LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The girls already grabbed horse racing’s biggest headlines. Now another one is out to steal the sport’s biggest race from the boys.
Devil May Care will try to become the fourth filly to win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday and extend the dominance begun last year by Rachel Alexandra, who won the Preakness, and Zenyatta, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Those two finished 1-2 for Horse of the Year honors and they’re back competing this year.
Devil May Care is listed at 10-1 odds in her bid to join the last filly winner, Winning Colors in 1988. Just as important, her trainer, Todd Pletcher, knows plenty about beating the boys with a girl. He did it with Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont Stakes, his only victory in a Triple Crown race.
But Pletcher is 0 for 24 in the Derby, where his horses have finished last five times and next-to-last twice.
“When you get an exceptional animal, you’ve got to give them a chance to do exceptional things,” owner John Greathouse said.
“I’d dearly love our filly to be the one to break this deal for him,” he added.
Devil May Care will run two years after filly Eight Belles finished a gallant second, then broke down past the finish line of the 1 1/4 -mile race and had to be euthanized on the track.
“It’s a big challenge for all of them – filly, colts and geldings,” Pletcher said. “She’s been preparing her whole life to run long and I think that’s what she wants to do.”
He has no qualms about sending a filly into the 20-horse fray. Muscular colt Lookin At Lucky is the 3-1 favorite, followed by Sidney’s Candy at 5-1. Joining Devil May Care as the third favorite are Florida Derby winner Ice Box and Gotham Stakes champion Awesome Act.
“I’ve had the opportunity to train her with colts and she’s always done very well,” Pletcher said. “Eight Belles happened to get hurt in the Derby. It wasn’t that she wasn’t healthy. She ran well.”
Devil May Care has won three of five career races, including her debut in the slop at Saratoga last August. That might be a plus on Saturday, when heavy rain is forecast to turn the Churchill Downs strip into a muddy mess.
When Devil May Care has lost, it hasn’t been pretty. Her two losses were by a combined 23 lengths.
But Greathouse is confident the brown filly won’t be intimidated. She’s not as big as Zenyatta, but she’s not dainty, either.
“If I lead this filly out here and a colt out beside her, you’re not going to be able to tell the difference unless you look under her dress,” he said. “She’s just a big strong animal that can take care of yourself.”
After arriving at Churchill Downs with seven potential starters, Pletcher is down to four. His best horse, Eskendereya, was withdrawn last weekend because of a swollen left front leg.
Besides the filly, Pletcher will saddle Louisiana Derby winner Mission Impazible, Arkansas Derby runner-up Super Saver, and Risen Star winner Discreetly Mine. However, once Eskendereya got hurt, much of the attention this week shifted to Bob Baffert’s Lookin At Lucky.
The three-time Derby-winning trainer could tie D. Wayne Lukas if Lookin At Lucky or his other horse, Conveyance, delivers.
Asked about that prospect, Baffert said, “It’s like asking somebody what would it be like if you won the lottery.”
He paused, scrunched up his tanned face and deadpanned, “I’d feel horrible.”
Before Devil May Care takes the stage Saturday, Rachel Alexandra returns to the scene of her most dominating victory.
She won last year’s Derby eve Kentucky Oaks by an astonishing 20 1/4 lengths, encouraging co-owner Jess Jackson to run her against the boys in the Preakness. She responded with a win, beating Derby champion Mine That Bird.
Her biggest rival today is Zardana in the all-female La Troienne Stakes. Zardana beat Rachel Alexandra last month in New Orleans, ending her eight-race winning streak.
Devil May Care is skipping the Oaks for a shot at the biggest prize in horse racing.
Lukas, who trained Winning Colors, knows it isn’t going to be easy. He visited the Kentucky Derby Museum this week, watching her win again during his personal 2 1/2 -hour film festival.
But when asked if he discovered any secrets to winning, he only smiled.
“I’m not going to tell you,” he said.