LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Big Brown had to overcome the far outside post 12 when he won the Florida Derby five weeks ago at Gulfstream Park. On Saturday at Churchill Downs, when he tries to become the first horse in 93 years to win the Kentucky Derby off just three starts, Big Brown will be farther out, as far as can be, in post 20, the position co-owner Michael Iavarone and trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. surprisingly selected when post positions were set on Wednesday night for the 20 runners entered in the 134th Derby.
Big Brown, who has won his three starts by a combined 29 lengths, was installed as the 3-1 favorite on the morning line set by Mike Battaglia of Churchill Downs. Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, also has Big Brown at 3-1.
Colonel John, the Santa Anita Derby winner, wound up in post 10. He is the second choice of both Battaglia (4-1) and Watchmaker (5-1).
Pyro, who won the Louisiana Derby before finishing 10th in the Blue Grass Stakes, is the third choice on both lines at 6-1. He landed post 9.
Eight Belles, who will try to become only the fourth filly to win the Derby, wound up with post 5. She is 30-1 on Watchmaker's line.
This marked the fifth straight year that the Derby had the maximum of 20 horses entered in the race. In fact, 24 were put in the entry box on Wednesday morning. But the field is capped at 20, based on earnings in graded stakes races, so Halo Najib, Tomcito, El Gato Malo, and Kentucky Bear were denied spots. There is no also-eligible list for the Derby, so none of those four horses can move into the race if any of the 20 in the field subsequently scratch.
The determination of post positions for the Derby is a two-step process. In the morning, a traditional blind draw is held to determine the draft order for the runners. Then Wednesday night, representatives of each horse selected their post positions.
Big Brown had the 16th choice. Posts 1, 2, 18, 19, and 20 were all that remained when Iavarone walked to a board representing the starting gate and hung Big Brown's placard on post 20. It seemed an almost arrogant pick; only one horse has won from post 20, Clyde Van Dusen in 1929, but that was with a walk-up start, before the starting gate was invented.
"If we took 18 or 19, maybe he doesn't break so good and horses come over on him," Dutrow said. "Outside, he can get away clean. We felt like we took our best shot. He should be able to pop right out there and get a good position."
Colonel John had the third overall pick. His post was selected by Susan Casner, a co-owner of the colt, and Lt. Col. John Geider, for whom Colonel John is named.
The final two picks went to Recapturetheglory, the Illinois Derby winner, and Gayego, the Arkansas Derby winner. Ronnie Lamarque, a co-owner of Recapturetheglory, picked post 18, leaving 19 for Gayego.
Visionaire, the Gotham Stakes winner, had the first overall pick. He will start from post 8, the same spot from which Barbaro - like Visionaire, trained by Michael Matz - started when he won the Derby two years ago.
There is a bit of strategy involved in selecting posts. The far inside is often considered a hindrance, because horses in that post have to angle out after the start to avoid the elbow of the final turn at the quarter pole. For Cool Coal Man, though, he is used to being on the rail. This will be his fourth straight start from post 1.
The far outside is generally considered a poor spot because runners drawn there often lose ground if horses with similar styles bunch up inside them during the run to the first turn. Many of the horses considered front-runners in this Derby, including Big Brown, are grouped together near the outside.
In addition, the horses are double loaded, meaning horses in posts 1 and 11 are put in the gate first, followed by 2 and 12. So, Colonel John, while in the middle of the field in post 10, will actually be one of the last to go in the gate and will not have to stand there long. However, a horse in post 11 - like Z Humor, who had the ninth pick overall - is in the gate just as long as a horse in post 1.
Finally, a 20-horse field necessitates two starting gates. The main gate holds 14 horses, and the auxiliary gate holds the remaining six. Horses in posts 14 and 15 do not have a horse directly next to them, because of the space created by the tires on the outside of the respective starting gates. Horses in those posts have a greater margin of error should they break a tad slowly, since the chances of horses folding over on them are not as great as a horse with rivals breaking from adjacent stalls. Monba is in 14. Adriano got post 15, amazingly with the 12th pick.
With 20 runners, the Derby's overall purse will be $2,211,800, with $1,451,800 - and a garland of roses - going to the winner.
Two horses, Bob Black Jack and Court Vision, are adding blinkers for this race, and two others, Anak Nakal and Z Humor, are removing blinkers. All 20 will use Lasix or another approved anti-bleeding medication. And all will carry 126 pounds with the exception of Eight Belles, who gets a five-pound weight allowance because she is facing males.
Eight Belles, trained by Larry Jones, also was entered in the Kentucky Oaks, which is run Friday. She drew the outside post in a field of 12 for that race. Rick Porter, whose Fox Hill Farms owns Eight Belles, earlier in the week said he would run Eight Belles in the Derby if she drew a favorable post. But Wednesday morning, he opened the door just a crack to reconsider.
"I know deep down Larry wants to go in the Oaks," Porter said. "I'm willing to take a chance. If she gets a good post, depending on where everybody else is, I guess I'll take a shot."
The Derby is the 10th race on a 12-race card that begins at 11 a.m. Eastern time. Post time for the Derby is listed at 6:04 p.m., but the race has gone off at 6:15 and 6:16 the past two years. According to Weather.com, the high temperature Saturday is forecast at 67 degrees, and there is 40 percent chance of thunderstorms.
Top Things to Know
- The last time the post-time favorite won in consecutive years - as Street Sense won last year - was 1974-75 when Cannonade and Foolish Pleasure won. That concluded a stretch where favorites won four consecutive years. Big Brown is the ML-favorite at 3-1.
- Bad news for Cowboy Cal and Gayego. They drew posts 17 and 19 - two posts from which nobody has won the Kentucky Derby. And no post has a longer drought than post 20 - home of the ML favorite Big Brown - but there have only been 11 starters from post 20 since Clyde Van Dusen won in 1929.
- Big Brown (3-3 lifetime) takes a perfect record into the Kentucky Derby. Only six horses - including two of the last four Derby winners - have won the Derby with an unblemished record. Last year Curlin was a perfect 3-3 entering the Derby, drew a poor post and suffered his first career defeat. However, Curlin rebounded, won the Preakness and eventually the Breeders' Cup Classic and horse of the year honors. Big Brown is a perfect 3-3 lifetime, winning those 3 starts by a combined 29 lengths.
- Larry Jones' filly Eight Belles is the first filly to run in the Derby since 1999. No filly has won the Derby since Winning Colors in 1988. all-time, 38 fillies have run in the Derby, with 3 winning - Winning Colors in 1988, Genuine Risk in 1980 and Regret in 1915. Remember, a filly won the last Triple Crown race contested (Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont Stakes).
- Todd Pletcher is still looking for that elusive first Kentucky Derby win (0-19) - he did pick up his first Triple Crown win with Rags to Riches in last years Belmont. Pletcher ran 2nd in the Derby in 2006 with Bluegrass Cat, while last year, of his 5 entrants, non ran better than 6th.
- Seven of the last nine Triple Crown races have been won by a trainer who had never previously won a Triple Crown race.
- Anak Nakal, Big Truck, Cool Coal Man, Denis of Cork, Pyro, and Visionaire, are trying to become the first Derby winner since Iron Liege in 1957 that did not finish at least 4th in his final prep. Eleven of the last twelve Derby winners have been 1st or 2nd in their final prep.
- In the last 16 years, every winner except Sea Hero in 1993 and Giacomo in 2005 ran at least a 102 Beyer Speed Figure in a route prior to the race. Those who qualify with a 102 figure this year are Big Brown, Gayego, Pyro, Recapturetheglory and Z Fortune.