As is always the case, there is no lack of good storylines surrounding the trainers in this year's Kentucky Derby. Trainers are interesting - they are the biggest factor in the development of the horses and their ability to race on the big day, but on the actual race day, and especially in the race itself, there is nothing they can do to help their horse reach the finish line first. It is out of their hands - and you can tell that it drives most of them crazy. As we get ready for this year's epic Kentucky Derby, here are six of the many interesting trainers in the field:
Bob Baffert: 1948. That's how far back you have to go to find a trainer who has as loaded a duo of horses in the Derby as Baffert has. Back then it was Ben Jones who had Citation, who went on to win the Triple Crown, and Coaltown, who became horse of the year in 1949. We don't yet know, of course, whether American Pharoah and Dortmund will be able to live up to the hype. They are the horses trainers can spend their whole careers only dreaming of, though, and he has them both in the same year. Baffert could use a break in the Derby - though he has won it three times, the last came in 2002. This could be the year.
Todd Pletcher: I probably take a bit too much pleasure in mocking Pletcher for his Derby struggles. It's just that he is such a dominant trainer most of the year, though, that it makes no sense how he has won the race only once after having entered 40 horses. Actually it does make some sense - he goes for quantity over quality and consistently races his horses too little heading into the Derby. What he does obviously works for getting horses to the race - he regularly has the most horses in the field, and as I write he will have at least two and as many as five in the field this year. It just doesn't translate into success on the day. I find it very easy to discount any horse he has in this race and will continue to do so until he proves me wrong.
D. Wayne Lukas: We have to look at the legendary Lukas in two ways in this race. First, as a Triple Crown trainer he has no modern peer. He has won the Derby four times, and his 14 Triple Crown race wins is the best ever. The 79 year old seemed to be at the end of his career as much as a decade ago, but recently he has had a resurgence - including a Preakness win with Oxbow in 2013. I'm not crazy about his horse here, but you can never count him out. As significantly, you have to look at his training tree. Many of the country's top trainers were former assistants of Lukas. In this race alone, Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mike Maker, and George Weaver are all former Lukas assistants (and Weaver left Lukas eventually to work under Pletcher). As many as nine of the 20 horses in the field, then, could be trained by Lukas or guys who taught the game to.
Mike de Kock: de Kock isn't familiar to a lot of North American racing fans, but he has made his mark around the world. He is from South Africa, and he started his career by establishing himself as the best trainer in that country. He branched out, first taking horses to races around the world and then spending a lot of time in Dubai. There, he landed training gigs with the royal family, and the international races were attended - and won - even more often. He is based out of Dubai as much as anywhere right now, but he is truly an international star. He is new to the Derby, though, so it remains to be seen if he can do what the ultra-rich Sheiks from Dubai have so far failed to do - make a breakthrough in North America's biggest race.
John Terranova: At first glance Terranova is out of his element here. Though he has long been a trainer in New York, he has rarely had horses of this caliber and hasn't messed with the Triple crown before. When you look closer, though, you realize that he isn't as unfamiliar with top horses as you might assume. His wife, who works closely with him, was a former assistant to Bob Baffert. Now, whenever Baffert has a horse to race in New York he sends it to Terranova to settle it in and look after it while it is there. Often Baffert doesn't even make the trip - he just lets Terranova take care of everything. That is a ringing endorsement for Terranova's horse sense. It's also thanks to Baffert that Terranova has El Kabeir this year. Long-time Baffert client El Kabeir was looking for another trainer for their youngsters this year - they also own American Pharoah with Baffert, and Mr. Z with Lukas - and Baffert suggested Terranova.
Mark Casse: Casse has been establishing himself in the U.S. and has had some solid success doing so. Sooner or later, though, he is going to have a breakthrough and start to enjoy the success he has had in Canada. He has won the Sovereign Award as the top trainer in Canada in seven of the last nine years, including the last four. He has won every race worth winning up there, and he is particularly good at developing young horses. He will win a Derby before he is done. Probably not this year, but at some point.
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