Kentucky Derby 144: Breaking down the post-position draw
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Trainer Todd Pletcher had yet to hear called the name of any of his four Kentucky Derby horses with eight starting spots left during Tuesday's post-position draw at Churchill Downs. When the 20-horse field was set, Pletcher had three of the six in the auxiliary starting gate utilized when more than 14 horses start: Arkansas Derby winner Magnum Moon in post 16, Wood Memorial victor Vino Rosso in 18 and Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy in 19. Florida Derby winner Audible drew well with post 5.
"Ideally, I wouldn't want three of my four horses in the auxiliary gate. But it's horse racing and that's what happens," Pletcher said. "We've all seen it before: good trips from bad posts, or vice versa. But in the end it's out of my control so it's all good. Both Magnum Moon and Noble Indy have tactical speed, so in a best-case scenario they'll be able to get good spots despite the post.
"This is very much a rider's race and I've got four of the best riders around, which makes me feel good. When they went through the first 10 horses and I hadn't gotten in the mix yet, I thought maybe they'd lost my entries. But it all worked out for the best. We'll hope for a good break for our horses and then see what happens. It figures to be a very interesting race."
Meanwhile, 3-1 morning-line favorite Justify drew very well with post 7.
"That's a good spot," trainer Bob Baffert said of the 3-for-3 Santa Anita Derby winner. "We didn't want to be in the 1 hole and we didn't want to be 20. Seven is fine but he still has to break well. If he doesn't break well it doesn't matter what hole he's in. We only have one option. We have to break. He's lightly raced and he has to leave there running.
"I'm glad I got here late. I was still in the parking lot when it happened so I didn't get a chance to fret. I walked in and saw Justify 7 and was like, 'I'll take that.' Dale Romans has that really fast horse (Promises Fulfilled, post No. 3) and I would've hated for him to be outside of me so that's good. I think all the good horses are in good spots. It's one of the toughest Derbys that I've ever seen and one of the best draws that I've ever seen. The most important horses got good draws. My excuses are really dwindling so now I've got to come with the horse."
Doug O'Neill just wishes Turfway Park's Jeff Ruby Steaks Stakes winner Blended Citizen had a post position. At No. 21 on Derby qualifying points, Blended Citizen needs a defection from the field by scratch time at 9 a.m. Friday in order to run.
Below are the horses listed in order of their post positions, followed by trainer/jockey and odds:
1. Firenze Fire Jason Servis/Paco Lopez 50-1
Comment: He was up against it anyway, regressing in his races and the rail hasn't won since Ferdinand in 1986. Lookin At Lee did finish second out of No. 1 last year, but he wanted the longer distance.
2. Free Drop Billy Dale Romans/Robby Albarado 30-1
Comment: Affirmed in 1978 is the last winner out of the 2 hole, though the position's 13 third-place finishes is the most in the starting-gate era that began in 1930. Free Drop Billy was going to be running late anyway. If his stablemate in post 3 (Promises Fulfilled) goes to the lead as expected and with Flameaway (No. 4 also having speed), Albarado might be able to work out a ground-saving trip a la Corey Lanerie on Lookin At Lee last year.
3. Promises Fulfilled Dale Romans/Corey Lanerie 30-1
Comment: Romans says they are committed to going to the lead, and post 3 makes that easy. Real Quiet in 1998 was last winner from the 3 hole.
4. Flameaway Mark Casse/Jose Lezcano 30-1
Comment: He races on or close to the pace and is likely to lap off of Promises Fulfilled. He doesn't have to worry about getting hung wide on the first turn or being sucked back to take him out of his game. Post 4 last won the Derby in 2010 with Super Saver.
5. Audible Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano 8-1
Comment: With 10, post 5 has produced the most winners since the starting gate was utilized in 1930. Todd Pletcher goes for two in a row, having won out of post 5 last year with Always Dreaming.
6. Good Magic Chad Brown/Jose Ortiz 12-1
Comment: A statistical anomaly, post 2 has been one of the underperforming posts, producing just two winners since 1930, the last being Sea Hero in 1993. But it's an excellent post for the 2-year-old champion who comes in off a stylish victory in the Blue Grass Stakes and offers tremendous value at 12-1 in the morning line. Good Magic is a stalker and Jose Ortiz will be able to play off the speed to his inside and get a good position going into the turn.
7. Justify Bob Baffert/Mike Smith 3-1
Comment: For this lightly raced horse, key was just not to draw a bad post and he got an ideal spot with speed to his inside in Promises Fulfilled and Flameaway, giving Mike Smith the opportunity to get him to settle off horses without the risk of being hung wide on the turn or using him too much early. Post 7 last won the Derby in 2007 in Street Sense.
