By Gene Kershner
It’s the time of the year that we live for in the horse racing world. Derby week is around the corner and this year’s edition of the Run for the Roses is shaping up to be one of the more competitive races in recent memory. Should the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Optimizer draw into the field, we’ll have some of the more prolific trainers in the game involved in this year’s Derby with Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, Aiden O’Brien and Jerry Hollendorfer all with horses ( and in some cases, multiple horses) entered.
The all important post position draw will take place on Wednesday afternoon (5 p.m., NBC Sports Network). There’s probably no other race in North America where the post draw can play such a factor on outcome. The inside posts (1-2) and outside posts (17-20) have not traditionally fared well over the past 40 years. Two years ago Preakness champion Lookin at Lucky drew the rail, and trainer Baffert actually thought about scratching him. He was banged around at the start and never recovered until it was too late when he rallied to finish sixth.
Last year I was really favoring Archarcharch the week before the Derby, but once he drew the rail, he was done like dinner. He was injured in the early going and retired after the race. In the last 42 years, post positions 14, 17 and 19 have not produced a winner. Nehro finished second last year wearing number 19, but went from post 18 after Uncle Mo’s scratch. Big Brown is the only horse to win from post 20 in the past 42 years, when he romped in 2008.
What posts are the more favored posts? Typically posts 3-8 go the earliest. In the same time frame noted above, the horse coming out of the 10 post has won seven times. In 2006, the horse in the 8 post won all three Triple Crown races (Barbaro, Bernardini and Jazil).
Keep an eye on the weather and don’t forget to check the wet Tomlinson figures of the horses in case the track comes up muddy or sloppy. In two of the last four years, the Run for the Roses was raced on an off-track (Mine That Bird -2009; Super Saver – 2010), so be sure to know who your mudders are.
All of the horses have to be at Churchill by Wednesday and most will at least have one workout over the strip before next Saturday’s race. This year’s race also will allow four also-eligible (AE) horses that can enter and will obtain one of the cherished gates should one of the top 20 horses scratch by 9 a.m. Friday morning (Oaks Day). The reason for the early deadline is that advance Derby wagering starts on Friday morning, so the field has to be set by that time frame. As always an Oaks-Derby double wager will be available on Friday as well.
The Kentucky Oaks will also be shown on NBC Sports Network next Friday afternoon (5 p.m.) and should be an excellent race. Some of the top fillies in the land are entered and we’ll post our selections in next Friday’s blog.
Our News coverage of the Derby starts this weekend, with a print feature on Hansen owner Dr. Kendall Hansen and will continue next week with a Sports, Ink blog previewing the Kentucky Oaks on Friday. Next weekend’s print editions will have a Derby preview with our Post Time selections and a post-race commentary on Sunday morning. We’ll also be live blogging right here on Derby Day starting around 11 a.m. through the big race. So be sure to join us in our coverage here at The News for all things Derby.