LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Days have turned into weeks, and weeks have stretched into months. The Kentucky Derby, which seemed so far away when a steady stream of prep races began in January, is here.
Trainers and jockeys who have a vested interest in the 138th running of the Run for the Roses are talked out, tired of answering the same questions over and over.
One of the horses in the bulky 20-horse field will get a reserved spot in history and become the only thoroughbred with a chance to be the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.
After the months of preparation, it all will be over in just a few ticks over two minutes Saturday afternoon. And believe this: As many as 12 horses have a legitimate shot to win.
"This is so competitive," said four-time Derby winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who will saddle 50-1 longshot Optimizer. "Usually you can go draw a line through certain horses. You might be able to do that, but I have trouble doing that with about half of these. The other 10, I would be like, `Whoa, I don't know where to go with these."
The morning-line Derby favorite is the Bob Baffert-trained Bodemeister, who is 4-1. The colt is named for Baffert's 7-year-old son, Bode, who was named for Olympic skier Bode Miller, a friend of the family.
"I have a nice horse in there," Baffert said. "The Derby is only fun if you have a really good horse. Then you can start to really get into it."
There will be a whole lot of trainers who could have a whole lot of fun. That's because there are a whole lot of good horses signed up to run the 1¼ miles.
Bodemeister dominated the Arkansas Derby, winning by nearly 10 lengths. His speed numbers are better than the others in here. He just might be a special horse, something this sport needs.
Bodemeister, who will be ridden by Mike Smith, will have to overcome some Derby hexes. He didn't run as a 2-year-old, and only one horse has won the Derby that didn't race as a juvenile. That was Apollo, and that happened in 1882.
Since 1937, there have been 56 horses that have run in the Derby who didn't run at 2. None won.
Bodemeister is a horse who likes to run on, or near, the lead, and that is a profile that usually doesn't produce a Derby winner.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that he has to be there," Smith said.
"He is very quick, and he will be forwardly placed. Whether that puts us right on the lead or right off it, I'm not sure. If you're fast enough, and you're on the front end, and they can't catch you, why can't you win?"
Union Rags, second choice on the morning line at 9-2, figures to be a major player. He has four wins in six starts and, with any luck, could be undefeated.
Trainer Michael Matz won this race in 2006 with Barbarao, and this is one of the feel-good stories of the race. Union Rags owner Phyllis Wyeth worked for John F. Kennedy when he was president. Wyeth has been confined to a wheelchair since 2001 because of a degenerative effect of a neck injury she suffered in an car accident in 1962.
"I would like to win this," Matz said. "I can't say I am expecting to win, but I am here not to lose, that's for sure. I came here to try to win the race. If he runs second or third and runs a good race and gets beat by a better horse, what can I say?"
And then there is the only unbeaten horse in the field, the Todd Pletcher-trained Gemologist, who has won all five of his starts, including the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. He will be facing the toughest competition in his career, but so will everyone in this field.
If you like Gemologist, what do you do about Alpha? The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained colt was beat by only a neck by Gemologist in the Wood.
Cases can also be made for the top two finishers in the Santa Anita Derby, I'll Have Another and Creative Cause; Blue Grass winner Dullahan; Sunland Derby champ Daddy Nose Best; Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy (attention: he's being ridden by three-time Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel); and Hansen, last year's 2-year-old champion.
"This is definitely a competitive field," said trainer Graham Motion, who won the Derby last year with Animal Kingdom and is back this spring with New York-bred Went the Day Well. "There are 10, 12 horses that could win this and you would not be surprised. This is a very good Derby."