The joke told by one of his older sons is that Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert gets the rail, and then they draw the rest of the race.
For a change that was not the case Tuesday morning, when the leading contenders for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby avoided the dreaded “1” hole.
But where Arkansas Derby winner and morning-line favorite Omaha Beach (4-1) drew ideally into post position 12, the trio of Baffert horses had mixed results in the draw in the crowded Aristides Lounge here at Churchill Downs.
With blinkers off, Improbable (6-1) will start most ideally from stall 5. The 2018 juvenile champion Game Winner (5-1), presumed to be the second choice, will break from post 16, and stable mate Roadster (6-1) is next door in post 17.
“They’ll all be easy to watch,” Baffert said. “With Roadster I wanted the ‘16,’ so I got ‘16.’ Anything but the ‘1’ or ‘2’ I’m fine with that. I think the good horses all drew well.”
With the notable exception of potential pace-setter Omaha Beach, most of the early speed in Saturday’s race drew mostly to the inside half of the 20-horse field, including Tax (20-1) at number 2, Gray Magician (50-1) at 4 and the undefeated Maximum Security (10-1) at 7.
Even War Of Will (20-1), the horse likely to be bottlenecked on the rail coming out of gate 1 – could conceivably push the pace. With a little luck he might grab the early lead.
“It could be worse,” his trainer Mark Casse said. “Our horse is really on his game, so he’ll come away from there running. I think we’ll probably be on the lead and play catch me if you can. At least we have the shortest way around.”
If Casse is accentuating what little positive there is in a post position that has not produced a winner in 33 years, it was not hard for Omaha Beach’s team to put on a happy face.
“Perfect, I love it,” Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith said after Omaha Beach drew 12. “Didn’t want to be down inside. I think I’m in a great spot.”
Sitting next to Smith, Omaha Beach’s trainer Richard Mandella said, “He’s happy, so you know I’m happy.”
With his first Kentucky Derby horse in 15 years, this figures to be the first time in seven tries that Mandella has the favorite. Conversely, Baffert has had four favorites since 2010. He said that it will be a pleasant change not to have that pressure.
“I think it’s less stressful,” he said. “There are a lot of nice horses in this race. Omaha Beach? He deserves to be the favorite. I have three nice horses. And I have good seats.”
Oh, one more thing. Not that weather handicappers have that good a record here, but rain is in the forecast for Saturday. If the track comes up wet, that means Omaha Beach could be an even shorter-priced favorite, considering his two wins in the slop include last month’s Arkansas Derby.
Here is the draw with horses (trainers, jockeys) and morning-line odds for the Kentucky Derby with a listed post time of Saturday at 6:46 p.m. EDT.
3. By My Standards (Bret Calhoun, Gabriel Sáez) 20-1
13. Code Of Honor (Shug McGaughey, John Velázquez) 15-1
20. Country House (Flavien Prat, Bill Mott) 30-1
10. Cutting Humor (Corey Lanerie, Todd Pletcher) 30-1
16. Game Winner (Joel Rosario, Bob Baffert) 5-1
4. Gray Magician (Drayden Van Dyke, Peter Miller) 50-1
11. Haikal (Rajiv Maragh, Kiaran McLaughlin) 30-1
5. Improbable (Írad Ortiz Jr., Bob Baffert) 6-1
18. Long Range Toddy (Jon Court, Steve Asmussen) 30-1
15. Master Fencer (Julien Leparoux, Koichi Tsunoda) 50-1
7. Maximum Security (Luís Sáez, Jason Servis) 10-1
12. Omaha Beach (Mike Smith, Richard Mandella) 4-1
9. Plus Que Parfait (Ricardo Santana Jr., Brendan Walsh) 30-1
17. Roadster (Florent Geroux, Bob Baffert) 6-1
19. Spinoff (Manny Franco, Todd Pletcher) 30-1
8. Tacitus (José Ortiz, Bill Mott) 10-1
2. Tax (Júnior Alvarado, Danny Gargan) 20-1
6. Vekoma (Javier Castellano, George Weaver) 20-1
1. War Of Will (Tyler Gaffalione, Mark Casse) 20-1
14. Win Win Win (Julian Pimentel, Mike Trombetta) 15-1
21. Bodexpress (Chris Landeros, Gustavo Delgado) 30-1
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is regularly posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. Kentucky Derby columns will appear daily from Louisville through early Sunday. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts with a pop-up also scheduled for Wednesday that will focus on handicapping all 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby. The current episode from Santa Anita includes Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who will ride the favorite Omaha Beach in the Derby. From Las Vegas, former National Horseplayers Championship Tour winner Jonathon Kinchen of Fox Sports Net offers his opinions about modern betting angles that are popular in racing. The Racehorses by the Letters feature looks at the best ever starting with “Y,” and Ron has a comment about the push to ban race-day Lasix across the nation. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available at Apple, Google, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts.