The post-position draw can be one of the most tense moments leading up to the Kentucky Derby. The ideal post can make or break a horse's chances at greatness.
This year was no exception. Trainers and owners stoically watched on as their fate was decided by the luck of the draw. A field of 20 of the year's top three-year-old thoroughbreds has been assembled in search of horse racing's first jewel of the Triple Crown.
Though this field wound up coming together much like an equine version of musical chairs, with last-minute additions and defections, the final result is a competitive, deep group.
Though each is impacted in one way or another by where they will start, what really matters is where they finish. Here is a look at their post positions (in order) and my projection for the likelihood they each have of wearing the garland of roses.
Black Onyx training at Churchill Downs
Black Onyx has won three of five career starts and will likely be a big long shot this Saturday. Though he did defeat stakes company last time out, it was a dubious field of mostly turf horses trying synthetics. He will face a much tougher group here.
He has, however, won on conventional dirt and been victorious at three separate tracks, so he has at least proven that he can win on the road. This colt is physically one of the best-looking horses in the field, and for such a lightly raced colt, he has been a consummate professional in his races. His stalking style will be very useful, and he has shown some versatility in how far back he can be and still be effective.
He is at a disadvantage breaking from the inside post and will need some real racing luck to secure a position without getting jostled around too much.
Oxbow has been a horse with more excuses than victories this season, and he has been the victim of bad post positions and bad racing luck. Unfortunately, his Kentucky Derby post draw continued that path, and breaking this close to the rail will likely not do him any favors.
Luckily, regardless of where he is breaking from, he still has several things going for him. Even if he has to take a drop back and take a wide trip, he has enough stamina to do so and still have plenty left in the tank.
In the irons will be three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Gary Stevens, and if anyone can put this colt in a position to win, it is Stevens. Stevens is an aggressive, tactical rider who is no stranger to the pressures of Derby Day.
He has been training exceptionally well since coming to Churchill Downs, and the buzz surrounding him is that this is a horse coiled for a big race.
Revolutionary is becoming more and more appealing as the week goes on. With the chance of an off track, his chances move up significantly, and you would be hard-pressed to find a horse with more wet-track influence in his pedigree.
Todd Pletcher could not have been more thrilled with his post position, and this will help his jockey Calvin "Bo-rail" Borel navigate smartly to his favorite place to be on Derby Day. This is a colt who has overcome adversity and is as battle tested as they come, so a little bit of bumping should be manageable.
He looked hopelessly beaten in the Withers Stakes two races back yet somehow muscled his way through and carved out the victory. Was it the prettiest win? No, but he showed he has a huge heart and will find a way to win. His bold running style should fit perfectly with jockey Borel, who's known for being a fearless rider.
It is also worth noting that two of Borel's three Kentucky Derby wins came over off tracks (Mine That Bird and Super Saver), so you know this is a jockey who isn't afraid to get a little bit dirty.
Golden Soul is another contender in this field with only a maiden victory to his credit. In addition to only having one victory, he has been off the board in his last two starts against graded stakes company and appears to be out of his league here.
He is bred to be more of a miler than a classic distance racehorse. His sire, Perfect Soul (IRE), was a top turf miler when he was racing and has passed that on to many of his offspring.
In his female family, Golden Soul does not have much by way of stamina, and his best chances would come if there is an off track.
Normandy Invasion wound up being Javier Castellano’s top choice over the highly regarded Revolutionary, and that type of jockey endorsement is enough to make this colt warrant a strong look.
He turned in a strong effort from off the pace to finish second, beaten under a length, to the undefeated Verrazano. And he galloped out strongly after the wire.
This colt has a sharp turn of foot, and his ability to remain in striking range with a stalking trip is an effective strategy. However, like several of his competitors, he has only one win to his credit and has yet to run a good race outside of New York.
Jockey Rosie Napravnik
Mylute was able to redeem himself with a good effort in the Louisiana Derby behind Revolutionary. While he has not been the most consistent, he is a sharp closer. With the right trip, he may be able to get a piece of the action.
It is easy to root for his jockey, Rosie Napravnik, and she is as skilled as any jockey on the track right now. Mylute benefits from a potential off track and could be a sneaky long shot with a chance of rain.
While he may have some distance limitations, he should have plenty of speed to run at here, especially if Goldencents and Falling Sky engage early.
Giant Finish was the last-minute addition to the field, and it is a real stretch to make a case for him as a legitimate threat.
