LOUISVILLE, KY. — Donald Golightly has been driving Joni and Barry Butzow around Louisville for more years than he can recall. When the Eden Prairie residents hit town for Kentucky Derby week, Golightly makes sure they get everywhere they need to go.

They know the routine well, but Golightly did offer a piece of advice for Saturday's 148th edition of the race. With the Butzows' colt Zozos among the 20 horses set to start, he suggested they bring some extra tissues.

"We'll probably need them,'' Joni Butzow said. "We still can't believe this. It doesn't seem real. I mean, I cry during "My Old Kentucky Home'' when I don't have a horse in it, so I don't know what's going to happen Saturday.''

There could be a lot of Minnesotans reaching for the Kleenex when the Butzows and another Minnesota resident, Jeff Drown of St. Cloud, watch their colts Zozos and Zandon parade onto the Churchill Downs track for the 1 ¼-mile race. Zandon, installed as the morning-line favorite Monday, was the fourth choice at 8-1 odds during early wagering Friday. Zozos was the 12th choice at 39-1.

Several dozen of the owners' friends, relatives, neighbors and work associates have made the pilgrimage to Churchill Downs to cheer on the two horses. Drown and his wife, Jill Vouk-Drown, have brought their five children and a large number of employees from their contracting and real estate businesses. The Butzows' entourage has been trickling in throughout the week.

Zandon is likely to remain among the favorites Saturday, when the two colts chase a total purse of $3 million, a blanket of roses and a place in history.

Jeff Drown said he wasn't feeling any pressure, just pride and excitement.

"That doesn't really change anything,'' said Drown, whose horse started at 3-1 on the morning line. "This is our first time at the Derby. We're just trying to take everything in. And so far, it's been a really fun week.''

Most handicappers consider this a wide-open Derby, with a dozen or more horses who have legitimate chances to win. Friday afternoon, Epicenter and Taiba were co-favorites at 5-1. Mo Donegal — owned by a partnership that includes Pete Mattson of Prior Lake, who holds 1% of the colt — was 7-1, along with Messier.

Blue Grass set the stage

Zandon has already shown a flair for the dramatic. In last month's Blue Grass Stakes, he needed a top finish to make the Kentucky Derby field. The colt got stuck behind 10 horses in last place on the final turn, and Drown said his son, Jack, turned ashen.

Trainer Chad Brown was concerned, too. But every rider who had been aboard Zandon told Brown the same thing: the colt never gives up. After watching him weave through a wall of horseflesh in that race — and overcome a hop at the start to finish third in March's Risen Star Stakes — Brown believes Zandon can handle the rigors of the Derby.

"When he has horses in his sight, he's eager to go get them and run them down,'' Brown said. "[In the Blue Grass Stakes], he was targeting horses at the front of the field to go past them.

"I hope those starts in the Blue Grass and the Risen Star benefit him for the Derby. He had to persevere a bit, with challenging races in both, and he ran well.''

Zozos earned his way into Saturday's race by finishing second to Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby. He is the first Kentucky Derby horse for the Butzows, who have raced at Shakopee's Canterbury Park since 1985.

While the Butzows' group was shuttled to Churchill Downs via party bus and van for Friday's Kentucky Oaks, Zozos was chilling in his barn with goat companion Mr. Man. The good-natured colt has two victories and a second in three career races, and he's trained by one of the best in the business, Louisville native Brad Cox.

Zozos' father, Munnings, was a champion sprinter, and Zozos is expected to be among the pacesetters Saturday.

"His last two works have been great,'' said Cox, whose horse Mandaloun became the 2021 Kentucky Derby champion when original winner Medina Spirit was disqualified in February. "He's going to break running. Hopefully, he'll get a nice forward position, and we'll see if he can handle the mile and a quarter.''

Special breeds

The Butzows raced Zozos' mother, Papa's Forest, and kept her as a broodmare. Zozos was born east of Louisville at Woodline Farm, and the Butzows have watched him grow from "a complete handful'' as a foal — as farm manager Michael Orem called him — into an intelligent, very speedy 3-year-old.

Drown bought Zandon for $170,000 as a yearling at Kentucky's Keeneland sale. The espresso-colored colt cuts an elegant figure and is fiery enough to nip at anyone who gets too close to the stall door. He also has worked brilliantly since arriving at Churchill from Keeneland Race Course.

The Drown stable silks — royal blue with five white stars, one for each of his kids — have been painted on a jockey statue at Keeneland, a tradition to honor the winner of the Blue Grass Stakes. Zandon got an expert ride in that race from Flavien Prat, who will stay aboard for the Derby.

Though Zandon's rallied from last to first in each of his past two races, Brown said he doesn't consider the colt a deep closer.

"If he gets a clean break and goes on with it in the first turn, I want him in that front 10 horses, not in the back,'' Brown said. "He's not going to be taken back to the rear. We're not going to take anything away from him that's coming naturally.''

Zandon and Zozos are practically neighbors in the Churchill Downs stable area, living only a few shedrows apart in Barn 25 and Barn 22. That made it easy last week for Minnesotans coming out for morning workouts to check in on both horses.

Though Brown has won 15 Breeders' Cup races, he's still seeking his first Kentucky Derby victory. Cox is officially a Derby winner, though the honor came via another horse's disqualification nine months after the race.

If either of them wins, they'll probably need some extra tissues. Joni Butzow can't guarantee she'll have any left.

"We've been going to the Derby for a long time,'' she said. "It's always so much fun. But doing it like this, with a horse in the race? I don't even know how to describe it.''