by Trevor Whenham - 05/04/2006
The pageantry of Kentucky Derby week officially began Wednesday afternoon with the post position draw. In recent years this has turned into a real event as owners and trainers try to pick the best position available for their horse. This year the draw was moved to downtown Louisville so a crowd could enjoy it. Any excuse for a party at Derby time.
No horse has ever won the Derby as a result of their post position draw, but many trainers have argued that they have lost because of where they got stuck. With 20 spots in the gate, there is a long way to run from the outside to the rail for a horse. The luckiest draw is gate 2. There have been 29 winners from that position. 12 horses have worn the roses from gate 1. Gates 4 and 5 have had 10 winners each. It wasn't until Smarty Jones won in 2004 that the 15th position yielded a winner.
There are all sorts of interesting aspects to this year's draw, but first here's where everyone will be lining up:
|3||Keyed Entry (30-1)||Pletcher||Valenzuela|
|4||Sinister Minister (12-1)||Baffert||Espinoza|
|5||Point Determined (12-1)||Baffert||Bejarano|
|6||Showing Up (20-1)||Tagg||Velasquez|
|7||Bob and John (12-1)||Baffert||Gomez|
|9||Sharp Humor (20-1)||Romans||Guidry|
|10||A.P. Warrior (15-1)||Shirreffs||Nakatani|
|12||Private Vow (50-1)||Asmussen||Bridgmohan|
|13||Bluegrass Cat (30-1)||Pletcher||Dominguez|
|14||Deputy Glitters (50-1)||Albertrani||Lezcano|
|15||Seaside Retreat (50-1)||Casse||Husbands|
|16||Cause to Believe (50-1)||Hollendorfer||Baze|
|17||Lawyer Ron (4-1)||Holthus||McKee|
|18||Brother Derek (3-1)||Hendricks||Solis|
|19||Storm Treasure (50-1)||Asmussen||Flores|
|20||Flashy Bull (50-1)||McLaughlin||Smith|
The one thing we know with near certainty in the race is that both Sinister Minister and Sharp Humor will be gunning for the lead from the very beginning. Both horses are well positioned to make their charge. Bob Baffert, Sinister Minister's trainer, second guessed himself and thought that maybe post 11 would have been a better choice, but both horses should control their own destiny.
The location of the speedballs also sets up well for the undefeated Barbaro. With Sharp Humor charging hard outside of him, he should have the opportunity to move up to just off the pace. The problem for his jockey, Edgar Prado, and the riders of the rest of the horses on the inside, will be getting their horses to settle down and not chase the early leaders and burn themselves out.
Neither Lawyer Ron nor Brother Derek, two horses that will be fighting for the favorite position, were particularly well served by their draws. Only one horse, Gato Del Sol in 1982, has won from the 18 post, which Brother Derek will start from, and the 17 post of Lawyer Ron hasn't been much more successful. Oddly, Brother Derek will likely need to rely on his rival one gate over if he wants to win the race. Since both horses have fairly similar running styles, Alex Solis on Brother Derek will be looking to follow Lawyer Ron right through the early crowd and into a safe position to strike from if and when the speed horses burn each other out. On the plus side, if there is early trouble in the crowd both horses should be far enough outside to avoid it.
Brother Derek, the morning line favorite, has obviously never started so far outside, since this is the first and last time that any of these horses will ever see a field this size. He has won his races by taking the lead from middle or inside positions against small fields and holding it. The only time he has run from outside it didn't go well. He started in the 13th gate in the Breeders Cup Juvenile and ended up 4th. The post and the inability to run his familiar style will make for a real test of how good this horse really is.
Kiaran McLaughlin has to be considering himself lucky. He had the 18th choice of positions with Jazil, a pure closer, but was able to end up with the inside post. That spot isn't ideal for a horse that needs the lead but he, and fellow closer Steppenwolfer in the second hole, will be able to sit back in a secure spot on the rail and let the race develop in front of them. As long as they don't get boxed in and they can find room to move when the time comes, it could work out well.
Another trainer who has to be happy is Baffert. His three horses are all starting within four gates. Sinister Minister has a very different style than the other two horses, but Baffert will feel better that his other horses will be nearby. Anything can happen in the first furlong of the race, but at least with his horses close together he has some control of what they will face. Each horse will obviously be out to win, but the jockeys will certainly be more aware of each other than they would be if they each were working for different trainers.
If all 20 horses avoid injury between now and Saturday and make the starting gate, it will only be the second time that there have been 20 starters. Buzzards Bay, last year's surprise Santa Anita Derby winner, drew the No. 20 spot and ended up 5th. This year it is 50-1 shot Flashy Bull who has the post. Buzzards Bay should still be able to claim the highest finish ever from the position.
Right now, almost every trainer will tell you that they have the perfect post position that sets up very well for their horse. By late Saturday night many of them will be blaming the same post position for their troubles. That's what makes the Derby so much fun.