One jockey hopes to be the first African-American since 1902 to ride to victory at the Kentucky Derby.
Another wants to be the first female to win it.
A favorite colt could break a century-old "curse."
And an acclaimed trainer has stacked the lineup with five thoroughbreds, making it possible for a first-ever sweep of America's most prestigious horse race.
Any of those outcomes would make this year's Derby, to be run Saturday evening, a historic one. But the Derby can just as quickly give birth to new legends. It is the first leg of the Triple Crown, so the winner, no matter who it is, will automatically become a contender for horse racing's biggest prize, which hasn't been captured in 35 years.
"It's a career maker," retired jockey and television analyst Richard Migliore said. "The Triple Crown's other two races, the Preakness and the Belmont, are extremely important in their own right, but the Derby blazes the path. After the Derby, there's always the hope for a Triple Crown."
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The competition at this year's Derby is so tight that the official oddsmaker at Churchill Downs, Mike Battaglia, waited until the last minute to decide which of the 3-year-olds to name as the morning-line favorite.
In the end, Battaglia chose Orb, a colt on a four-race winning streak, including the Florida Derby, as the favorite before the race was opened to betting Friday morning. He'll be ridden by Joel Rosario.
Orb's trainer, Shug McGaughey, said he was happy to be the early favorite, but said there was a possibility that betting activity could change that image.
Battaglia's close second was Verrazano, who for many weeks was considered the Derby's top contender. Verrazano is one of trainer Todd Pletcher's five horses in the Derby and will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who won the 2011 Derby atop Animal Kingdom. Verrazano's handlers have taken an unorthodox approach, running him only as a 3-year-old. No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby without racing first as a 2-year-old. Since then, "Apollo's curse" has been blamed for other horses' inability to duplicate the feat. Moreover, only two horses have won the Derby with as few races as Verrazano has run. That may be part of the reason why the buzz over him has faded in recent days.
Behind Verrazano in the early odds-making was Goldencents. The bay colt is part-owned by Rick Pitino, coach of the national-champion Louisville men's basketball team, and is trained by Doug O'Neill, who handled last years Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another. He'll be ridden by Kevin Krigger, 27, who has a good shot at becoming the first African-American in more than a century to win the Derby.
Another jockey who will be closely watched is 25-year-old Rosie Napravnik, who'll be aboard Mylute in her quest to become the first female jockey to win the Derby. Napravnik is the winningest female jockey in racing's history, and was the top jockey this year at Fair Grounds Race Court in New Orleans.
The total purse for the Derby, assuming all 20 horses start, will be more than $2.1 million, with $1.4 million for the winner.
The 6:24 p.m. race will be broadcast on NBC, with coverage starting at 4 p.m. ET. A livestream will be available on nbcsports.com (Note: You must log in with your cable company's username and password to access the live video).