The first leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, is Saturday at Churchill Downs. Post positions are important in the 20-horse field, and the +425 betting favorite for the 143rd Run for the Roses according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com is Classic Empire, who will start from Post 14.
There’s a 60 percent chance of rain in Louisville on Saturday, and a sloppy track could change everything as wet conditions can favor some horses more than others.
Midway through Wednesday’s draw, Classic Empire trainer Mark Casse was sweating a bit because Post 1 was still on the board. No trainer wants his horse starting from the far inside in this huge field as horses often get trapped on the rail and can’t get a clear path to run until it’s too late.
The Kentucky Derby began using a starting gate in 1930 and there have been eight winners since then from Post 1 but none since Ferdinand in 1986. The unlucky horse starting there Saturday is Lookin At Lee, and he’s +3300 to win.
Only two winners since 1930 have started from Classic Empire’s Post 14, the last Carry Back in 1961, but Casse was happy with that draw. Post 14 is the final box in the main starting gate. The betting favorite has won the Kentucky Derby the previous four years but there has never been a stretch of five straight years the favorite has won.
The 2016 champion, Nyquist, started from Post 13. Neither Casse nor Classic Empire jockey Julien Leparoux have won the Kentucky Derby. Classic Empire is off an impressive win in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in mid-April.
Always Dreaming has been installed as the +450 second-favorite and will start from Post 5. More winners have come from that spot and Post 10, nine each, than any other since 1930.
Most recently from Post 5 it was California Chrome in 2014. Always Dreaming is 2-0 as a three-year-old and off a big win in the Grade 1 Florida Derby ahead of fellow Kentucky Derby entries State of Honor (+3300 from Post 6) and Gunnevara (+1200 from Post 10).
McCraken (+600) will start from Post 15, the first stall in the auxiliary gate. He won his first four races before a third last month at the Blue Grass Stakes. Irish War Cry is also +600. That colt has never run on a wet track.
A sentimental favorite of casual horse racing fans for betting the Kentucky Derby likely will be Patch, who is +3300 and starting from the far outside. Just one winner has come from Post 20: Big Brown in 2008. Patch had to have his left eye removed as a two-year-old due to infection and doesn’t wear a prosthesis. The colt is the longest shot of trainer Todd Pletcher’s three horses in the race.