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No Fillies In The Field, But It's 'Year Of The Women' At The Kentucky Derby

With just the sixth female jockey ever and two female trainers, Saturday's 137th running of the Kentucky Derby is taking on something of a "year of the women" theme even though there are no fillies running.

But as Jennie Rees of the Louisville Courier-Journal told All Things Considered host Melissa Block today, the compelling story lines for this year's race don't stop there.

-- Mucho Macho Man's trainer, Kathy Ritvo, is a heart transplant recipient. "Every day is a dream for her," Rees says. And Ritvo is hoping to use some of the attention she's getting to raise awareness about organ donation and to show other organ recipients that they can still lead active, full lifes. (Mucho Macho Man's odds of winning at this moment are 11-1.)

-- Jockey Rosie Napravnik, who will be aboard Pants on Fire (8-1), is the first woman to come into the derby "riding a horse that actually won an important race in its last start;" the Louisiana Derby. And she won riding titles at Delaware Park and the New Orleans Fair Grounds, leading Rees and other racing writers to conclude she has a good chance to become the first woman to ride a Kentucky Derby winner.

-- And while current favorite Dialed In (9-2) is "getting decidedly little buzz," Rees says, because he's only run in four races, she still believes it will be "a great race."

"Some people [such as The Washington Post's Andrew Beyer] have suggested this field is substandard," Rees says. "And they did have some good horses get hurt or become ill at the wrong time [and] not make the field. ... [But] there won't be a dry eye in the joint when they start singing My Old Kentucky Home."

And it will be a great race, Rees maintains, because she says there are many horses with good chances of finishing in the money. Along with Mucho Macho Man, Pants On Fire and Dialed In, she says horses that are worth watching include:

-- Brilliant Speed. (29-1)

-- Animal Kingdom. (26-1)

-- Nehro. (7-1)

-- Archarcharch. (12-1)

It's also worth noting that the current odds on Twice the Appeal, with jockey Calvin Borel, are 8-1. Borel has been aboard three of the past four Kentucky Derby winners, including Super Saver last year.

In the end, Rees advises, because of its strong talent and large field (19 horses this year) in the Kentucky Derby, "you've got to be the luckiest horse," not just the most talented.

Earlier today, another of the favorites withdrew. Uncle Mo (the 9-2 choice) was scratched "because of a puzzling internal ailment that has reduced his appetite and energy," The Associated Press writes.

Post time for the Derby is 6:24 p.m. ET.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.