It's both a typical and very abnormal year when it comes to Kentucky Derby trainers. Todd Pletcher has a big group of horses entered as he always does, but Bob Baffert has none. The latter will take some getting used to, and it means that this race - or at least the week leading up to it - just won't be as interesting as it could be. There are plenty of other trainers here, though, and plenty of talent among them. Let's take a look at the most interesting and compelling storylines:
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Todd Pletcher - Always Dreaming, Tapwrit, Malagacy, Patch, Battalion Runner: Pletcher could have a quarter of the field, but Malagacy seems more likely to scratch and wait for the Belmont, so four seems like the more likely number. History would suggest that it doesn't matter how many he runs. Pletcher has started an incredible 45 horses in the Derby - often several at a time. Super Saver is his only win. It's not like has always run also-rans, either. He has an incredibly high-powered stable, and his owners give him all the talent any trainer could dream of. For some reason, though, on this day he can't get horses to be their best - even though he's among the best on the planet the other 364 days of the year. His horses are often less experienced than I would like for this race - and Malagacy, Battalion Runner and especially Patch have that issue this year. That doesn't help, but history alone would make me very skeptical of his horses.
Mark Casse - Classic Empire, State of Honor: Casse is an American, but he has long dominated racing in Canada. He has shifted his focus southward the last few years, and the results have been impressive - he won two Eclipse Awards last year alone. He does not have a Triple Crown win yet, but he has a likely Derby favorite this time around in Classic Empire. It's a matter of "when" not "if" he wins a Triple Crown race. I wouldn't be surprised if he wins his first Derby before Pletcher wins his next.
John Shirreffs - Gormley: Shirreffs owes me money. In 2005 I bet on several horses in the Derby, but none of them were Giacomo, the 50/1 long shot that made Mine That Bird in 2009 seem like a logical pick in comparison. It was the lone moment of true glory on the Triple Crown trail for Shirreffs - he finished seventh in 2007, with Giacomo's half brother Tiago. Shirreffs doesn't spend a lot of time messing with three year olds, but his success with horses like the legendary Zenyatta or Life is Sweet show that he is very capable of shining on big stages.
Graham Motion - Irish War Cry: Motion, who is from England, feels like a throwback to a different time or a different place. He mostly trains and keeps his horses at his own stable, traveling on or near race days. He works them on synthetic tracks even when they run on dirt for their races. And he has stayed in Maryland as his base even though he has had the success to expand to a bigger region or go national. He hasn't always had three year olds at this level, but he won the race with Animal Kingdom, so he certainly has to be respected. When he has one in a major race it's ready.
Saeed bin Suroor - Thunder Snow: Some guys are in the right place at the right time. Saeed bin Suroor started training in 1993, and just a year later he became a house trainer for Sheikh Mohammed and his Godolphin stable - the largest and arguably most powerful training and breeding stable in the world. The stable uses many trainers around the world, but bin Suroor is the lead man, and he has had no shortage of top horses around the world. He has won major races on four continents, including three Breeders' Cup races and several other big scores stateside. He has never broken through with a Triple Crown horse, though, and you can be certain that the Sheikh is hungry to change that.
Jerry Hollendorfer - Battle of Midway: Hollendorfer is a machine. He has been Top 10 in national wins for the last 30 straight years and is third all time in wins with more than 7,000. He has owned and picked out a lot of the horses he has won with, too, so he has an eye as good as his touch. He spent most of his time in Northern California but has branched out more aggressively in recent years, and has had phenomenal success with runners like Shared Belief, Songbird and Unique Bella. He hasn't won a Triple Crown race, or really come close, but he has won the Kentucky Oaks twice and has unfortunately missed it both this year and last year because of injuries to his runners despite having the best three-year-old filly and arguably three-year-old of any kind, both years.
Steve Asmussen - Untrapped, Lookin at Lee: At this point Asmussen technically doesn't have a horse in the field, but both of these are expected to be in the starting gate thanks to scratches. Asmussen certainly knows about winning - he's one of the two guys, and the only active one, with more wins than Hollendorfer, and he's 19 years younger. Asmussen runs a massive stable, and he has won the Preakness twice and the Belmont once but has yet to win the Derby. His best look in the Derby was Curlin in 2007, but that race was two weeks too soon for the colt as it turns out - he finished third but came back to win the Preakness.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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