LOUISVILLE, Ky. As expected, a field of 20 passed the entry box for Saturdays 135th running of the Kentucky Derby Wednesday morning, followed by the draw for post position shortly after noon. Barring scratches, the Run for the Roses will have the maximum number of starters allowed by Churchill Downs rules for the fifth year in a row.
The certain result will be a race in which the proverbial smooth trip will be found by very few and legitimate excuses aplenty will be forthcoming from the connections of the unsuccessful contestants.
I Want Revenge, winner of the Wood Memorial in his last appearance after dwelling at the start, will break from the 13th post and has been installed by track handicapper, Mike Battaglia, as the 3-1 morning line favorite. His post would seem to be as good a spot as any, other than to the superstitious.
Dunkirk and Pioneerof the Nile, co-second choices at 4-1, will be next door to each other in the 15 and 16 holes the first two spots in the auxiliary gate used only for races with more than 14 starters. Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire rounds out the group Battaglia considers as strong contenders, being listed in the line at 5-1 and breaking from the 6th slot in the gate.
From the standpoint of strategy, Join in the Dance one of three entrants from the Todd Pletcher barn, along with Advice and Dunkirk has the 9 hole, an ideal draw from which to sprint to the lead and secure the rail for the run around the first turn. Assuming an uneventful start, it appears doubtful that Pletchers colt, which joined the dance upon the withdrawal of Quality Road, can be denied the early lead.
Of those expected to assume a stalking position in the early stages of the race, all have drawn favorably in the middle. This group includes Friesan Fire, Papa Clem (7), Regal Ransom (10), I Want Revenge and Atomic Rain (14).
The horses in the inside five slots have little speed and figure to be in or near the back of the pack for at least the first six furlongs, so the draw should not significantly disadvantage them. On the extreme outside are Desert Party, Regal Ransoms barn mate from Dubai, and Flying Private, which carries the hopes of trainer D. Wayne Lukas for a record-tying fifth Derby victory.
It would be a surprise if either Lukas or Saeed bin Suroor, trainer of the Dubai duo, are ecstatic about their charges being parked so close to the grandstand.
However, Lukas, who has been running horses in the Derby since 1981 and has seen three of his four winners break form either the 15 or 16 hole, has become philosophical about it.
You draw the seven hole and feel that things cant get any better, Lukas saidd. Then they spring the latch, the six comes out, the eight comes in and youre through for the afternoon.
With a clean start for all 20 next to impossible, some will be singing this same tune shortly after the winner finds the finish wire.