LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- If anything is more abundant than bourbon and tobacco in Kentucky it is the optimism that exudes from those with horses entered in Saturday's 126th Kentucky Derby.
''If you're a doom-and-gloom guy you need a different profession,'' said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won the last Derby with longshot one-time claiming horse Charismatic and is hopeful that Saturday afternoon will conclude with his fifth Kentucky Derby victory. He will send three horses, including High Yield, one of the principal contenders, in pursuit of the title he always has targeted with uncommon zeal. They will increase his total of Derby starters to 41, more than any trainer ever has sent into the Derby. He has run as many as five horses in a single Derby and has had at least one horse in each renewal since 1981.
''I'll be going over with a pretty good little arsenal,'' he said.
This Derby is a study in contrasts. The favorite, Fusaichi Pegasus, is lightly raced and is trained by a man, Neil Drysdale, not known for putting his horses through hard training. His other Derby starter, War Chant, is also prominent among the contenders despite having run in just four races. Lukas' horses face demanding training regimens and race often.
''I've never won the Derby going soft,'' Lukas said. High Yield has run 12 times entering the Derby, his fifth start of the year. He has won twice and finished second in his other races this year. ''You could make a strong case for him being unbeaten this year,'' Lukas said.
Like Lukas, Bob Baffert trains his horses hard and races them often, a formula that produced back-to-back
''He's got a chance,'' Baffert said. ''But things have to go his way. He can't make a mistake. Basically, we need a lot of luck.''
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