MELISSA BLOCK, host:
We have mint juleps flowing and strains of "My Old Kentucky Home." Churchill Downs will host the 137th Kentucky Derby tomorrow in Louisville. Post time is 6:24 P.M. Eastern. And could this be the Year of the Woman at the Derby? A woman jockey will be racing, just the sixth ever in the Derby's history. And two women trainers will have horses in this year's race.
Jennie Rees of the Louisville Courier Journal will be covering the Derby as she has for the last 26 years. And she joins me now from Churchill Downs. Jennie, welcome to the program.
Ms. JENNIE REES (Reporter, Louisville Courier-Journal): Well, thank you very much, Melissa.
BLOCK: Jennie, let's talk first about the woman jockey. Rosina Napravnik, 23 years old. She'll be riding Pants on Fire. How does she look?
Ms. REES: Rosie has been making history for the past year and this could be really a breakthrough race. It's the first time a female rider has come into the Kentucky Derby riding a horse that actually won an important race in its last start.
Usually the female riders are picking up, you know, long shots and horses that were maybe third or fourth in their last race. And it would certainly break down, I think, a lot of barriers if Rosie Napravnik - not only if she won the Derby, but even if she hit the board. No female rider has even hit the board in the Kentucky Derby.
BLOCK: And when you hit the board, you mean what?
Ms. REES: One, two, three and some people consider it four.
BLOCK: So a woman jockey this year in the Derby, and two women trainers. Only 13 have been in the Derby before now, and they are Kathleen O'Connell, who is the trainer for Watch Me Go, and Kathy Ritvo, trainer for Much Macho Man. And she's got quite a story.
Ms. REES: Not only is she part of the novelty of having a female trainer, they're still very rare in the Kentucky Derby. But I dare to say if she wins, she's going to be the first Derby winner that had a heart transplant.
She's a 42-year-old mother of two, and when she was 38 years old, after being very ill for 10 years, she had a heart transplant. And she had hoped to use this platform to encourage and educate about organ donation and also to send a message out to organ recipients that you can still have a very full and active life. And she is a very active person, I can tell you.
BLOCK: So who looks great to you, Jennie?
Ms. REES: Usually I have an opinion, and usually it's wrong, but usually I have an opinion. And this year, I'm just so all over the place. But several horses that I really like is one is a horse named Brilliant Speed. He's going to be 30, 40 to one. He could win this race and pay a big price.
And I actually ended up with him as my pick, thinking if you pick a favorite and they win, nobody pays attention, but if you pick a homerun horse and they win, then you ought to be able to milk that for another season here.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: And the favorites, according to the odds makers, are Dialed In and Nero, Nero?
Ms. REES: Nero, yes. Dialed In, isn't it funny, we've been talking this long and we haven't gotten to talk about the Kentucky Derby favorite until now. Dialed In is the favorite, trained by Nick Zito, who won the Kentucky Derby in both '91 and '94 and who considers Louisville and Churchill Downs his second home.
This horse won the Florida Derby. He's only lost one time. But he's getting decidedly buzz. I'm not sure why, unless people think it's just his inexperience, with only the four races. He doesn't win by a lot of margins.
He's a stretch runner. He's going to have to get through traffic or come extremely wide, and that can be a tough way to win the Kentucky Derby. You don't have to only be the best horse, you've got to be the luckiest horse. And if you can only be one or the other, you'd better be the luckiest, rather than actually the most talented.
BLOCK: Jennie, I can hear one of today's races going on behind you. As long as you've done this, as long as you've covered the Derby, 26 years, is it still a thrill for you?
Ms. REES: It is. I mean, this is the way I feel about the Kentucky Derby: Some are better than others, but there's never a bad one. Some people have suggested this field is substandard, and they did have some good horses get hurt or become ill at the wrong time and didn't make the field.
But it's still going to be a great race. It's going to be the most heavily bet-on race of the year. I'm really looking forward. I think after a month of rain, we're finally going to get some sunshine. And there won't be a dry eye in the joint when they start singing "My Old Kentucky Home."
BLOCK: Okay, Jennie Rees will be at Churchill Downs covering the Kentucky Derby tomorrow for the Louisville Courier-Journal. Jennie, thanks so much. Have a great time.
Ms. REES: Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: And in case you're wondering, there are no fillies in this year's Derby.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.