Bodemeister: will bid to give trainer Bob Baffert his fourth Derby successPICTURE: getty images
Daddy Long Legs faces 'toughest' Derby test
Preview: USA, Saturday 11.24pm BST (live on RUK)
Churchill Downs: Kentucky Derby (Grade 1) 1m2f, dirt, 3yo
PERHAPS the most accomplished field for at least a decade lies in wait for Daddy Long Legs as the Irish colt bids to become the first European-trained winnerof the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
No fewer than nine of the horses who competed in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile at the same venue return for America's most celebrated race, among them the first five home headed by Hansen and Union Rags.
However, the likely favourite for the $2.2m event is runaway Arkansas Derby victor Bodemeister (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith), bidding to become his trainer's fourth winner after Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002).
Baffert, who barely a month ago suffered a heart attack in Dubai, is not counting his chickens in what looks a red-hot contest.
"This is one of the toughest Derbys I've been in probably the last 10 years," said Baffert, who also saddles outsider Liaison (Martin Garcia). "It's a really competitive field."
Bodemeister is bidding to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to capture the Derby without having run as a two-year-old.
According to the ante-post market, his main rival is Union Rags (Michael Matz/Julien Leparoux), who suffered a troubled wide trip when narrowly failing to run down Hansen at the Breeders' Cup. His trainer won the Derby in 2006 with the ill-fated Barbaro.
Daddy Long Legs (Aidan O'Brien/Colm O'Donoghue) has a lot to overcome after being handed the dreaded inside draw in gate one. At least, as a son of US Grade 1 winner Scat Daddy, Daddy Long Legs is bred to appreciate the dirt, even if the UAE Derby winner could finish only 12th of 13 in the Juvenile on his only previous experience of the surface.
Bob Baffert: saddles two runners in "toughest Derby in last 10 years"PICTURE: Horsephotos/NTRA
Alpha (Kiaran McLaughlin/Rajiv Maragh) will bid to improve on Godolphin's dismal record here, the Dubai team never having done better than China Visit's sixth place in 2000 from seven previous runners.
Alpha represents a departure as he did not spend the winter in Dubai and stayed with New York-based Kiaran McLaughlin following the closure of Saeed bin Suroor's US barn.
The former Ed McMahon-trained Went The Day Well (Graham Motion/John Velazquez) represents the same team as last year's winner Animal Kingdom, who also carried the colours of the Team Valor syndicate.
Cambridge-born Motion has a different perspective going into this year's race. "It was something that seemed unattainable before," he said. "Now that you've actually achieved it, it doesn't seem quite so lofty. It's like that with anything. If you climbed Everest, it would still be imposing, but not so unattainable."
The last owner, trainer, jockey combination to win the Kentucky Derby back-to-back was the trio of Penny Chenery's Meadow Stable, trainer Lucien Lauren and jockey Ron Turcotte, who doubled with Riva Ridge and Secretariat in 1972-73.
Other fancied runners in a top-class field include the unbeaten Gemologist (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano), who beat Alpha in the Wood Memorial on his most recent start.
He is joined by fellow Grade 1 trial winners Dullahan (Dale Romans/Kent Desormeaux), I'll Have Another (Doug O'Neill/Martin Gutierrez) and Take Charge Indy (Pat Byrne/Calvin Borel).
Perhaps they might as well stay at home if Dr Kendall Hansen, owner of Breeders' Cup winner Hansen (Mike Maker/Ramon Dominguez) is to be taken seriously. "We're going to win this race; we're not worried about anyone," he said.