He has defeated soft competition in his two victories, neither of which came against stakes company, and he will get a stiff class test here. In his five starts, he has shown speed in all of them and is a horse that does his best running on the front end.
Against this group, he is not fast enough to secure the lead out of the gate. He looks to be up against it in the Derby, particularly breaking from the seven hole with the speedy Goldencents to his outside.
Bath time for Goldencents
Goldencents might be the fastest of the front-runners here and should be a factor early on. His post position is important because he will need to get out of the gate and to the lead while expending the least amount of energy if he has any chance of going gate to wire.
He will have to contend with Falling Sky, who will break to his outside from post 13, for the lead. Those two will likely hook up and contest the lead right out of the gate.
Last year, Doug O'Neill teamed up with a relatively unknown jockey in Mario Gutierrez to win two-thirds of the Triple Crown with I'll Have Another. This year, O'Neill is back with Goldencents and is giving another new face a big chance in jockey Kevin Krigger.
Can lightning strike twice?
Overanalyze with Gary Stevens aboard
Of Todd Pletcher's impressive five entrants, Overanalyze seems to be the forgotten one despite winning a major prep race in his last start. Though his time in the Arkansas Derby was pedestrian, the Oaklawn Park surface has been very deep and slow throughout the season. That race may be better than it actually appears on paper.
Overanalyze has a solid foundation and is a stakes winner at both two and three, an accomplishment not many of his rivals can boast. The only concern with him is that he has not been the model of consistency this year. If he fires, he is a contender, but that is an if.
Breaking from the No. 9 hole, he should be able to secure good position for a stalking trip and is a long shot to consider.
Palace Malice (inside)
Palace Malice is a big-bodied, battle-tested colt and was able to improve significantly in his last start after a troubled trip cost him all chances in the Louisiana Derby.
The biggest knock against this colt is that he only has one victory to his credit, and that came against maiden company. He has proven he can be competitive against stakes horses; now he needs to prove he can actually get the job done and win against them.
His jockey, Mike Smith, was barely able to contain his delight after the post positions were drawn. The No. 10 hole has been very lucky for him—he won the Derby in 2005 aboard long-shot Giacomo from that post.
He will get an equipment change for the Kentucky Derby and wear blinkers for the first time. While they may help him be more involved early—horses wearing blinkers for the first time tend to show more speed—any change prior to the most important event can be troubling.
The Derby doesn’t seem like the time to experiment. Would Tiger Woods try a brand-new driver at the Masters?
Lines of Battle has one major advantage on many rivals here. In Europe, field size tends to be significantly larger than an average United States race, so he has already experienced the bumping that inevitably comes from fuller fields.
This world traveler has an experience edge, and though his sire was a successful sprinter, his offspring have proven to be effective distance horses as well. Lines of Battle also seems like he has ample stamina. Even with those things in his favor, the international invaders do not have a glowing record of success in the Derby.
While he has never raced over dirt, he has proven to be effective on both turf and synthetics. With his pedigree, a case could be made that he could be a triple threat.
Itsmyluckyday has fallen off a lot of radars since his average second-place finish behind Orb in the Florida Derby. Handicappers are a fickle bunch. Early in the season, he was on top of nearly everyone's list after a scintillating victory in the Holy Bull Stakes over champion Shanghai Bobby.
Though there might be doubts about whether or not he is a true mile-and-a-quarter sort of racehorse, he might be the fastest of this group. He should, if nothing else, be a factor early and make sure Verrazano does not get everything his own way.
Falling Sky showed last time out in the Arkansas Derby that his running style and lack of stamina in his pedigree might be starting to catch up to him. Though he does have some talent, he has steadily regressed with each start this spring. His front-running style may make this a difficult task for him.
He is up against it here and will have to contend with the classy Goldencents to his inside. He may be a brief factor early, but that will be the extent of it.
Verrazano prepares for the Derby
The Derby is an instance where Verrazano's inexperience may be an issue. Though this is a horse who has handled each hurdle with class and professionalism, the extraordinary Kentucky Derby crowds can be overwhelming for young horses.
He certainly is bred to handle an off track, but the sensation of getting wet, sloppy mud kicked back in a horse's face for the first time can be very jarring, so for him, post position is crucial.
The sigh of relief when he drew post position No. 14 was nearly visible from trainer Todd Pletcher, and he should be in an ideal spot. He is a horse with a lot of tactical early speed and will need to break sharply and secure a position early, while it will be John Velazquez’s job to minimize the bumping.
