The Twin Spires have stood guard over Churchill Downs since 1895, and over a century later, the horses at the 2014 Kentucky Derby will race past that iconic visage. But the starting position in relation to those spires carries perhaps the most significant factor for each horse's chances at victory.
The draw for post positions takes place Wednesday, April 30 at 5 p.m. ET, and the spot at the starting gate often dictates the complexion of the race. Post position also alters the odds. Here is your need-to-know guide to the Derby ahead of the blind draw.
Where: Churchill Downs (Louisville, Kentucky)
When: Saturday, May 3; post time approx. 6:24 p.m. ET
Watch: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET on NBC
Stream: NBC Live Extra
No one wants to be in the dreaded No. 17 position, which has never produced a winner of the Derby, but other spots are less desirable for more concrete reasons. As observed by the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
Some trainers want to avoid the No. 1 post because their horse starts next to the rail and could get pinched going into the first turn. Others don't like the No. 20 post because their horse is on the far outside and has to quickly make its way over toward the rail to save ground going into the first turn. Last year's winner, Orb, broke from the No. 15 post. The odds are set on draw day, too.
It's not so much that post position decides the outcome, but the impact remains significant in how certain factors influence how the horses run.
Historically, the majority of winners come out of the first 10 positions from the rail, with the No. 2 spot considered prime. Pole positioning can impact certain horses and jockeys more than others, but having to come from way outside to join the pack usually makes all the difference over the 1 1/4 miles.
The inside rail has a recent history of thwarting potential champions, as well, according to Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times:
The Derby now allows 20 horses in the Churchill Downs starting gate. In some ways, that makes the day of the post-position draw almost as important as the race itself. The dread, for most connections of Derby horses, is an inside or near-inside post. Many top-flight horses, including recently Lookin At Lucky, get squeezed down and blocked at the start with a near-rail post position. Lookin At Lucky went off as the favorite in the 2010 Derby and had to run around lots of horses just to come home sixth. Two weeks later, he won the Preakness.
In this case, Lookin At Lucky ended up literally looking at the luckier horses in front of him who claimed more favorable positions, and a No. 1 position for this year's odds-on favorite could be too much to overcome.
Weather can also have as much of an unexpected outcome on a race as the fateful draw.
|Kentucky Derby Winners by Pole Position (since 1900)|
|Pole Position||No. of Winners||Most Recent|
|1||12||Ferdinand - 1986|
|2||9||Affirmed - 1978|
|3||8||Real Quiet - 1998|
|4||11||Super Saver - 2010|
|5||12||Funny Cide - 2003|
|6||6||Sea Hero - 1993|
|7||8||Street Sense - 2007|
|8||10||Mine That Bird - 2009|
|9||4||Riva Ridge - 1972|
|10||10||Giacomo - 2005|
|11||3||Winning Colors - 1988|
|12||3||Canonero II - 1971|
|13||4||Smarty Jones - 2004|
|14||2||Carry Back - 1961|
|15||4||Orb - 2013|
|16||4||Animal Kingdom - 2011|
|18||1||Gato Del Sol - 1982|
|19||1||I'll Have Another - 2012|
|20||2||Big Brown - 2008|
The current odds have California Chrome as the favorite at 11-4, and the rest of the field trails several lengths behind.
In a gaffe that might cause some superstitious gamblers to pause, California Chrome took to practice wearing a misspelled sponsorship sign.
That drew some chuckles, but spelling the favorite's name wrong seems like a curious error, especially when the incorrect word is the name of a U.S. state.
Wicked Strong (7-1), Danza (9-1) and Hoppertunity (10-1) round out the early favorites among a stunning array of long shots. Sixteen horses currently have 20-1 odds or worse.
Moreover, whichever horse gets the short stick of the No. 17 spot will end up with long odds as well as a chance to make history.
It could end up as a lucrative year for exotics, as bettors have a vast majority of the field on long odds. Those odds will lurch in various directions after the draw, and the only certainty is that California Chrome will be the favorite.
Of the four experts the Kentucky Derby's website solicited for picks, three chose the favorite to win, but they also chose a whole host of different horses to finish second and third. Hoppertunity, Intense Holiday, Ride On Curlin, Wicked Strong, Candy Boy and Danza all made the experts' mix.
Pole position will actually be a tremendous aid for bettors, as the crowded field of long shots will shake into order away from the rail and toward the shadow of the Twin Spires, but draw day is one that jockeys, trainers and owners mark with great apprehension.
|2014 Kentucky Derby Odds|
|Dance With Fate||20-1|
|Ride On Curlin||20-1|
|Vicar's In Trouble||20-1|
|General a Rod||33-1|
|We Miss Artie||40-1|
|Pablo Del Monte||50-1|
All odds courtesy of Odds Shark as of 12 p.m. ET on April 29.
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