LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Kentucky Derby is about stories and money. I am partial to both.
There is $2 million in purse money for the race. More than $100 million will be bet on the race. Approximately 80 percent of that is returned to the people who bet it. You just have to produce the correct horses.
As is 21st-century custom, 20 horses will be in the starting gate early Saturday evening, 14 in the main gate, the other six in the auxiliary gate.
The Delaware Valley will focus on post No. 4, which will be occupied by Union Rags, the colt bred, sold and bought back by Phyllis Wyeth. She is the daughter of a famous horse racing family, the wife of a famous artist, a woman who was crippled 50 years ago in a car accident, but never stopped loving the horses that were her life before and after that life-changing moment.
In the Chadds Ford home Phyllis shares with Jamie Wyeth hangs a winner's circle photo of Tempo from a race at Calder on Dec. 10, 1995, with Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott by the horse's side.
Tempo traces back to the mare Glad Rags, the horse Phyllis' family brought to America nearly 40 years ago. Her Derby horse is by Dixie Union. Thus, the name Union Rags.
Near that winner's circle photo is a giant picture of Union Rags winning the Champagne Stakes.
The story is almost too good to be true. Endings, however, are impossible to script.
We know this Derby has more early speed than the typical Derby, which should help Union Rags' late punch.
"The rumor is not true that we paid for Trinniberg's entrance fee," said Jerry Crawford, of Donegal Racing, which owns deep closer Dullahan, half brother to crazy 2009 longshot Derby winner Mine That Bird.
If Trinniberg goes too fast too soon, he could take down any horse that is even in his vicinity. Union Rags does not figure to be in that group.
"There is going to be more pace," Union Rags' jockey Julien Leparoux said. "I don't want to rush him into going with them too early. I think [the pace] is good for us. We've got to answer the question on Saturday."
As do they all.
Keep this in mind as you go to the windows. At least one horse that raced at Oaklawn Park has been in the superfecta for the last 8 years. The horse that was dead last early has been in five of the last six supers. From 2003 to '09, a first-time Derby trainer won six Derbys.
By the way, it will be hot in Louisville. Union Rags is a sweater. Always has been. So, is that a problem?
Well, the colt did win at Delaware Park in July and Saratoga in August. So, he can handle heat. But can he handle the competition?
"I think he's going to run his race no matter what happens," trainer Michael Matz said. "Whether it's fast and he's a little bit further behind or whether [he is closer]."
It was 6 years ago when Matz brought Barbaro to the Derby. Barbaro delivered one of the great performances in Derby history. "The way he trained, there was nothing going to beat him," assistant trainer Peter Brette said of Barbaro.
Union Rags actually was a more accomplished 2-year-old than Barbaro, who got a late start.
"Barbaro was undefeated," Matz said. "This horse is a length-and-a-half from being undefeated."
Horse comparisons are always complicated, but, in this case, inevitable. One thing you can do is compare the workout patterns for both horses. They are remarkably similar. In 2006, Barbaro had 11 workouts and three races before the Derby. This year, Union Rags has had two races and 13 workouts.
Clockers at Churchill Downs loved each colt's final on-site workout, a week before the big race. Both colts galloped very strongly in the final days before the race.
Barbaro won like the next great horse. Sadly, we never got to see how great.
Union Rags now gets his chance. We will all get to see where he fits in to the horse racing galaxy.