LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The favorite was pulled at the start of the week. Heavy thunderstorms in the forecast could turn the dirt strip at Churchill Downs into something resembling peanut butter.
A year after Mine That Bird won at 50-1 odds by hugging the rail in the slop, the Kentucky Derby is setting up for another wild finish today. A full field of 20 3-year-olds is poised to run 1 1/4 miles for a $1.4 million prize.
Lookin At Lucky is the 3-1 morning-line choice, with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert seeking his fourth victory. He inherited the role of favorite after trainer Todd Pletcher withdrew Eskendereya because of a swollen leg. Eskendereya was touted as the latest super horse after winning his last two starts by a combined 18 1/4 lengths.
"You got to be prepared for disappointment," said Baffert, whose front-running Pioneer of the Nile was overtaken in the stretch last year by Mine That Bird. "Especially in this race because you never know what's going to happen."
Pletcher, who is 0 for 24 in the Derby, will still saddle four horses but none is as highly regarded. The second choice is Sidney's Candy at 5-1, followed by three others at 10-1 -- Awesome Act, Ice Box and Pletcher's Devil May Care.
Devil May Care is trying to become the fourth filly to win America's most famous race. She was entered after regular rider John Velazquez became available when Eskendereya withdrew.
The forecast calls for highs in the mid-70s and a 100 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms that could produce 1 inch of rain in the morning.
Then there could be showers totaling a quarter of an inch through post time of 6:28 p.m.
The wettest Derby day was May 11, 1918, when 2.31 inches of rain fell, according to National Weather Service records.
Depending on how gloomy it gets, the 136th Derby could be the first run under the lights that were installed last winter. Churchill Downs says it has the option of flipping the switch to brighten things up.
Most of the field has no experience racing in the muck, including Lookin At Lucky, who has run only once on dirt but won. The colt, along with Sidney's Candy, Conveyance and American Lion are from California, where they run on synthetic surfaces.
"A lot of those horses are going to have mud splashed in their face," Baffert said. "It hits their belly and face. They throw their head up, they lose interest and they get scared."
The last horse before Mine That Bird to win in the mud was Smarty Jones, who splashed to victory in 2004. His son, Backtalk, is in the field today and he's 2 for 2 on a wet track.
Other Derby horses with success in wet conditions are Super Saver, Devil May Care and Discreetly Mine -- all trained by Pletcher. His fourth horse is Mission Impazible. Super Saver is ridden by Calvin Borel, who has won two of the last three derbies. Kent Desormeaux, a three-time winner, is aboard Paddy O'Prado.
"Normally I'd be sweating the weather forecast, but seeing the way they trained on a sloppy track, I wouldn't mind if it rained," Pletcher said.
Lookin At Lucky comes from off the pace and will have to work his way through the field from the No. 1 post under Garrett Gomez. Baffert's other horse, Conveyance, could avoid having mud splashed in his face because of his early speed.
Blind Luck tracked down Evening Jewel in the final yards to win the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The heavy 6-5 favorite trailed early before roaring down the stretch to catch Evening Jewel at the wire in the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-old fillies.
Rachel Alexandra, reigning Horse of the Year was beaten in her return to Churchill Downs, losing a stretch duel to Unrivaled Belle in the $400,000 La Troienne Stakes.
It was the 4-year-old filly's second loss this year, both times as the heavy favorite. Rachel Alexandra was sent off as the 1-5 favorite, but came up short under Calvin Borel.
She was upset in her season debut in New Orleans last month.
, causing co-owner Jess Jackson to pull her out of a matchup with female rival Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park.
It was the third victory in the filly version of the Kentucky Derby for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Blind Luck, ridden by jockey Rafael Bejarano, paid $4.60, $3.60 and $2.80 while covering the distance in 1:50.70.
Evening Jewel and jockey Kent Desormeaux came within a head-bob of pulling off the upset and paid $9.40 and $7.20. Tidal Pool, under Calvin Borel, was third and paid $5.00.