Regardless of any minor flaw, he is, at least on paper, the horse to beat as that undefeated record is intact.
Charming Kitten (middle) in the Blue Grass Stakes
Charming Kitten is one of the best three-year-olds in the country.
However, he is one of the best three-year-olds in the country on turf. Not dirt. Unfortunately for him, the Kentucky Derby is a dirt race, and he has never raced on conventional dirt.
He is a graded stakes winner on the turf and ran a dynamite race to finish a game third in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes. But that was run on Keeneland’s synthetic surface, which is known to play kindly to grass horses.
He is a really nice horse, just not the horse for this race, and it would be a surprise to see him be a factor.
Orb prepares for the Kentucky Derby as trainer Shug McGaughey looks on
Orb is one of the least impacted by the post-position draw because of his running style. Though he is not a Zenyatta-esque closer that spots the field a dozen lengths, he does come from off the pace and should be able to drop back slightly out of the gate and secure a position. He is at the mercy of a good trip, and jockey Joel Rosario may have to weave around quite a few tiring rivals to land in the winner's circle.
His post draw was not ideal, but it's far from the worst possible spot for this horse to break from. He is tactical and versatile enough to be effective.
The one real issue that may stem from his draw is his tendency to get washed up in the post parade and behind the gate. The longer he has to wait to load behind other horses, the more chance he has to leave his race there.
His real challenge will come in the paddock and on track prior to the race. If he can keep his nerves in check, he will be very tough.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas on track
Will Take Charge will try to win the Kentucky Derby off a seven-week layoff, and if any trainer can get a horse fit enough to do so, it is D. Wayne Lukas. This impeccably bred colt has one of the strongest pedigrees of the field.
His father, Unbridled’s Song, is one of the most prominent contemporary stallions. His dam, Take Charge Lady, was a top filly in her crop and produced the highly regarded Take Charge Indy, who will actually be competing in the Alysheba Stakes on Friday at Churchill Downs.
There are a few concerns, however. Since breaking his maiden, he has had two very poor efforts. One came over an off track at Oaklawn, and with rain in the forecast, he becomes less appealing. The second poor performance was an abysmal last-place finish at Churchill Downs last fall.
He was gallant in victory over stablemate Oxbow in the Rebel Stakes and proved he is quite athletic and agile for a colt of his massive 17-hand stature. He overcame significant traffic last time and should be able to maneuver the Derby field.
Frac Daddy in action at Churchill Downs
Frac Daddy was able to finally turn around what has been a disappointing sophomore season thus far with a good runner-up finish in the Arkansas Derby. It was enough to get him into the Kentucky Derby starting gate, at least.
With only a maiden victory to his credit, he is a tough horse to make a legitimate case for, but he is a proven commodity at Churchill Downs. Two of his best career performances—his maiden win and a narrow defeat in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes—came at Churchill Downs, so he may be a horse for the course.
With his female family tracing back to Skip Away (who, ironically, was well known for how atrociously he handled Churchill Downs), he has no shortage of stamina and should excel at the distance.
Java's War (outside) works with stablemate Frac Daddy
Java’s War made a massive last-to-first move in the Blue Grass Stakes to earn his spot in the Kentucky Derby, proving his competitive runner-up finish behind Verrazano in Tampa was not a fluke performance.
The gauge with Java’s War really is, how good do you think Verrazano is? With the exception of Palace Malice, he defeated a field of mostly turf horses in the Blue Grass, but that race in Florida came over conventional dirt, so he has proven capable on either surface.
It is worth noting that his only two off-the-board finishes came at Churchill Downs. This is a track that has a reputation for being tricky—horses either love it or hate it—and those two blemishes might be indications that it is not his surface.
One other factor that may play against Java’s War is his size. He’s very small for a thoroughbred and will need to be aggressive to weave his way through horses from the back of the pack.
Vyjack was the biggest loser of the post-position draw. This is a horse notorious for being more than a little bit of a handful, and he will be the one hearing the full impact of the sizeable Kentucky Derby crowd. That is enough to make a quiet horse come undone, and he is far from quiet.
His undefeated streak was snapped by Verrazano in the Wood Memorial, where he turned in a disappointing, flat effort. He did have a possible excuse and came out of that race with a minor lung infection.
Since then, he got a brief break and has resumed training very well. His trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, is a former jockey who exercise rides this horse himself, so he knows him incredibly well.
This horse will have to run the race of his life to win from this spot.