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    Todd Pletcher has his strongest Kentucky Derby contingent yet
    • April 28, 2023

    There’s way more to the Kentucky Derby than who’s going to win the race on May 6. Sure, that’s what draws most people to America’s most famous horse race, but there are so many other sidelights to the Run for the Roses other than whether a 3-year-old can get a mile and a quarter.

    None of the 20 horses that will run in the 149th Kentucky Derby have run a mile and a quarter. Some might never do it again. Whether they can successfully navigate the classic distance is as unknown as some of the prop bets someone can take a swing at if they feel so inclined.

    Consider, courtesy of BetUS, the number of unique wagers a bettor can place that have nothing to do with the race itself:

    • Will the national anthem be sung by Carly Pearce in over or under 2 minutes and 2 seconds:?

    Over -105 and Under -135.

    • Will Pearce forget a word during her rendition:?

    No -600 and Yes +350.

    • Color of the winning horse:

    Dark Bay -115, Bay +150, Chestnut +300, Gray +400 and Brown +700.

    • Who will the winning jockey thank first?

    Horse owner, trainer, horse, family or higher power +275 each.

    • Jockey’s celebration method:

    Fist pump +150, Kissing the Horse +150, Waving to the crowd +300.

    • Margin of victory:

    3 lengths to 5¾ lengths +200, Head +800, Neck +800, Nose +1,000.

    Now, there’s no wagering involved, but since I most likely have some readers who look forward to Derby Day because of the food and drinks, let’s take a look at’s list of favorites:

    The most popular dish nationwide is pimento cheese, the top choice in 11 states. Roughly one in four who show up for the Derby dress to impress, making it one of sports’ most stylish affairs. The mint julep is still the go-to cocktail, a tradition that dates to its first Derby in 1937.

    See what I mean about so many other talking points than just the race itself?

    But of course, none of these sidelights would exist if not for the magical Derby, so let’s touch on an aspect of the race – the fact trainer Todd Pletcher, who went so long before winning his first Derby in 2010 with Super Saver then had to wait only seven years more to win his second with Always Dreaming.

    Pletcher might have four in this year’s running, including two of the three favorites in Forte and Tapit Thrice, and he believes it’s his strongest Derby brigade ever.

    “I would say, in terms of para-mutual support, it’s probably going to be the strongest team that we’ve brought,” Pletcher said on a national teleconference this week. “I think only one time have we started a favorite and that was in 2017, with Always Dreaming, where I think you could argue it was possible that Forte and Tapit Trice could be the favorite and second choice, or close to it.

    “So I think, in terms of that, it’s probably our strongest group, and their accomplishments on the way, having a champion 2-year-old, to follow that up with a Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby win. And then Tapit Trice with the Tampa Derby and a Blue Grass win, I think you could say that’s the deepest squad we’ve put up so far.”

    Pletcher, the 55-year-old Dallas native who has won eight Eclipse Awards as the nation’s top trainer, likes one of his longshots, Louisiana Derby winner Kingsbarns, who won at the marathon distance of 1-3/16 miles in only his third start. Major Dude would be Pletcher’s fourth starter if he draws in off the also-eligible list.

    “In an ideal world, you’d have a little more seasoning into him, another start or two, but this is kind of the way it’s unfolded,” Pletcher said. “And, based on the strength of that race, he certainly deserves an opportunity.”

    Follow Art Wilson on Twitter at @Sham73

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    ​ Orange County Register