2014 Kentucky Derby Trainers
by Trevor Whenham - 4/24/2014
As is typically the case, the field this year for the Kentucky Derby offers a mix of established star trainers and unfamiliar names with interesting stories. Here's a look at six of the most interesting Kentucky Derby trainer storylines. Be sure to check Doc's Sports Kentucky Derby page daily leading up to the big race for the best content to help you beat your bookie for the Run for the Roses.
Bob Baffert - Hoppertunity and Chitu: In major team sports there are public teams - those that the public bets on faithfully because of the combination of their success and reputation. Baffert is probably horse racing's most public trainer. He is talented and charismatic, and he has never met a camera he didn't like. He has won the Derby three times, and he fell just short of a Triple Crown each time. Though he hasn't won a Derby in 12 years, he has come close in recent years. Most frustratingly, he finished second in all three Triple Crown races in 2012. He has a very live entrant in Hoppertunity this year, and Chitu is one-dimensional and unproven but talented and intriguing. Both horses will get more attention from bettors than they would if anyone else was training them.
Todd Pletcher - Danza, We Miss Artie, Intense Holiday, Vinceremos: Pletcher won the Derby in 2010 with Super Saver. This is a very tough race to win, so having one victory is an accomplishment. In his case, though, it is tainted by the fact that that he has entered 35 horses that haven`t won. Many of those horses have been quality runners that have underperformed badly. It's hard to argue that Pletcher isn't the most successful active trainer right now. For some reason, though, he has been largely incapable of getting his horses ready for the biggest of days. It's particularly mystifying because he has been very successful in getting horses in the field. He has had five horses in the race more than once, and he would have had five again this year if Constitution hadn't been injured. I'm intrigued by Danza, who sprung onto the national scene by romping home in the Arkansas Derby at 41/1. Outside of that, though, I don't see this group as particularly strong for Pletcher. I think that ugly 1-for-36 record is going to get uglier this year.
Steve Asmussen - Tapiture: Asmussen has found himself at the eye of a storm this spring. PETA took secret video of his now-former assistant trainer Scott Blasi treating horses very poorly. It caused Asmussen to lose a lot of business, and it has hit his reputation hard. He kept Tapiture because the owners didn't want to disrupt him heading into the Derby. The whole situation has been a massive distraction, and it will continue to be one throughout the lead-up to the race.
Art Sherman - California Chrome: I can't get enough of this story. You couldn't make up a less likely story about the trainer of a heavy Kentucky Derby favorite if you tried. Sherman, who is 77, will be making his Derby debut - as a trainer at least. In 1955 Sherman was the exercise rider for Derby winner Swaps, and he rode with the horse in his boxcar as he traveled by train from California to Louisville. Sherman is as old school as a trainer can be, and he trains out of Los Alamitos - not exactly the epicenter of top-flight racing. Sherman has had just 31 starts this year. By contrast, Asmussen has already had 514. Sherman has 11 wins, though, so he knows his game. It remains to be seen, though, how well he handles being placed in the glaring spotlight he will be in as the Derby nears. His horse will be the overwhelming favorite , and everyone will want a piece of him.
Peter Eurton - Dance With Fate: Eurton is another California-based trainer making his Derby debut. He has long run a small, low-volume stable in California, and exposure on this level is new to him. Beyond the inexperience, though, my biggest concern with this horse is that Eurton has reversed course. He was aimed carefully for the Blue Grass Stakes, a race run on a synthetic track. He won impressively, and he was immediately shipped back home to Santa Anita - even though the Blue Grass takes place just an hour away from Churchill Downs. Eurton repeatedly made it seem like he had no interest in running his horse in the Derby - and given the clear preference the horse has for synthetic surfaces, that wasn't a surprise. Overcome by Derby fever, though, he changed his mind and committed the horse to the race. I wouldn't like the move by any trainer, but when the trainer is already seemingly out of his element this is a serious warning sign.
William Gowan - Ride On Curlin: The man known as "Bronco" is easily the most unlikely of trainers here. Based in Kentucky, the guy trains a small stable almost exclusively of claimers, and he has had just seven starters this year. He has been training since 1994 but has never had more than 48 starts. He found an owner with some money and convinced him to buy a yearling at the famous Keeneland sale. They didn't even have time to vet check or even closely look at the one horse they wound up buying - Ride On Curlin. That is the kind of crazy story that you would dismiss as impossible if you saw it in a movie, yet here we are. He's obviously hopelessly outclassed, but he's got a live horse, and that's all that matters. I'm sure movie executives are keeping an eye on him just in case he does pull off the miraculous win.
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