Wednesday marked the post position draw for the 2014 Kentucky Derby, which now makes the chase for the first jewel of the Triple Crown at Churchill Downs easier to gauge.
California Chrome is the prohibitive morning-line favorite at 5-2, but his No. 5 post position wasn't quite what his connections were hoping for. Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated provided his analysis:
California chrome draws the 5. Not great, not disastrous. Gonna have to go a little.— Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) April 30, 2014
The past three winners of the Kentucky Derby have come from the auxiliary gate, dismissing the notion that drawing an outside post is a disadvantage. Traffic trouble can also plague those closer to the rail, particularly in the No. 1 position, which is Vicar's In Trouble's spot.
Below is a closer look at the complete field for this year's Run for the Roses in Louisville, Ky. along with a preview of what to expect in Saturday's race.
|Post||Horse||Jockey||Trainer||Morning Line Odds|
|1||Vicar's In Trouble||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker||30-1|
|2||Harry's Holiday||Corey Lanerie||Mike Maker||50-1|
|3||Uncle Sigh||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Gary Contessa||30-1|
|4||Danza||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher||10-1|
|5||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||5-2|
|6||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette Jr.||15-1|
|7||We Miss Artie||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||50-1|
|8||General A Rod||Joel Rosario||Mike Maker||15-1|
|9||Vinceremos||Joe Rococo Jr.||Todd Pletcher||30-1|
|10||Wildcat Red||Luis Saez||Jose Garoffalo||15-1|
|11||Hoppertunity||Mike Smith||Bob Baffert||6-1|
|12||Dance With Fate||Corey Nakatani||Peter Eurton||20-1|
|13||Chitu||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||20-1|
|14||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans||20-1|
|15||Tapiture||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||15-1|
|16||Intense Holiday||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||12-1|
|17||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart||50-1|
|18||Candy Boy||Gary Stevens||John Sadler||20-1|
|19||Ride On Curlin||Calvin Borel||Billy Gowan||15-1|
|20||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||Jimmy Jerkens||8-1|
Source: NBC Sports Network broadcast
Uncle Sigh's speed from the third post should expedite the pace of the race regardless of track conditions, which may create even more traffic in the beginning.
Between Arkansas Derby winner Danza in the fourth slot and California Chrome next furthest from the rail, there is a lot of firepower in close proximity. Perhaps the only knock on California Chrome is that he doesn't break all that well, and that threatens to make his task to charge to victory a tall one if he falls too far off the pace from the starting gates.
But there is some reason to be optimistic about California Chrome living up to the hype—even beyond his dominant wins in his past four races. Victor Espinoza will be in the saddle, running from the same spot he won this year's Santa Anita Derby—and at Churchill Downs aboard War Emblem in 2002:
When @EspinozasVictor won the 2002 Kentucky Derby he broke from gate 5 aboard War Emblem.— California Chrome (@CalChrome) April 30, 2014
Jockey Calvin Borel loves to hug the inside of the track, and he has won this race three times before. That figures to give Ride On Curlin a great chance from post 19 as a trendy pick to finish in the money. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports weighed in on Ride On Curlin's situation:
Ride On Curlin is in No. 19. If Calvin Borel is going to get to the Bo-rail, he's got a long way to go to get inside.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) April 30, 2014
One of the most notable draws was Wicked Strong starting furthest from the rail at No. 20. Wicked Strong is still commanding a lot of respect in the morning line with short 8-1 odds. Even though this is trainer Jimmy Jerkens' first Kentucky Derby starter, Wicked Strong has as good a chance as any in the auxiliary gate to make it to the winner's circle.
Just about anyone on the outside can win, though. Todd Pletcher's Intense Holiday will be ridden by John Velazquez, and Gary Stevens will seek his fourth Kentucky Derby triumph aboard Candy Boy. Tapiture's connections aren't quite as superb, yet he does have a previous win at Churchill Downs in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.
Local product Hoppertunity is in an excellent place to thrive. With strong Hall of Fame connections in trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith—along with an exceptional No. 11 post position—all signs point to Hoppertunity putting together a strong run.
One relative dark horse to watch for is just inside of Hoppertunity in Wildcat Red, who lost the Florida Derby by a nose to Constitution and figures to be a factor in the Kentucky Derby after that stellar performance.
Louisville handicapper and journalist J.J. Hysell noted how Wildcat Red's trainer Jose Garoffalo wanted to be somewhere in the middle of the draw:
Post 10 for Wildcat Red was just what @josegaroffalo wanted— J.J. Hysell (@trifectabox) April 30, 2014
NBC Sports Network analyst Randy Moss perhaps put it best in summarizing his feelings on the race when all the post positions were revealed, per the Daily Racing Form's Matt Hegarty:
And R. Moss discards entire 45 minutes of analysis on Derby draw show: "Y'know, you don't know what's going to happen when the gates open."— Matt Hegarty (@DRFHegarty) April 30, 2014
Who will win the Kentucky Derby?
It's difficult to consider California Chrome the runaway favorite now. He has two fleet-footed horses flanking him on either side. Borel will be surging from the outside as soon as possible, while seasoned jockey Rosie Napravnik will be fighting hard to get Vicar's In Trouble off the rail right from the jump.
The premium contenders from the inside could very well exhaust themselves well before the final stretch in this 10-furlong jaunt. That only enhances the chances of Hoppertunity winning on his native state's soil, but he will have to hold off a slew of challengers from the auxiliary gate if he holds the lead into the final turn.
Following the randomness that accompanies the post position draw, pure chance has created one of the most exciting and wide-open editions of the Kentucky Derby in recent memory.