The horses do the work. The jockeys make the decisions in the race that let the horses do that work. The trainers try to make the horses as ready as they possibly can to do their work. It's a partnership with three crucial parts. The trainers are the only ones that frequently have to worry about more than one horse in the field. They are also the ones that can make the most money - but also face the most stress. This year's Kentucky Derby has an interesting collection of characters in the role as trainer - from the very familiar to the completely obscure. Here are the highlights:
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Bob Baffert - Mor Spirit: Baffert hasn't done much in the Derby lately - other than winning the freaking Triple Crown last year, of course. This horse is no American Pharoah, but Baffert has had plenty of horses here and has consistently done well - four Derby wins, three seconds and three thirds. He knows what it takes to have his horses ready.
Todd Pletcher - Destin, Outwork: Pletcher is very good at getting horses into the Derby field - he has multiple horses most years, and these two, if they make the starting gate, will make it 45 starters for his career. The problem is that he is just plain lousy in the actual race. In 43 prior starts he has just one win. Far more often he has not even been a factor in the race - even when he has had a quarter of the field. Until he shows that he can win this race more consistently he is going to wear his failures here like an albatross.
Steve Asmussen - Creator, Gun Runner: Asmussen was just elected to the Hall of Fame this week, so it will be a memorable spring regardless of what happens here. He has never won a Kentucky Derby despite plenty of wins and big success over the years, so he really needs this to cap his career off. Unlike Pletcher, though, he hasn't had nearly as many horses in the field. This is the deepest and best shot he has had at wearing the roses.
Chad Brown - Shagaf, My Man Sam: Brown is the king of the turf in New York - and, increasingly, everywhere else. He has not yet shown the same dominance on dirt or with three year olds, but he is such a superstar trainer that it was just a matter of time before he got serious about this race. He may not have the horsepower to win it this year, but he will take one down - at least - before he is done with things. Brown has tremendous talent.
Doug O'Neill - Nyquist: O'Neill won the Derby and the Preakness with I'll Have Another before the somewhat suspicious scratch of the horse leading into the Belmont. He is not least divisive trainer, and not one that I can even pretend to respect personally. He has had some troubles with racing authorities in the past and will always operate under that shadow. He has won this race before, though, and has done absolutely nothing wrong leading into this race with this horse. Maybe this is the year I start to turn the corner of my opinion of him - though I doubt it.
Kiaran McLaughlin - Mohaymen: McLaughlin has been around so long and at such a high level that you would be forgiven for assuming that he has had more Triple Crown success than he actually has - the 2006 Belmont with Jazil was his only win. In reality, he hasn't even tried to win this race that much as younger horses have not been his focus. It's exciting to see this guy have a horse like this in the race - though expectations have dimmed considerably after the horrible outing in the Florida Derby.
Gustavo Delgado - Majesto: Delgado is the leading trainer in the history of Venezuela, having won the Triple Crown there four times over a 30-year career. He is a legend there, but a few years ago he needed a bigger challenge. He headed to Florida where he immediately won a training title at Gulfstream. The success hasn't been quite as significant since then, and his horse is definitely a long shot here, but he certainly has the game for big races.
Donnie Von Hemel - Suddenbreakingnews: This is the first trip to the Derby for Von Hemel or his family, but he is part of a Midwest racing dynasty. He is a top trainer at Oaklawn Park and Remington Park and has won more than 2,000 races - including the Breders' Cup Dirt Mile in 2011 with Caleb's Posse. His father, Don, is still training on the same circuit and has won more than 2,500 times. Brother Kelly is also on the same circuit and has an impressive 1,350 wins to his credit. The Von Hemel's know racing and bring interesting flavor to this year's Derby
Mikio Matsunaga - Lani: Matsunaga is making just his third North American start - he raced here twice in 2010, finishing third in a graded stakes. Matsunaga has been training in Japan for 10 years and has had plenty of success in that time - he's not the best in Japan, but he has done well. Prior to his training career he was a successful jockey, though never able to surpass his biggest rival - the legendary Yutaka Take, who now rides frequently for Matsunaga and will be aboard Lani.
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