The Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May – or, as it turns out in 2020, the first Saturday in September – is the Super Bowl of American Thoroughbred racing. Every trainer and jockey in the sport dreams, however casually, of giving or getting a leg up to answer the call to the post for the classic race.
"Everybody thinks about it," said Greg Foley, who grew up thinking about it in a racing family in Oldham County, Ky. "I've been doing this a long time, and it's the first time I've got one to lead over there. You always hope you've got a young horse coming in that can do it, but it's dodged me up till now."
Foley, who will lead over Major Fed on Saturday, grew up just outside the Derby city of Louisville. But the Run for the Roses ties together all worlds. The five trainers and three jockeys who take their first Derby shots this year have converged on Kentucky from Barbados, England, Guatemala, Italy, the United States, and Venezuela.
"This is the dream for every jockey in my country – to ride in the United States," said Venezuela's Samy Camacho, who will be aboard King Guillermo in the Derby. "This is the MLB of racing. When you're here, that's your dream – to ride the big races and ride in the Kentucky Derby. That was my dream."
Since the turn of the century, eight trainers have won the Kentucky Derby in their first attempt at the race. They are Neil Drysdale with Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000; Barclay Tagg with Funny Cide in 2003; John Servis with Smarty Jones in 2004; John Shirreffs with Giacomo in 2005; Michael Matz with Barbaro in 2006; Rick Dutrow with Big Brown in 2008; Chip Woolley with Mine That Bird in 2009; and Art Sherman with California Chrome in 2014. First-time Derby jockey Stewart Elliott teamed up with Servis to win, and Mario Gutierrez also won the Derby as a first-time rider, piloting I'll Have Another in 2012.
And although many of this year's first-timers are involved with longshots, they know that anything can happen in the Kentucky Derby.
"The only way I know you can't win it is if you're not in it," said Necker Island's trainer, Chris Hartman.
Juan Carlos Avila - Trainer, King Guillermo
56, Caracas, Venezuela