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May 03, 2013

Up the Backstretch: 35 years and hoping

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 (Sports Network) - The last time a horse swept the Triple Crown, Jimmy Carter was president of the United States and The Not Ready for Prime Time Players were still performing on "Saturday Night Live."

Affirmed had a classic three-race battle versus Alydar in 1978 to become the third thoroughbred to claim the Triple Crown in the 1970s. However, a 35-year drought has been going on since then.

Since 2001, five 3-year-olds have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but not the Belmont, with Smarty Jones coming the closest when he finished a heartbreaking second to Birdstone in 2004.

For the 139th Kentucky Derby, whose winner can be the only possible Triple Crown champion, a full field of 20 will be leaving the starting gate to travel the 1 1/4 miles.

Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia made a clear distinction between the three top-rated horses and the rest of the field. Orb, Verrazano and Goldencents are the only three with single-digit odds.

"I'm fine with that," trainer Shug McGaughey said when Orb was made the 7-2 morning-line favorite. "I heard a little rumor that Mike (Battaglia) was a little confused about who (the favorite) was. I think it's because the way (Orb) has done here that he went on and made him the favorite. As we all know, Verrazano (4-1 second pick) is a very, very talented horse. We'll see what the public does on Saturday, but I think he'll probably still be the favorite."

Getting the third spot at 5-1 is Goldencents whose trainer, Doug O'Neill won last year's Derby and Preakness with I'll Have Another.

"As far as Orb being the favorite over Verrazano, that's not an issue," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle Verrazano and four other starters. "He (Orb) deserves to be the favorite. And it might even be an advantage. There's usually more pressure on the favorite."

The post positions for the three favorites came up fine with Goldencents in post 8 and Orb just two slots over from Verrazano, 16 and 14, respectively.

"I think from where he is, we'll try to hold our position," McGaughey said on Orb's post, "and maybe try to creep in a little bit around the first turn and then (Joel Rosario) can watch what's going on inside of him. He can watch what Johnny (Velazquez) is doing on Verrazano. If Johnny thinks Orb is the horse to beat, he's going to watch what we're doing, too."

The trainer with the most experience in the Kentucky Derby is four-time winner D. Wayne Lukas. The Hall of Famer last won the Run for the Roses in 1999 with Charismatic.

"The reality of it is, it's not an easy spot for anybody," Lukas said after watching his horses Oxbow and Will Take Charge jog Wednesday morning. "I think it's pretty wide-open, like everybody's telling you. I don't think we've got Secretariat in this bunch, even Seattle Slew. So, I think it's going to boil to trip and the pace and a lot of other things. I'm comfortable with where I'm at with my horses. If they're good enough, we'll find out, but I'm comfortable."

We don't yet know if there is a Secretariat or any of the other 10 Triple Crown champions in this year's field. I doubt whether anyone is expecting the 12th to appear.

Should no Triple Crown champion emerge, disappointment will not last beyond the beginning of the next Triple Crown cycle.

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