by Jeremy Plonk
May 1, 2018
The Kentucky Derby starting gate, when full, comes down to the 12 haves and the 8 have nots. After all, posts 5-16 have won 30 of the last 36 editions. That’s 60% of the field, but 83% of the winners. You prefer not to be in posts 1-4 or 17-20, the dozen between them have had varying degrees of success.
Scanning the draw sheet from this morning’s proceedings in Louisville, the 8 have-not slots were filled by horses considered by most to be tosses or very fringe players except for three. No sleep was lost by Firenze Fire, Free Drop Billy, Promises Fulfilled, Flameaway or Combatant drawing poorly. But the posts for Solomini (17, which has NEVER won), Vino Rosso (18) and Noble Indy (19) may be enough to help whittle a very tough field down by at least a few talented sophomores.
Those were the statistical “losers” at the draw. And while most will blanket-accept Mendelssohn to be well-drawn in post 14, given the extra space to his right for the gap between the starting gates, it’s notable that the 14 post has not won since Carry Back in 1961. The 15-hole, with the open space to the left of it, has won 5 times. Considering everyone wants to turn left out of the gate and get closer to the rail, it makes sense that the 14 might not be the picnic you think when a six-pack comes charging into open space adjacent to you.
The Derby pace definitely shaped itself by this post draw. Promises Fulfilled and bullet-working Flameaway were my two leading front-end players going in, and they drew next to one another inside in posts 3-4. They have to set a rapid tempo. Also, rail-drawn Firenze Fire isn’t a speedball, but his jockey Paco Lopez is perhaps as big of a ‘send’ rider as we have in the game. He’s going to Quarter-Horse out of there for safety and as is his want. Then you have big, burly Justify in post 7, who gets to sit outside of those, avoid their inner push early and can take the measure of leading contender Audible in post 5 just to his inside. This was a great draw for Justify. No complaints either for Audible, who leaves from the most popular post 5 (10 wins) and the hole that produced Always Dreaming last year for his trainer Todd Pletcher.
An interesting aside: the 6-horse auxiliary gate is comprised of horses from Hall of Famers Bob Baffert, Jerry Hollendforfer and Steve Asmussen as well a trio from sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. Rest assured, there’s never been an auxiliary gate with 6 horses having trainers who account for 33,000 wins when you triple-up Pletcher’s total.