10-1
4 Action This Day Richard Mandella David Flores 30-1
5 Wimbledon Bob Baffert Jerry Bailey 15-1
6 Friends Lake John Kimmel Richard Migliore 15-1
7 Minister Eric Richard Mandella Pat Day 30-1
8 Master David Bobby Frankel Alex Solis 12-1
9 St Averil Rafael Becerra Tyler Blaze 30-1
10 Imperialism Kristin Mulhall Kent Desormeaux 15-1
11 The Cliff's Edge Nick Zito Shane Sellers 4-1
12 Borrego Beau Greely Victor Espinoza 20-1
13 Birdstone Nick Zito Edgar Prado 50-1
14 Read the Footnotes Rick Violette Robby Albarado 12-1