Finally, after 16 weeks and 43 prep races - after dominating performances by the likes of Brother Derek and Lawyer Ron and shocking upsets by the likes of With a City and Like Now - the road to the Kentucky Derby has reached the gates of Churchill Downs.
With just two weeks remaining until the May 6 Kentucky Derby and with the top 20 graded-stakes earners qualifying, you're either in by now or you're out. Trainer Nick Zito, who saddled five Derby starters last year, and D. Wayne Lukas, who has saddled four Derby winners, are out. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who nominated 38 colts, is in with two starters while three-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert has three starters.
With 20 colts and geldings racing for the first time at 1 1/4 miles and surrounded by 130,000 people, anything can happen. But there are 10 horses who deserve serious consideration based on past performances and the company they have kept. The question is, does their running style help or hurt their chances?
Brother Derek: He may very well be the favorite off his four consecutive graded-stakes wins in California, including his easy victory April 8 in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. But this son of Benchmark, who runs on or close to the pace, is going to have company in the Derby. It's not going to be easy.
Lawyer Ron: The only other likely Derby favorite, he's won all seven of his starts across dirt tracks and heads to Kentucky with three consecutive starts at Oaklawn Park, including the Arkansas Derby. Although he has won several starts on or close to the pace, he's also won coming from behind. A huge advantage come the Derby.
Barbaro: Undefeated Florida Derby winner has won all five of his starts, three on the turf, one across the slop and one across a fast track. Has tactical speed, but is trying to become first colt in 50 years to win the race off a five-week layoff.
A.P. Warrior: Trainer John Shirreffs, who won last year's Derby with 50-1 long shot Giacomo, may have the sleeper in this son of A.P. Indy. Finished third to Brother Derek in Santa Anita Derby when forced to press the winner. In the Derby, he'll come from well back. If the pace is hot as expected, he'll have a big shot.
Bob and John: One of Baffert's three starters, he won the Wood Memorial in New York across the slop after finishing third to A.P. Warrior and stablemate Point Determined at Santa Anita. Very consistent son of Seeking the Gold usually likes to race close to the pace.
Bluegrass Cat: Seemed like a potential Derby favorite earlier in the year then disappointed with second-place finish in Tampa Bay Derby and fourth in Blue Grass Stakes. But this son of Storm Cat, trained by Pletcher, has tactical speed and can't be counted out in the Derby.
Point Determined: Another Baffert trainee, this son of Baffert's Preakness and Belmont winner Point Given has never finished worse than second. Second to Brother Derek in the Santa Anita Derby, he should be well-placed in Derby and could avenge his sire's Derby loss.
Sweetnorthernsaint: Maryland-based gelding got beat less than a length in the Gotham Stakes before winning the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne by nine lengths. Like Bafffert's Blue Grass winner Sinister Minister, Pletcher's Gotham runner-up Keyed Entry and Brother Derek, could be part of early pace.
Private Vow: Derby contender's star has dimmed somewhat this year, having been beaten twice by Lawyer Ron. Finished seventh off a four-month layoff March 18 in the Rebel but finished a much-improved third in the Arkansas Derby. Recent history isn't kind to colts with only two races coming into the Derby.
Showing Up: Roy and Gretchen Jackson's Lael Stable, owner of Barbaro, has another undefeated colt in Coolmore Lexington winner Showing Up. Trained by Barclay Tagg, who saddled 2003 Derby winner Funny Cide, Showing Up beat a weak field in the Lexington. He'll try to become the first colt since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby after not having raced as a 2-year-old.
Dave Joseph writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.