LOUISVILLE, Ky.—It’s time to sharpen the pencils, sort through all the numbers and all the stories and pick a winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby. The post positions were drawn Wednesday at noon, and Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battaglia posted the morning line odds a few minutes later. For the first time this spring, we know what we’re up against.
|1||West Side Bernie||Kelly Breen||Stewart Elliott||30-1|
|2||Musket Man||Derek Ryan||Eibar Coa||20-1|
|3||Mr. Hot Stuff||Eoin Harty||John Velasquez||30-1|
|4||Advice||Todd Pletcher||Rene Douglas||30-1|
|5||Hold Me Back||Bill Mott||Kent Desormeaux||15-1|
|6||Friesan Fire||Larry Jones||Gabriel Saez||5-1|
|7||Papa Clem||Gary Stute||Rafael Bejarano||20-1|
|8||Mind That Bird||Richard Mandella||Calvin Borel||50-1|
|9||Join in the Dance||Todd Pletcher||Chris DeCarlo||50-1|
|10||Regal Ransom||Saeed bin Suroor||Alan Garcia||30-1|
|11||Chocolate Candy||Jerry Hollendorfer||Mike Smith||20-1|
|12||General Quarters||Thomas McCarthy||Julien Leparoux||20-1|
|13||I Want Revenge||Jeff Mullins||Joe Talamo||3-1|
|14||Atomic Rain||Kelly Breen||Joe Bravo||50-1|
|15||Dunkirk||Todd Pletcher||Edgar Prado||4-1|
|16||Pioneer of the Nile||Bob Baffert||Garrett Gomez||4-1|
|17||Summer Bird||Tim Ice||Chris Rosier||50-1|
|18||Nowhere to Hide||Nick Zito||Shaun Bridgmohan||50-1|
|19||Desert Party||Saeed bib Suroor||Ramon Dominguez||15-1|
|20||Flying Private||D. Wayne Lucas||Robby Albarado||50-1|
Three of the horses that will go into the starting gate about 6 p.m. Saturday were not listed in our preview last week (See: From the rat race to the horse race). Atomic Rain, Summer Bird and Nowhere to Hide got into the field for the “Run for the Roses” when injured entrants were withdrawn.
Quality Road, winner of the Florida Derby, came out of that race with a quarter crack (a split in the hoof wall) on his right hind foot. While training in New York, he developed another crack, this one in his right front foot, and his connections decided to wait for another day.
The owners and the trainer of Square Eddie made the same decision. The colt suffered an injury to his shin bone early this spring and missed weeks of training time. He came back sound, but he was on a tight schedule and could not get ready in time to run the 1 ¼ mile Derby distance.
Win Willy was withdrawn after his trainer found what could be the beginning of a fracture in the colt’s left front ankle. The winner of the Rebel Stakes earlier this spring at Oaklawn Park, he ran well to be fourth in the Arkansas Derby. But it was not to be.
Their replacements are not expected to have an impact on the race. That’s why all three are listed at 50-1 on the morning line.
Atomic Rain (Smart Strike) has won only one race in his life—and that was last June—but he amassed enough earnings by running second and fourth in two graded stakes to make the also-eligible list for the Derby. He was beaten in his last start by both West Side Bernie (PP 1) and morning line Derby favorite I Want Revenge (PP 13).
He is owned by George and Lori Hall and trained by Kelly Breen, the same connections as West Side Bernie. Other than greed, there is no reason for this colt to be entered against this bunch.
Summer Bird has had only three races in his life, all this spring. He ran on March 1 and lost. He broke his maiden (This has nothing to do with sex! It means he won his first race.) March 19, and then ran third behind Papa Clem (PP 7) in the Arkansas Derby on April 11. That got him enough money to get into the race.
This horse has so much going against him, he cannot be taken seriously. He never ran as a two-year-old and his trainer has never been to the Derby. He stands a good chance of finishing dead last, near Atomic Rain.
Nowhere to Hide, who replaces Win Willy, is another horse that has won only once. Although he is trained by Nick Zito, who has won this race, and will be ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, a top Kentucky rider, this horse belongs in another race somewhere else. Zito should know better.
Now that the connections of West Side Bernie, Atomic Rain, Summer Bird and Nowhere to Hide have been properly scolded, let’s take a look at who was helped and who was hurt by the post position draw.
The outside horses in the 20-horse Derby field run out of an auxiliary starting gate that puts them at a tactical disadvantage. If they are not fast enough to secure a front-running position before the first turn, they may be forced to run wide the entire trip. A mile and a quarter is far enough as it is; adding more distance cannot help. If the horse is a closer and drops in behind the field, he faces the prospect of having to work his way through heavy traffic to get to the front before the finish line.
The only one of the outside horses expected to have a chance is Pioneerof the Nile. He was already up against it because all his races this year came on synthetic tracks in California. Trainer Bob Baffert has won the Derby three times, but his chances were hurt by the draw. It’s possible for the colt to get a piece of the purse, but probably not to win.
The small numbered posts are equally uninviting. If a horse drawn to the inside is not fast enough to get to the front in a hurry, he stands a good chance of being swallowed up by the field on the first turn. Then he faces the same problem as come-from-behinders on the outside: heavy traffic in the home stretch. Look at the ML odds on the inside four horses. Three are at 30-1 and one is at 20-1. Take the hint.
On the other hand, this could be a good betting race because it features several intriguing long shots:
CHOCOLATE CANDY (PP 11). Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who dominates northern California racing, doesn’t ship horses east unless he thinks he has a chance to win. At 20-1 on the morning line and with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith riding, Candy may be worth a small wager.
PAPA CLEM (PP 7). The winner of the Arkansas Derby in his last start is being dismissed here at ML odds of 20-1. He will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, who has won several riding titles at Churchill Downs. The kid knows the ins and outs of this dirt surface.
FRIESAN FIRE (PP 6). If it rains, this is your horse. He won the Louisiana Derby in the slop, and trainer Larry Jones said he would not be sad to see it pouring Saturday. Jones finished second in the past two editions of this race, and he is retiring at the end of the year. He would love to go out a winner here. Fire is not a real long shot at 5-1, but money is money.
We’ve discussed horses that should not be in this race, we’ve looked at horses hurt by the post position draw and we’ve taken a look at the long shots. So, who’s gonna make money out of this thing?
I WANT REVENGE (PP 13) is the legitimate ML favorite at 3-1. He has excelled on dirt since shipping east from California, and he has recorded the best speed figures of any horse in the race. The only knock on him that he will be ridden by 19-year-old Joe Talamo. This can be overlooked, because Talamo is one of those Louisiana Cajun riders who develop early and ride late. In fact, three of them are in this race: Borel, Desormeaux and Albarado.
As you know, most Southerners cannot legally wager on horse races unless they travel out of state. Using a bookie is a no-no, and signing up with one of those off-shore wagering facilities that takes wagers via the internet is also forbidden.
But a guy says:
Bet $20 to win on #13 I WANT REVENGE.
Bet a $2 Exacta on #13 I WANT REVENGE and # 16 PIONEEROF THE NILE.
Bet a $2 Exacta Box #7 PAPA CLEM and #12 GENERAL QUARTERS.
The cost of these three wagers is $26.
We’re not allowed to wish readers good luck, or anything.