Trainer Bob Baffert is counting on talent to overcome a lack of experience when he sends early favorite Bodemeister out on Saturday in the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Bodemeister was dazzling in winning the Arkansas Derby by 9 1/2 lengths, but the colt did not race as a two-year-old and has just four career starts.
Such lightly raced horses have not fared well historically in the Kentucky Derby, the first jewel in US flat racing's Triple Crown. The last Kentucky Derby champion who was unraced as a two-year-old was Apollo in 1982.
Bodemeister's owner, Ahmed Zayat, relishes the challenge.
"Listen, it's daunting going against history, long history," Zayat said. "But if he does it, he becomes a special horse."
The 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby is the first of the trio of races that make up the Triple Crown, along with the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
The last horse to complete the coveted treble was Affirmed in 1978.
Bodemeister drew the sixth post in the full 20-horse field on Wednesday and was installed as the early 4-1 favorite.
Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia admitted there was little to choose between Bodemeister and Union Rags, a Grade I winner who drew the fourth slot and was made the 9-2 second choice.
Unbeaten Wood Memorial winner Gemologist was the 6-1 third choice out of the 15th post.
"I haven't had two favorites this close since Street Sense and Curlin (in 2007)," said Battaglia, who has been making the Derby morning line since 1975.
"It was very close. Bodemeister's Arkansas Derby was huge. He got a big number, it was 10 points higher than any other horse on the Beyer (Speed Figures) scale, which bettors look at."
Union Rags trainer Michael Matz said he would have preferred a higher gate than five, but with little speed in the stalls around him, "I don't see why he can't go right behind Bodemeister or be right with him.
"Julien Leparoux is going to have to come and let him run a little bit, but I don't think that's the worst thing in the world. My original thought, I wasn't crazy about it, but the way everybody is, I don't think it is so bad," Matz said.
Trinniberg, the expected pace-setter, starts from post nine. The speedy Hansen starts from 14.
Twenty-one horses were actually entered for the race. My Adonis is on the also-eligible list and could get in if a horse scratches by Friday morning.
Creative Cause has had some hoof issues and did not go to the track on Tuesday or Wednesday but was still scheduled to run as of the draw.
The Aidan O'Brien-trained raider Daddy Long Legs had the misfortune to draw the first post.
The colt finished 12th of 13 in the Breeders Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs last year, but O'Brien said that was due to a poor start rather than the dirt.
He has attempted to condition Daddy Long Legs to a US-style start, but while eight horses have won the race from the rail since the starting gate was introduced in 1930, the last to do so was Ferdinand in 1986.
When the Baffert-trained Lookin At Lucky broke from the rail as the favorite in 2010, the son of Smart Strike got slammed at the start and finished sixth.
Baffert admitted he heaved a sigh of relief when Bodemeister avoided the number one post.
"After Lookin At Lucky, when he got the one hole, the excitement just left me because I knew he just had too much to overcome," Baffert recalled. "I just didn't want to see (Bodemeister) in the one."
Still, since suffering a heart attack while in Dubai to run two horses in the World Cup card on March 31, Baffert says he tries to take such tensions in his stride.
"Ever since it happened, I've changed," said the 59-year-old Baffert, who also saddles Liason in the Derby.
"I don't get so worked up about something. Still, I get excited. I just realize that I've got this second chance. I could easily have died in Dubai. If it would have happened on the plane, I would have been toast.
"I used to worry about things that I shouldn't have been worrying about. If I can't change it, why worry about it?"