The post position draw for Kentucky Derby 138 is in the books and I can’t remember one in the past 20 years or so that seemed so important and so eagerly anticipated.
In a year when the “experts” are having extreme difficulty trying to separate the top seven or eight contenders – who appear to be so evenly matched you can make a strong case for all of them -- many beleaguered handicappers were looking to the draw to help them eliminate one or two who had the misfortune to draw poorly.
But the dreaded No. 1 and No. 2 posts went to two horses who don’t appear to have a legitimate chance no matter what post they got … European shipper Daddy Long Legs and Optimizer, respectively … so that didn’t help one bit. The far outside posts, Nos. 19 and 20, went to I’ll Have Another and Liaison, respectively, but that didn’t appear to have a dramatic impact or be a hindrance to either. In fact, after I’ll Have Another drew the 19 post, TV commentator and former champion jockey Gary Stevens remarked, “I like the post position because this horse has speed.”
On the other hand, Liaison, Bob Baffert’s “other horse,” doesn’t have a lot of early speed, so the No. 20 post shouldn’t be a problem because he figures to be slow out of the gate and then drop over to the inside to save ground. So, drawing the post positions most people in the know try to avoid at all costs didn’t seem to help clarify things very much. Let’s take a look at which horses did benefit by the draw, however, and which ones got hurt.
The best draw in my mind went to Todd Pletcher’s undefeated colt Gemologist, who got No. 15.
Prior to the draw, Pletcher commented that he was hoping Gemologist would wind up with an outside post so he could “fall into a real nice spot with the potential pace scenario being pretty rapid.” Well, Pletcher hit the jackpot. Not only did his colt get an outside post, he got the coveted 15 which is the first slot in the auxiliary gate. This means there will be a gap between the No. 14 horse (Hansen) and his colt, giving Gemologist that much more room to maneuver after the break.
Also, since he’s in the 15 spot, Gemologist won’t have to stand in the gate for a long period of time, eliminating some of the stress as he waits for the two gates to load. So, you have an undefeated colt with two wins over the Churchill Downs strip already, trained by the leading trainer in the country, ridden by the leading jockey in the country (Javier Castellano) and coming out of a perfect post position. All that and he’s 8-1 on the morning line.If you like this colt on Saturday, it’s hard to argue with you. Two other runners who drew well are Hansen (14) and Daddy Nose Best (10). Both drew outside the expected pacesetter, Trinniberg, who will leave from post 9, and Hansen, since he’s in the final spot in the main gate, will also get the advantage of the extra space because of the gap between the gates.
Hansen, of course, will have to prove that he can be just as effective coming off the pace --- as he did in winning the Gotham – as opposed to his usual style of setting the pace, as he did in winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill as a 2-year-old. Daddy Nose Best, winner of both his races this year – the El Camino Derby and the Sunland Derby – should be able to secure a good spot early and relax while sitting outside the speed (Trinniberg, Bodemeister and Take Charge Indy) somewhere in midpack. The horses I believe got hurt by the draw are Union Rags (4) and Take Charge Indy (3). Union Rags, who doesn’t figure to be close to the pace during the run through the stretch the first time, may have a crush of horses coming over on him early and could be bogged down in traffic before the field hits the first turn. He may need a lot of racing luck to weave his way around and though horses after that which is always problematic in a 20-horse field.
Take Charge Indy, who won the Florida Derby wire-to-wire, doesn’t look like he has much of a choice on Saturday. If he doesn’t gun it out of the gate, he probably will be swallowed up as well by the horde of horses coming over on him. But if he does expend a lot of energy early it may compromise his chances in the latter stages of the race.
As always, the Kentucky Derby figures to be a jockeys’ race. As we’ve seen time and time again, the best horse doesn’t always win; the horse which gets the best trip does. And it helps when the rider has been there before and knows what to expect.
All the preliminaries are over. It’s time to get down to serious business. Who do I think will win Kentucky Derby 138? You can find out by going to my web site www.tomthebombpicks.com and signing up for my picks on the My Selections page. Whatever you decide to do, I wish you the best of luck.
Enjoy the spectacle!