When trainers talk about the May 5 Kentucky Derby, more and more they're saying it's a wide-open race. But no one is quite sure if that's really the case, as most eyes today will be focused on the $750,000 Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, where Street Sense and Great Hunter are expected to turn the seven-horse race into a two-horse showdown.
"There's a lot of nice 3-year-olds out there," said veteran trainer Bob Holthus, who trained Lawyer Ron in last year's Kentucky Derby and who will send Officer Rocket to post against Curlin and five others in today's $1 million Arkansas Derby. "It's going to take a good, fit, sound horse to carry it [the Kentucky Derby] off. Right now, I guess, Street Sense would be the favorite, but if he would throw in a bad one [today], I really think it [would be] a pretty wide-open race. The horses just, you know, one week they look like world beaters, then they run back and they don't perform."
That's been true of Nobiz Like Shobiz and Hard Spun, who both followed victories with defeat before righting themselves in the Wood Memorial and Lane's End Stakes, respectively.
Any Given Saturday, who earned much respect by turning in a sharp performance while losing by a nose to Street Sense in the Tampa Bay Derby, looked spent at the Wood Memorial.
And Cobalt Blue went into the Illinois Derby last week off a win and finished as an also-ran.
"It's interesting," said trainer Darren Miller, who will send Dominican against Street Sense, Great Hunter, Teuflesberg, Zanjero, Time Squared and Love Dubai in the Blue Grass. "How did Street Sense come out of the Tampa race? We just need to find out."
The Blue Grass will be broadcast beginning at 5 p.m. on ESPN.
Street Sense and Great Hunter have met twice before. In October, Great Hunter beat the 2-year-old champion in the Grade I Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, but in November Street Sense turned the tables with his 10-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
This is the rubber match.
But Dominican could have something to say about the outcome.
As a maiden, he finished a close fourth to Street Sense's third in the Arlington-Washington Futurity in September and was a competitive third in his last race as a 2-year-old behind unbeaten Tiz Wonderful and Any Given Saturday. He followed that this year with a five-length victory in the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park in March.
After Miller watched the Tampa Bay Derby, in which Street Sense and Any Given Saturday went head-to-head to the wire, the trainer had another thought.
"I figured my horse had to be somewhere in the mix," he said. "I think the fact my horse shows up for work every morning, the fact he has never disappointed me gives me confidence in him. He's very consistent. ... He's a trier. ... I think he's a real horse."
Miller, like Holthus, believes the Kentucky Derby field is looking more and more like anyone's race, and he hopes that's particularly true today.
"Street Sense is an obvious, and Great Hunter has done nothing wrong," Miller said. "But I don't see one that really stands out. I think they've all sort of matched up against each other well."