8. Lone Sailor Tom Amoss/James Graham 50-1
Comment: The last horse to win from post 8 also was 50-1 and a late-running horse: Mine That Bird.
9. Hofburg Bill Mott/Irad Ortiz 20-1
Comment: Riva Ridge in 1972 is the last winner out of post 9, though Firing Line was second in 2015. Even though post 9 has only won the Derby four times since 1930, it's an excellent post.
10. My Boy Jack Keith Desormeaux/Kent Desormeaux 30-1
Comment: Another late-closing long shot in Giacomo (2005) was the last horse to win from post 10. But it has been the second-most productive starting position, launching nine winners, and its 29.6 percent for finishing in the first three tops all posts. My Boy Jack is a closer, but it would be a good Derby post for any style, with enough horses to play off of to the inside and less chance of running into disaster on the turn.
11. Bolt d'Oro Mick Ruis/Victor Espinoza 8-1
Comment: Post 11 has produced only two winners in the starting gate era, the last being Winning Colors in 1988. Before that you go back to 1933 and Brokers Tip, though that's more coincidence than logical reason. With the double-loading, Bolt d'Oro will go into the starting gate right after No. 1 Firenze Fire. Bolt d'Oro had a penchant for breaking a bit slow last year, and the time in the gate would seem to do him no favors. Victor Espinoza, the three-time Derby winner riding Bolt d'Oro for the first time, is a very good gate rider, however.
12. Enticed Kiaran McLaughlin/Junior Alvarado 30-1
Comment: Canonero in 1971 is the last of post 12's trio of Derby winners. But in the Derby, you just don't want a bad post, and there's nothing wrong with the post for Enticed.
13. Bravazo D. Wayne Lukas/Luis Contreras 50-1
Comment: Post 13 was lucky for Nyquist in 2016. But post position is the least of Bravazo's worries, coming in off an eighth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby.
14. Mendelssohn Aidan O'Brien/Ryan Moore 5-1
Comment: Carry Back in 1961 is the last of two winners out of post 14 in the starting-gate era, with the number of starters overall dropping off as we get farther out. It's the last post in the main starting gate, and there is a little room to the horse's right. But European horses, especially those who have raced primarily on grass, often aren't as quick out of the gate as American horses. Mendelssohn led early in the UAE Derby and raced close to the pace in winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. But Ryan Moore might be forced to ask him for too much early in order to avoid behind wide around the first turn, or risk being sucked back. If he's off a step slow he could get covered in dirt kickback, something he's never experienced.
15. Instilled Regard Jerry Hollendorfer/Drayden Van Dyke 50-1
Comment: Any spot in the six-stall auxiliary starting gate used to be considered unfortunate. But post 15 has produced the winner three times since 2000, including Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015, and five times since 1984 — good for a healthy 8.9 win percentage out of 56 prior starters.
16. Magnum Moon Todd Pletcher/Luis Saez 6-1
Comment: Post 16 has four Derby winners since 1995, the last being Animal Kingdom in 2011. But it is far from an ideal spot for a horse that races on or close to the pace, such as Magnum Moon, especially with other quality speed to his inside. Of all the favorites, he drew the worst for his running style, at least on paper.
17. Solomoni Bob Baffert/Flavien Prat 30-1
Comment: Now we're getting into worrisome territory. Post 17 has never won the Derby, and its last top-three finish was Forty Nine back in 1988. In fact, the last top-five finish was Don't Get Mad, who was fourth in 2005. It has the makings of a train wreck around the first turn, especially with a young rider. However, Flavien Prat did finish third in his Derby debut last year with 40-1 Battle of Midway, albeit out of post 11.
18. Vino Rosso Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez 12-1
Comment: As with Good Magic, getting 12-1 or better on the Wood Memorial winner is tremendous value. Vino Rosso showed the ability to close from off the pace in the Wood, and he'll most likely need to do that in the Derby. Post 18 has produced a Derby winner in Gato Del Sol in 1982, with Nehro second in 2011.
19. Noble Indy Todd Pletcher/Florent Geroux 30-1
Comment: I'll Have Another in 2012 is the only Derby winner out of post 19 out of 26 starters. It's still from ideal for a horse that has been racing close to the pace, because there are a lot of quality horses with the same style inside of him.
20. Combatant Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana Jr. 50-1
Comment: Steve Asmussen's Lookin At Lee drew the rail last year and now Combatant is at the other end of the spectrum. Just as well that he's a horse who comes from off the pace. Big Brown won from post 20 in 2008, but he towered over that field and was the class speed to take advantage of his spot.
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