Derby draw Q & A
LOUISVILLE -- Many horseplayers who made future wagers on Brother Derek and Lawyer Ron must have been dismayed when those colts drew posts 18 and 17, respectively, for Saturday's 132nd Kentucky Derby. Don't shred those tickets yet.
Last year, the Derby's top four finishers came from posts 10, 18, 12 and 17, in that order, and in the past 10 runnings winners came from post 16 three times and from post 15 twice. So breaking from the auxiliary gate (post 15 and out) certainly does not doom you.
Brother Derek's trainer, Dan Hendricks, shook off taking the worst of the luck of the draw.
"We talked about taking the 14 or 15 post this morning," Hendricks said, "so we are just a little bit farther out. I was afraid we might wind up with 1,2, 3 or 20. I have to be realistic about this and I can't be complaining. The greatest race in the world and here I am with one of the favorites. How can I be upset?"
Bob Holthus, Lawyer Ron's 71-year-old trainer, also took his wide post in stride.
"He likes to be outside," Holthus said. "The 15 would have been ideal but it was taken. I did not want to be trapped inside. There is a lot of speed to the inside of us, and if we can follow somebody, we'll be in good shape."
Where you start doesn't determine where you finish in America's Race. The trip is far more crucial, and no one can say how that will play out for anybody. You can win the Derby without having great luck, but very few horses are good enough to overcome more than a bit of trouble. Going 11/4 miles for the first time, against 19 wired opponents, is hard enough without having to take the worst of it from the racing gods.
So here is a brief Q and A to help clear up some misconceptions about the draw and other aspects of the world's most overhyped and overanalyzed horse race.
Q. What are considered the best and worst posts in the Derby?
A. In a full field of 20, generally trainers dread the rail and the outside gate most, with posts 2 and 19 not far behind.
If a horse has tactical speed and needs to stalk the pace, the jockey has to push him early to gain position. From the extreme outside, he may be hung six or seven wide going into the first turn, a quarter of a mile away. That's a recipe for failure. If a horse breaks slowly from the rail, he can be trapped behind most of the field and may never get a clear run.
The extreme outside and inside posts are not such a problem for horses that come from far behind. Since they lack early speed, they'll be dropping in behind the rest of the field anyway. Deep closers Jazil and Steppenwolfer got posts 1 and 2, so that shouldn't hurt them. They need a very fast pace so they can make their late run and pass exhausted horses.
Q. What tactical problems do Brother Derek and Lawyer Ron face?
A. Both are free-running sorts, and jockeys Alex Solis and John McKee will have to push them a bit from the outside to get within striking distance of the pacesetters entering the turn. If the pace is too hot, they could get cooked while running wide.
Q. Will the pace be faster than average for a Derby?
A. The consensus says yes. In fact, it's almost unanimous. Sinister Minister, Keyed Entry, Sharp Humor, Barbaro, Showing Up and Sweetnorthernsaint all like to be up front early, along with Brother Derek and Lawyer Ron. The faster the early fractions, the greater chance for a closer to come from way back, as 50-1 shot Giacomo did last year.
Q. How important is Derby experience?
A. It used to mean more than it did the past three years. Trainers Barclay Tagg (Funny Cide), John Servis (Smarty Jones) and John Shirreffs (Giacomo) each won with his first Derby runner.
For the jockey angle, Stewart Elliott (Smarty Jones) also was in his first Derby, but he'd been riding for about 20 years. For a very young rider, it's harder to shake off the jitters and the feeling of "just happy to be here" and get the game face on.
Q. So, who do you think will win?
A. Uh, give me another day or so. I can't ever recall having so few strong convictions about a Derby. Right now I'm leaning toward Point Determined, who drew well in post 5 and should be rallying from midpack. If I make my usual four-horse exacta box, he'll be in it with Barbaro, Sweetnorthernsaint and probably A.P. Warrior.
Kentucky Derby television coverage begins Saturday, May 6 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC Sports.
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