LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In a perfect world, Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome would have drawn outside the other speed horses, where traffic is less likely to be an issue. Also in a perfect world, the Derby field would be limited to a rational 14, not an irrational 20, the biggest field allowed in any American race.
Nothing is close to perfect in horse racing, a sport where what you think you know often becomes irrelevant a second after the horses leave the starting gate. So, trying to overanalyze yesterday afternoon's post position draw is really not worth the effort.
California Chrome, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, drew the No. 5 post. It could end up being perfect if he falls into a great position on the first turn behind potential speed horses like Vicar's in Trouble (1), General a Rod (8), Wildcat Red (10) and Chitu (13). It also could be a problem if the colt breaks poorly and gets surrounded in the first few hundred yards.
"I just worry that he might be bumped around," said the favorite's trainer, Art Sherman. "I just want to give him a chance to run."
In the nearly 2 decades of 20-horse fields, high numbers have been winning numbers. The race has been won by a horse from post 16 four times, post 15 three times, post 13, 19 and 20 once each. Avoiding the chaos has been quite helpful.
The last three Derby winners, Animal Kingdom (16), I'll Have Another (19) and Orb (15), all started from the auxiliary gate, which houses horses 15 through 20.
Trainers Todd Pletcher (4), Mike Maker (3) and Bob Baffert (2) have 45 percent of the field.
"On paper, there is quite a bit of speed," Pletcher said.
Last year, there really did not appear to be that much speed in the Derby. But eventual Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, wearing blinkers, just took off, got to the lead, ran all the other speed horses out of the race and hit the wall in the stretch.
This year, who knows? You can imagine how it might play out, but you just don't know.
"As long as he breaks clean," Sherman said hopefully.
That will be critical.
"He's just an amazing horse to ride," jockey Victor Espinoza said of California Chrome. "I just let him do his own thing."
All any of the people involved with the horses want is a chance for their horse to get a clean trip. Then, the horses sort themselves out and a winner emerges.