Jockey Victor Espinoza was more than happy when Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite California Chrome (5-2), who trains at Los Alamitos Race Course in Orange County, drew the No. 5 post for Saturday’s Run for the Roses in Louisville, Ky.
“It’s my lucky number,” said Espinoza.
Espinoza won the Kentucky Derby aboard War Emblem from post No. 5 for trainer Bob Baffert in 2002.
California Chrome also won the Santa Anita Derby from post five in his last start and the 3-year-old, trained by Art Sherman, will be looking for his fifth straight victory on the track.
With California Chrome’s tactical speed, the No. 5 post should not prove a problem as Espinoza should be able to get out quickly and place him where he wants.
“He’s an amazing horse to ride,” said Espinoza. “I let him do his own thing. I think that’s why he’s running so great.”
Sherman obviously didn’t want to draw the No. 1 hole like Louisiana Derby winner Vicars In Trouble (30-1) did or the outside post in the 20-horse field like Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong (8-1).
“I like it fine,” said Sherman after the draw. “Victor says he likes it. I’m happy and I feel no pressure.”
California Chrome has been a step slow in two of his last five starts, but Sherman isn’t worried.
“We’re going to school (from the gate Thursday),” said Sherman. “(In a race) he’ll be standing there perfect and just before he gets anxious. When he puts those blinkers on he gets anxious because he knows it’s a whole new ballgame (race day).”
Arkansas Derby winner Danza (10-1) drew just inside California Chrome in the No. 4 post.
Other California horses drew toward the outside in Hoppertunity (6-1) at No. 11, Dance With Fate (20-1) at No. 12, Chitu (20-1) at No. 13 and Candy Boy (20-1) at No. 18 for trainer John Sadler and jockey Gary Stevens.
Hoppertunity, who finished second to California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby, was made the second choice on the morning line after Wicked Strong drew the outside post.
However, four of the last six Derby winners have come from the auxiliary gate (post No. 15 and out) and the last three in a row have come from there.
Baffert trains both Hoppertunity and Chitu. He was fine with the draw for both.
“I’m happy with the way the horses are training and that’s more important,” he said. “The only disadvantage is that Hoppertunity is going to have to wait in the gate for a long time, but I’d rather wait in the 11-hole than wait in the one-hole. I think he’s second choice because he’s gotten the closest to California Chrome this year.”
Chitu is expected to be part of the speed in the 1¼-mile race.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Baffert. “The speed horses, you don’t know who’s going to break, who’s going to go, what if the pace isn’t fast? What if it’s a War Emblem pace and they keep going? I think nobody knows. We’re all assuming a lot of stuff but, this Derby, aside from that California Chrome has proven he’s a really good horse, there’s a lot of horses in there that are pretty close. There’s a lot of parity in this field so that’s why we have 20 horses, because everybody might have a chance. He’s fast. (Jockey) Martin Garcia thinks he can do it so he’s real confident about the horse.”
Trainer Peter Eurton didn’t have a problem with Blue Grass winner Dancer With Fate’s draw.
“I am thrilled with it,” he said. “There is a lot of speed to the inside of us rather than outside and that should give us a good chance to pick a spot.”
Sadler said he doesn’t worry about post draws.
“It’s OK,” Sadler said. “I’d rather be outside than in. And I don’t put a lot of energy into things I can’t control. We’ll figure out a strategy and go from there. I think we’ll be fine.”
Stevens said he was already planning a strategy as the draw progressed, but he wasn’t giving away any trade secrets.
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