The priciest Derby contender by far is Carpe Diem, the joint sales topper at the 2014 OBS March Sale when bidding spiraled to $1.6 million.
Carpe Diem was bred by Coffeepot Stable and raised at Beau Lane's Woodline Farm near Paris, Kentucky.
"Carpe was a class act from day one," J.B. Orem, Lane's daughter, recalled. "He was very intelligent, eager to please, and very independent.
"He never really got into the group with the other colts in the field. He stayed to himself and out of trouble. He was never silly, but really liked people. He had a ton of self-confidence, and was very mature from the beginning.
"He is a great minded colt and hopefully will have a great day Derby time."
Carpe Diem originally sold for $550,000 as a Keeneland September yearling before smashing the seven-figure threshold as a two-year-old in training.
The gigantic Dortmund wasn't a hot sales commodity, with prospective buyers reportedly put off by his unusually large frame. A $90,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling, he finally brought $140,000 as a two-year-old in training at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic last May.
His breeder, Emilie Gerlinde Fojan, explained that Dortmund was always mellow.
"Besides always being extra large, he was an extremely laid back and well behaved baby -- calm and cool, very smart and easy going. He loved to sleep.
"I am known to spoil my babies. By the time he left us as a yearling he was quite a spoiled brat, knew how to open my zipper on my jacket to get to his carrots.
"I do not think he has changed. I saw him at Santa Anita -- he still loves carrots and is the same laid back boy."
Dortmund's success is deeply meaningful to Fojan. He is a third-generation product of Bona Terra Stud, which Fojan operated with her partner, George Brunacini, who was killed in the tragic Comair plane crash near Lexington in 2006.
Brunacini had bought Dortmund's granddam, Ropa Usada, for $30,000 as a broodmare at Keeneland January in 2000. He bred and raced Dortmund's dam, the Grade 3-placed stakes winner Our Josephina, who was trained by Fojan.
"It is extremely special since we had his grandmother and mother and now him," Fojan said.
Materiality was likewise a big baby with a gentle disposition, as Tanya Gunther of Glennwood Farm recalled.
" Materiality was a large foal with good bone and size from the moment he was born -- above average in all respects," Gunther said.
"He was a gentle giant in my mind as he was big but kind with a good mind. As he grew older he continued to be the 'big boy' in class.
"As he progressed as a yearling he was like the equivalent of a draft pick for pro football -- easily developing musculature, and his substance made him tower over the rest.
"He looked like he could squash his mates, but luckily he had a great temperament!"
Tanya's father, John, bred Materiality and sold him for $260,000 as a yearling at Keeneland September. He later commanded $400,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May two-year-old.
Nick de Meric, who consigned Materiality to the two-year-old in training sale, likewise found him to be a model pupil.
" Materiality was always a tractable, classy horse for us and acted as if he'd done it all before," de Meric recalled. "He was a good-natured fellow and always pleasant to work around."
The same couldn't quite be said of de Meric's other graduate who developed into a 2015 Derby runner – War Story.
"By contrast, War Story was a pistol, with penchant for athletic histrionics under tack, especially on frosty mornings! In other words, he challenged his rider frequently and kept everyone around him on their toes."
But de Meric was happy with both the star student Materiality and the more ebullient War Story.
"Both displayed early talent and were enjoyable horses to train in their rather different ways," de Meric concluded.
Interestingly, War Story was quieter as a foal.
"He was always easy going and handsome as a baby -- one of those horses that never seemed to have any problems like others do," said Fred Seitz Jr. of Brookdale Farm, which raised War Story, and sold him, for breeder Jack Swain III.
De Meric purchased War Story as a yearling at Keeneland September for $90,000 and eventually resold him for $51,000 at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic last May – the same sale that produced Materiality and Dortmund.
Ironically, Harry Rosenblum, who bought War Story at that sale, sold him privately to his current owners after his maiden score at Churchill last November.
But Rosenblum had in the meantime bought another Derby contender privately – Far Right – after two bang-up seconds in maiden races.
Bred by Nossab LLC and Patrick J. Crowley, Far Right had entered the Keeneland sales ring as a newly turned yearling in January 2013 and went for a bargain-basement $2,500. Scooping him up for that price was equine dentist-cum-handicapper Jon Jazdzewski, who initially raced him before Far Right caught Rosenblum's eye.
Far Right was "unique," as Jazdzewski explained.
Turned out in the field much of the time as a yearling, Far Right would be brought up to the barn to see the blacksmith, and he would "dance, and kick his rear end up, dance and play the whole way to the barn like he hadn't been turned out in months."
Far Right wasn't as sweet to his fellow colt in the pasture.
"He would actually run him – I mean chase him, full speed, as fast as the other colt would go -- sometimes up to 20 minutes chasing him. He'd stop, he'd bite him. It was to the point where we had to separate them," Jazdzewski said.
"He was good with people, but boy, he was mean to the other one."
The yearling Far Right was then put with a two-year-old gelding, and "that kind of evened out the playing field a little bit."
Although Far Right didn't chase his year-older companion, he fought him – as in serious fights.
"They would spend half the day fighting," Jazdzewski recalled. "We're not talking just kind of like, 'oh, colts playing' – they would battle."
Far Right likewise showed competitive enthusiasm in his early training for Tony Costanzo in Florida.
Even in his new environment, Far Right would still "dance all the way to the barn" to be saddled, and he simply "loved to train."
When turned out in the field once more after his training session, Far Right continued to "run and run" while watching the other youngsters on the track.
Although Jazdzewski sold his promising prospect, he won't miss out on the experience of walking over with a Derby contender at Churchill Downs. Rosenblum invited him along to share in the moment.
"We're looking forward to it. We've never been to the Derby. And we said we wouldn't go unless we had a reason.
"It was very kind of Mr. Rosenblum to include us."
Stay tuned for Part III…