Jareth Loveberry returned to Canterbury Park last fall with a straightforward goal. Win the Shakopee Juvenile Stakes aboard Two Phil's, go back to Chicago with a share of the $50,000 purse and get a clearer picture of the colt's capabilities.

No one — not the fans, not Loveberry, not trainer Larry Rivelli — could have known where that day would lead. On Saturday, Loveberry will ride Two Phil's in the Kentucky Derby, eight months after they stood in the winner's circle at Canterbury Park. The 149th edition of the Derby will be the first for Loveberry, who rode for three seasons in Shakopee and was Canterbury's champion jockey in 2017.

Two Phil's had a relatively smooth path to Churchill Downs, gaining steam throughout the winter before winning the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby in March to earn his place in the Derby starting gate. Loveberry took a more circuitous route. Once an aspiring architect, he left college for a life at the racetrack, learning his trade on a now-defunct ⅝-mile track in his native Michigan.

Rivelli could have opted to replace Loveberry with a big-name rider for the Derby, but the jockey's skill and his rapport with Two Phil's kept him in the saddle. It's still hard for Loveberry to believe where they will be Saturday.

"After we won the Jeff Ruby, it didn't hit me for a good week or so,'' said Loveberry, 35, who has 1,759 career victories. "That was the biggest race I'd ever won. And then, to know we were going to the Kentucky Derby, it was just surreal.

"Everyone wants to be in the Derby. And for someone like me, who's ridden for 18 years and put in the time, that makes it even better.''

His Canterbury cheering section will include trainers Mac Robertson and Mike Biehler, who persuaded Loveberry to ride in Minnesota, and Richard Grunder, his agent in Shakopee. Grunder said Two Phil's was "breathtaking'' in his Shakopee Juvenile victory last fall, though he didn't see this coming.

"It's just a great story,'' Grunder said. "This horse has a good pedigree, and I think his racing style is perfect for the Derby. I'm going to be on the edge of my couch rooting for them.''

'Everything with ease'

Two Phil's is 12-1 on the morning line. He enters the Derby with four victories, a second and a third in eight starts, with $683,450 in earnings.

Loveberry has been on his back for all but his first start. The flashy chestnut had raced twice when he came to Canterbury last September, where he collected his first stakes win with an overpowering 9 ¾-length score in the Shakopee Juvenile.

That day, Loveberry said, the horse broke awkwardly and did not immediately go to the lead as expected. Two Phil's still ran a huge race, making an equally big impression on his rider.

"He did it with such ease,'' Loveberry said. "He does everything with ease. When I work him in the mornings, he always goes faster than I thought. And he's taken a step forward with every race.''

Tiny bullring to Churchill

Loveberry's rise required more patience. A native of Mount Pleasant, Mich., he grew up across the street from a horse farm and began working there at age 12. He briefly attended Baker College with a plan to study architecture, but his love for horses pulled him away from school.

His riding career began in 2005 at Great Lakes Downs, a tiny Michigan "bullring.'' On that compact oval, riding low-level horses, he learned to be aggressive and daring, yet cool and intelligent. Loveberry soon moved up to bigger tracks and came to Canterbury in 2017, winning the riding title in his first season.

In Shakopee, Loveberry won multiple stakes races aboard some of the best horses in Canterbury Park history, including Ready to Runaway, A P Is Loose and Amy's Challenge. Though he decamped for Chicago in 2020 and now rides in Kentucky and Louisiana, Loveberry still returns to Canterbury for occasional stakes.

His path to the Kentucky Derby hit a bump in March, when Loveberry broke his left fibula in a starting-gate accident three weeks before the Jeff Ruby. It was "nerve-racking,'' he said, and the leg still ached when he guided Two Phil's to victory.

It ached a little less once their Derby spot was confirmed. Since then, Loveberry has been studying up for his Derby debut. Though he's ridden at Churchill Downs, he's never faced the 20-horse stampede of a Kentucky Derby, so he's been watching video of past Derbies and picking the brains of riders who have ridden for the roses.

It's still inconceivable, he said, to know he won't be watching Saturday's race from his usual spot: on a TV in a jockeys' lounge, at a track far from Churchill Downs.

"I don't think I'll be too nervous,'' Loveberry said. "Mostly, I'll be excited. This is as big as it gets.''