Strong Field Competes at Kentucky Derby

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By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) — Accented by a blue, clearing sky, the twin spires at Churchill Downs towered Saturday afternoon over fancy hats, mint juleps and bettors making their final choices in one of the strongest fields in recent Kentucky Derby history.

Among the favorites in the 138th running of the Derby are Union Rags, trained by Michael Matz of Barbaro fame, at 9-2; Bodemeister, 7-1; Gemologist, 8-1; Take Charge Indy, 10-1; and Hansen, 13-1.

A crowd of revelers expected to swell to about 165,000 began arriving hours before the 6:24 p.m. ET post time, securing their seats for what’s called either “the most exciting two minutes in sports” or “the fastest two minutes in sports.”

Nearly $1.5 million of the $2.2 million purse will go to the winner of the 1¼-mile classic.

Nicknamed the “Run for the Roses” for the garland that is draped over the winner, the Kentucky Derby traces its rich history back to 1875, when Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. decided to inaugurate a race in his home state of Kentucky.

The race is also the first leg in the venerable Triple Crown, the other two legs being the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Considered one of the sternest tests in thoroughbred racing, only 11 horses have ever won all three, the most recent being Affirmed, 34 years ago.

Six years after Barbaro captivated the racing world with his electrifying Kentucky Derby win, Matz is back at Churchill Downs with another bay colt, Union Rags.

“In some ways they’re similar — they’re both very competitive” the 61-year-old says. “Union Rags has a little bit more white on his face than Barbaro did but they’re both elegant-looking horses.

“He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast — so far I haven’t found any faults in him. I think he’s got a good chance.”

— CNN’s Alysen Miller contributed to this report.

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