It was not like trainer Bob Baffert was overly confident about the post position for Kentucky Derby favorite Justify. He just did not realize that Tuesday morning’s draw would be so early here at Churchill Downs.
“I was in the parking lot,” Baffert said after Justify drew ideally into post 7 for Saturday’s 144th Derby. “I didn’t even know it was going on. My wife Jill said, ‘I think they’ve already drawn.’ We came in, and I see WinStar colors on the board. I asked, ‘Who’s that in No. 7?’ And a girl told me it was Justify.”
The rest of the Justify team was on time, seated at a table in the crowded Aristides Lounge and cheering when the lightly raced winner of the Santa Anita Derby did not get stuck out wide or in the kiss-of-death “1” hole. Once the 20-horse field was fully filled, Justify (3-1) was declared the morning-line favorite, mirroring the betting trend already established in Las Vegas.
UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn (5-1) drew post 14 – the outside stall in the main gate – and was made the second choice on the morning line followed by undefeated Magnum Moon (6-1) in post 16, Audible (8-1) in 5 and Bolt d’Oro (8-1) in 11.
As nonplussed as Baffert might have seemed, he did make quick work of analyzing a draw that did not seem to compromise any of the shortest-priced contenders.
“I think all the good horses are in good spots,” Baffert said. “It’s one of the toughest Derbies that I’ve ever seen and one of the best draws that I’ve ever seen. My excuses are really dwindling, so now I’ve got to come with the horse.”
Actually, Baffert comes with two horses. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Rebel Stakes runner-up Solomini (30-1) will start from post 17.
“There’s never been a winner out of the ‘17’ hole,” Baffert said. “Can you believe that? I know that from Point Given (finishing fifth in the 2001 Derby). But you know what? American Pharoah had it for a day. He was in the 18, then the 17, then the 16 after scratches.”
The short straw was actually drawn by Firenze Fire (50-1), the Jerome Stakes winner that, as a closer, has not shown a penchant his last three races for stretching out to the Derby’s 1¼ miles. “I’d rather be inside,” trainer Jason Servis said with some insistence. “I think it’s a lot better than 19 or 20, really.”
Dale Romans, who has Free Drop Billy in post 2 and likely pace-setter Promises Fulfilled in 3, had a more predictable reaction when he said, “If I had to hand pick the posts I probably would’ve picked a little differently. It is what it is. We’ll work with what we have.”
And with four horses starting Saturday, Todd Pletcher was really only happy with Audible getting the 5. Magnum Moon in 16, Vino Rosso (12-1) in 18 and Noble Indy (30-1) in 19 were all hung outside. “Ideally I wouldn’t want three of my four horses in the auxiliary gate,” Pletcher said. “But it’s horse racing, and that’s what happens.”
Written by TwinSpires.com handicapper Mike Battaglia, the morning line is his estimate of what the post-time odds will be. In the case of Good Magic, it is in stark contrast to the futures posted by Johnny Avello at the Wynn Las Vegas, where money has been bet on the Derby since last fall. Good Magic is 12-1 here compared with 5-1 at the Wynn. In a thought conveyed by many in English, a post in Spanish on Twitter said, “12-1 Good Magic? Ese tipo está loco.”
Following is the Kentucky Derby field with each colt’s trainer, jockey and morning-line odds. The scheduled post time is Saturday at 6:50 p.m. EDT.
1. Firenze Fire (Jason Servis, Paco López) 50-1
2. Free Drop Billy (Dale Romans, Robby Albarado) 30-1
3. Promises Fulfilled (Dale Romans, Corey Lanerie) 30-1
4. Flameaway (Mark Casse, José Lezcano) 30-1
5. Audible (Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano) 8-1
6. Good Magic (Chad Brown, José Ortiz) 12-1
7. Justify (Bob Baffert, Mike Smith) 3-1
8. Lone Sailor (Tom Amoss, James Graham) 50-1
9. Hofburg (Bill Mott, Írad Ortiz Jr.) 20-1
10. My Boy Jack (Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desormeaux) 30-1
11. Bolt d’Oro (Mick Ruis, Víctor Espinoza) 8-1
12. Enticed (Kiaran McLaughlin, Júnior Alvarado) 30-1
13. Bravazo (D. Wayne Lukas, Luís Contreras) 50-1
14. Mendelssohn (Aidan O’Brien, Ryan Moore) 5-1
15. Instilled Regard (Jerry Hollendorfer, Drayden Van Dyke) 50-1
16. Magnum Moon (Todd Pletcher, Luís Sáez) 6-1
17. Solomini (Bob Baffert, Flavien Prat) 30-1
18. Vino Rosso (Todd Pletcher, John Velázquez) 12-1
19. Noble Indy (Todd Pletcher, Florent Geroux) 30-1
20. Combatant (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr.) 50-1
*21. Blended Citizen (Doug O’Neill, Kyle Frey) 50-1
*Also eligible but would only draw into race if another horse is scratched by Friday at 9 a.m. EDT.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every day this Kentucky Derby week at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod this week on Wednesday and Friday at VSiN.com/podcasts. Wednesday’s pop-up edition will include handicappers Dave Tuley of VSiN and Patrick McQuiggan of the South Point race book in Las Vegas. Flameaway’s trainer Mark Casse will be one of the guests on Friday’s edition. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.