You knew the horses. You knew the trainers. You knew the jockeys. Now, we all know where each of those notable faces at the 2014 Kentucky Derby will be lining up.
Wednesday marks the most important pre-Saturday evening on the Road to the Roses, as the entire post draw for the field of 20 was done at Churchill Downs. With a prohibitive favorite in California Chrome already establishing himself as a potential Triple Crown challenger, there was widespread intrigue about where he would ultimately land.
California chrome draws the 5. Not great, not disastrous. Gonna have to go a little.— Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) April 30, 2014
The favorite wound up in the fifth spot and was one of 20 horses to hear his name called Wednesday evening. The field is limited to the top 20 entrants, based on a points system accrued throughout the 2014 horse racing calendar. In the event that a top-20 horse was not entered, the next highest on the list would have been eligible.
California Chrome will be joined by a cabal of horses right in the middle, though it is a little more inside than most would have liked. Third-favorite Wicked Strong drew the No. 20 post, while the Todd Pletcher-trained Danza will line up right beside California Chrome at No. 4.
Pletcher's other horses, Intense Holiday, We Miss Artie and Vinceremos, drew the No. 16, No. 7 and No. 9 positions, respectively. Bob Baffert's entrant, Hoppertunity, was scratched from the field on Thursday, while replacement racer Pablo Del Monte was scratched on Friday.
With the draw concluded, let's see how the entire field shook out and check in on some takeaways from the action.
|1||Vicar's In Trouble||25-1|
|7||We Miss Artie||40-1|
|8||General A Rod||18-1|
|12||Dance With Fate||22-1|
|19||Ride On Curlin||20-1|
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The Favorite: California Chrome
With a name that seems like it should have been the title of an early-1990s rap album and an almost unheralded pedigree, California Chrome heads into the weekend as an overwhelming favorite. Prior to the post-draw listings, the three-year-old colt was an 11-4 favorite, per OddsShark.com, a number that dwarfed the entire competition.
The post draw altered the hierarchy somewhat, but California Chrome held on to his top billing. He's the season's top-ranked horse by a significant margin, with his three 2014 victories giving him 150 points—30 better than his next competitor (Vicar's In Trouble).
And it's not just that California Chrome is winning. It's the Triple Crown-esque dominance that he's displayed that makes this horse the source of such intrigue. His last four wins came by a combined 24.25 lengths, including a dominant turn at the hallowed Santa Anita Derby.
"With a good break and a clean trip, I think it's a done deal," California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn told reporters at a press conference. "That's just my personal feeling. That's what I have right here (pointing to his heart). I think it's a done deal."
There are some historical factors pointing against a Secretariat-esque run, namely experience and pedigree. California Chrome has been trained by Art Sherman, a well-respected veteran of the horse racing circuit who is nonetheless untested at this level. Sherman's most noteworthy Kentucky Derby experience was being the exercise rider for Swaps, the 1955 race winner.
As a jockey, Sherman has carved a profitable but largely anonymous career. This will be his first Kentucky Derby horse after decades upon decades of hanging in the fringes.
California Chrome's own path to greatness is almost as unlikely. He was not trained by a D. Wayne Lukas or Bob Baffert, was not the prized possession of multimillionaire owners and wasn't the recipient of DNA passed down a long lineage of Derby contenders.
Now he's at the top of the mountain.
Todd Pletcher is the best trainer in the business. Or he's a perpetual bridesmaid who can't win the big one. It all depends on who is answering the question and their mood toward one of the sport's most famous faces.
Pletcher, still only 46 years old, was groomed by D. Wayne Lukas in the early-1990s and has developed into one of the world's most successful trainers over the last decade. He has won six Eclipse Awards since 2004, including a stretch of four straight from 2004 to 2007. Any time his name is attached to a horse, interest piques—even if it's a 50-1 underdog that sits third or fourth in his assembly line of Derby candidates.
At the top of this year's candidates is Danza, the surprise Arkansas Derby winner who is almost as much mystery as contender at this point. Danza sat out a majority of his two-year-old year with injury issues, failing to register a competitive start between August's Saratoga Special and March. He only has four starts in his entire career.
Of course, each of those have resulted in top-three finishes. Danza also has a strong but complicated pedigree from French Deputy. Dominant in his heyday, like Danza, injuries cropped up at the worst possible time for French Deputy and cost him a possible Triple Crown bid. He was forced to sit out the entire 1995 Triple Crown bid.
With Danza healthy at the moment and in strong form, though, he may be California Chrome's biggest competition. The fourth post isn't the best possible outcome, but he'll be close enough to California Chrome to know where he stands.
If Danza were to win, it would be a key step in Pletcher's legacy. For all the success he's had, the Triple Crown races—particularly the Kentucky Derby—have not always been so kind. Super Saver (2010) is his only Derby champion, and his 1-of-36 success rate has long been the cause of some questions about where he stands among the world's best trainers.
Danza can help stomp that narrative out for good.
Don't Trust: The Inside or the Outside
There are many flaws of the post-drawing practice, many of which are based in their complete randomness. It seems almost unfair that positions are drawn entirely at random, when history tells us the winner of the Kentucky Derby is rarely in a "random" spot.
Throughout history, the outside post positions come with a dead-on-arrival sticker. Posts Nos. 17-20 have combined for three Kentucky Derby winners in history. While two of those have come since 2008, it is always better to rely on what the large sample tells us. No. 17 has never won the race—sorry, Commanding Curve. No. 18 hasn't done so since 1982—sorry, Candy Boy.
I'll Have Another came from the 19th spot two years ago, and Big Brown won from the final post in 2008. Both of those horses won two of the three Triple Crown races, however.
Unless you have a once-in-a-generation horse, it is far too difficult to make your way to the inside. Much of the first stretch is a rat race to see which jockey can position his horse on the inside post without losing much ground up front—otherwise known as the Calvin Borel mantra.
There are just too many bodies in a loaded field to make the necessary moves.
Similarly, the rat race to the inside has also all but eliminated the good fortune of starting close to the rail. The No. 1 post has won eight times, tied for the second most in race history. The No. 2 post is right behind with seven wins.
It's been more than a quarter century since either of those two posts have come away with the roses. Affirmed in 1978 was the last from the No. 2 spot, and Ferdinand won from the rail in 1986.
Louisiana Derby winner Vicar's in Trouble gets a difficult Kentucky Derby draw. Rosie Napravnik will start from the No. 1 post position.— Doug Mouton (@DMoutonWWL) April 30, 2014
This doesn't necessarily mean that outside contenders like Wicked Strong or inside runners like Vicar's In Trouble cannot win the race. A trend is only a trend until it is broken. But there are legitimate reasons for the outside and inside posts to be detrimental.
On the inside, jockeys have to weigh the safety of their horses against an entire field encroaching on their position. On the outside, you're attempting to plow through upward of 19 other horses and jockeys to find the rail.
Not exactly ideal in either way.
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