LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Churchill Downs' spring meet opens with an impressive slew of stakes races leading up to next weekend's Kentucky Derby.
Kicking off the 38-day card Saturday night is the inaugural $100,000 William Walker, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds honoring the African-American jockey who won the 1877 Derby aboard Baden-Baden. The first of 25 stakes races totaling $8.05 million replaces the Derby Trial.
The Trial has been renamed the Pat Day Mile and was moved to May 2 as part of the undercard to the 141st Run for the Roses, which follows the Kentucky Oaks for fillies on May 1.
Likely Derby favorites include American Pharoah, who is scheduled to work here Sunday, and International Star, who is expected to move to Churchill Downs from the nearby training center.
The biggest question is whether rain forecast for Friday night into Saturday morning will change workout schedules.
"If it is not dangerous out there, we will go," said George Weaver, Tencendur's trainer. "I am not uncomfortable with this track when it is wet."
The 1 1/4 mile Derby features another full field of 20 horses with several hopefuls awaiting changes. American Pharoah and Dortmund comprise trainer Bob Baffert's Derby duo, who stand fourth and second respectively in points.
Not surprisingly, trainer Todd Pletcher again has strength in numbers with Carpe Diem, another possible favorite, and Materiality confirmed entries of a five-horse contingent including Itsaknockout, Madefromlucky and Stanford.
Weather permitting, Pletcher will work the latter four horses Saturday at Churchill. Carpe Diem works Sunday at Keeneland in Lexington, where he won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes earlier this month and stands third with 164 points.
"He's got all the ingredients, a great pedigree and a tremendous action," Pletcher said of Carpe Diem. "He's just a consummate race horse."
Kentucky Oaks and Derby days will feature plenty of standout horses with 13 stakes races worth a record $6.25 million. Reigning Oaks and Breeders' Cup Distaff champion Untapable is nominated to run in the $300,000 La Troienne over 1 1/8 miles; Breeders' Cup Classic winner Bayern is nominated for both the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on Derby Day and the Grade 2 Alysheba for 4-year-olds and up on Oaks Day.
Leading things off Saturday is the William Walker, where 3-0 Blofeld leads a six-horse field. He'll make his first start since winning the Nashua in November at Aqueduct, his second of two Grade 2 victories including the Belmont Futurity.
Blofeld's competition includes Cinco Charlie and Weast Hill, who also have stakes wins.
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