And they’re off! It’s a quick pace and a fast track we have here today, folks. And as they round the far turn in The Atlantic Coast Conference Stakes, it’s last year’s title-holding thoroughbred, Cavalier, who’s managed to stick his nose in front. But Lucky Irish and Sweet Caroline are dueling neck and neck just behind. Oh, and here comes Devil Duke! He’s found an inside position along the rail.

Cavalier’s got one of the rising trainers in the game in Tony Bennett. Bennett consistently gets the best out of his horses and knows what it takes to topple the sport’s finest.

Lucky Irish is a sight to behold. This beautiful, high-octane animal can fly with the best of them, but some wonder…can he maintain his poise through the home stretch?

Sweet Caroline hasn’t lived up to perennial lofty expectations in recent years, but now surrounded by a deep and talented team, this filly might be equipped for a return to the top spot.

Devil Duke certainly has the athleticism and power to blow past all the competition, but can he avoid the potential pitfalls in a tightly packed crowd?

Rick’s Cards is a wild card threatening to trump all of our competitors. Ruthless, muscular fighter he is, but as for the speed? He may want a slower pace.

Don’t look now, but there’s a tropical Miami Hurricane rumbling this way that could flatten everything in its path. Supreme physicality and aggression abound. Can it be harnessed?

But back to the live action! They’re storming round the corner and into the back stretch. We’re on track for a record time with blistering speed. But who’s in danger of falling off the pace?

Some, I’m afraid, have already succumbed, dropping off the back end.

OUT OF CONTENTION – let’s hope you didn’t bet on any of these nags:

Yellow Jacket, Hokie High, Demon Deacon, Tiger Orange, Seminole, Boston Eagle

DANGER ZONE – the whip might come in handy right about now:

Panther Paw, Orange Dream, State’s Wolfpack

IN THE HUNT – all the eyes are still firmly on the prize, for good reason:

Hurricane Miami, Rick’s Cards, Lucky Irish, Sweet Caroline, Devil Duke, Cavalier

Matt’s Picks: Cavalier – Sweet Caroline – Lucky Irish

As this stacked field makes its way down the back stretch, it’s anybody’s guess who will have the stamina, speed and tenacity to claim this historic prize and go into The NCAA Derby as a hot favorite.

Will Cavalier reassert his dominance? Will upstart Lucky Irish sprint his way past the competition? The late money really liked Sweet Caroline – do they know something we don’t? Any aces up Rick’s Cards’ sleeves? And who would bet against jockey K using all of his guile and experience on board Devil Duke to cross the finish line first yet again?

The battle is fierce. The energy is electric. The nerves are suffocating. History awaits. The buzzing sell-out crowd, clad in classic ACC regalia, rises to its feet in anxious anticipation.

Follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3