A recent poll on the official website of the Kentucky Derby told you much of what you need to know about the racegoing experience at America's most famous race. What, it asked, is the biggest challenge of Derby Day? Among six possible answers were: Parking, Sneaking Stuff In, Getting Home and Walking Around.
The Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs is a day at the races like no other in America. For one thing, it has a crowd - an immense mass of spectators, many of them crammed into the infield, where they can expect to see precisely nothing of the race. For another, America cares about it, and tears itself away from baseball and the NBA play-offs to study the field and try to find the winner.
And this year's race could be truly unique. In 125 previous runnings of the Kentucky Derby, only seven runners trained by a woman have cantered to post, and not one has stood anything but a rank outsider's chance. This year, though, a horse called The Deputy will start second-favourite, at around 6-1, to make Jenine Sahadi the first woman to saddle a Derby winner.
The Deputy will not be a complete stranger to some British punters, particularly those who backed him from 16-1 to 7-1 for the St Leger Yearling Stakes at Doncaster last September. Then with John Hills, The Deputy came from nowhere to be touched off by two short-heads, before leaving to continue his career in the States with a record of just one win in five races to his name.
The transition to dirt has been the making of him, however. He was a convincing winner of the Santa Anita Derby, his third victory in four starts as a three-year-old, with War Chant and Captain Steve, both of whom are expected to reoppose on Saturday, beaten by one and two lengths respectively.
Sahadi, who spent several years working in marketing for Hollywood Park before taking out a licence to train, is used to fighting her corner in a sport which, just as in Britain, remains deeply chauvinist. At a recent press conference, she was seated at the same podium as fellow trainer Bob Baffert, who enquired of Chris McCarron, The Deputy's rider, "Who's training The Deputy, you or Janine." A few seconds later, answering a question about her horse, Sahadi responded: "Thank God my horse has a lot of class, because there are some people here who don't have any." With that, she put down the microphone, and strode from the stage.
Baffert, who has won two of the last three Kentucky Derbys, will rely on Captain Steve, while D Wayne Lukas, three times a winner in the last five years, expects to have three runners, led by High Yield, winner of Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes.
The favourite is Fusaichi Pegasus, who beat The Deputy - who was giving him 6lb - by three-quarters of a length earlier this season. An impressive winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes, he is a temperamental sort and before his last race it took five minutes to get Fusaichi Pegasus into the stalls.
Godolphin will have their second Derby runner with China Visit, who is among the outsiders with Stateside bookies.
Sheikh Mohammed, Godolphin's driving force, will be at Churchill Downs on Saturday, rather than at Newmarket, where Fath, Broche and Zoning will represent Godolphin in the 2,000 Guineas. He, and Frankie Dettori, who rides China Visit, will then head for Newmarket on Sunday, where Bintalreef and Teggiano will carry the royal blue silks in the 1,000 Guineas.Reuse content