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Gene Kershner’s Post Time: Favorites face challenges at Derby

A wide open Kentucky Derby field can translate into big numbers at the betting window on the First Saturday in May.

We’re one week away from the 142nd Run for the Roses under the iconic Twin Spires at Churchill Downs and this year’s field is teeming with parity. Only the undefeated Nyquist, winner of seven straight races including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Florida Derby, has a resume that points toward the winner’s circle.

Even though Nyquist will be the post-time favorite, questions linger as to his speed and ability to conquer the 10-furlong Derby distance.

So that means only one thing … it’s time to search out some bombs that could crash the party and spring double-digit odds into the exacta or trifecta.

Since 2011, colts such as Golden Soul (34-1) and Commanding Curve (38-1) have finished second and horses such as Animal Kingdom (21-1) and I’ll Have Another (15-1) have donned the roses.

Favorites have won the past three editions (Orb, California Chrome and American Pharoah), so this could be a prime year for a big bomb or chaos at the Derby.

Who are some horses that could crash the exotic bets or even pull off a major upset in this year’s Kentucky Derby?

Majesto: This son of Tiznow entered the Derby scene with a surprising second-place finish in the 1∂-mile Florida Derby behind 2-year-old champion Nyquist, finishing strong under top jockey Javier Castellano on an off track.

“He really gave a big effort. Not too many horses step up like that and gallop out like he did,” Castellano said after the race.

While Castellano will likely ride Destin for Todd Pletcher next weekend, the gallop out after the wire and the fact that this ridgling could be rounding into form heading into the Derby is enough to make me pay attention.

His trainer, Gustavo Delgado, is not a household name in the States, but has won his native Venezuela’s version of the Triple Crown four times and its most famous race, the Clasico Simon Bolivar, five times. The guy knows how to train and he has a horse that could sneak up and grab a piece of this Derby.

Suddenbreakingnews: I’m not going to lie. This horse has grabbed my fancy and I love his late-closing style and turn of foot he’s shown in two of his last three races at Oaklawn. He’ll need a total pace meltdown to win the Derby, and this race just oozes the possibility of a crazy finish.

A gray son of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft out of an Afleet Alex mare ran out of track in the Arkansas Derby, finishing a length-and-a-quarter behind Creator. The additional furlong can only benefit the colt in Louisville at odds that should be somewhere around 20-1 at post time.

Luis Quinonez, who has been aboard Suddenbreakingnews in all eight of his starts, has the Derby mount. Throw out his Rebel, where he encountered traffic trouble, and trainer Donnie Von Hemel may have an upset candidate.

Trojan Nation: Since 1937 only nine maidens – a horse that has never won a sanctioned race – have run the Kentucky Derby. The last was Nationalore, who finished ninth in 1998. When Trojan Nation lost a head bob in the Wood Memorial at 81-1, he obtained 40 qualifying points and a spot in Kentucky Derby 142. His finish in the Wood was only the first time that he’s been in the exacta.

Plenty of national handicappers have already tossed him or mocked his record. A deeper dive into his pedigree shows his damsire, Summer Squall, was a Derby runner-up and a Preakness winner. His sire, Street Cry, won the Dubai World Cup and Stephen Foster and is the sire of the great Zenyatta.

Was his Wood finish a fluke or was it an improving colt that picked his spot and is a late developer? He’s not likely to win, but with his stamina and late-closing style, it may be worth tossing him in the third or fourth slots underneath at a monster price.

Mohaymen: His battle of the titans with Nyquist and subsequent fourth-place finish was a disappointment, but he did win five straight before the Florida Derby, which was run on an off track, so he has some excuses for the poor effort. He’ll likely be in the 12/15-to-1 range on the tote board, and that may be worth taking a shot that he has a big chance to rebound.

The $2.2 million purchase by Shadwell Stable was in everyone’s top two before the Florida Derby and he’s almost fallen off the map on many Derby top-10 lists. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin should relish the underdog role, and the son of Tapit should be a value play.

His tracking running style is just the type that wins the Kentucky Derby.

Those are four horses to keep an eye on over the next week as they work on the Churchill strip. The post position draw is set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday on NBC Sports Network. I will be on site in Louisville starting Wednesday with daily updates at the Sports, Ink blog.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace.