To no one’s surprise, Santa Anita Derby-winner California Chrome was installed as the early favorite in the Kentucky Derby after drawing the No. 5 post position for Saturday’s “Run for the Roses” at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Chrome will begin at 5-2 odds when wagering is open to the public.
The second favorite in the early line is Hoppertunity, who finished second to California Chrome at Santa Anita, coming out of post position No. 11 at 6-1. The third early odds choice is Wicked Strong, named in honor of last year’s Boston Marathon victims. He got a bit of a bad break in drawing the farthest outside box at No. 20 but is still one of the favorites at 8-1.
Danza, named after Who’s the Boss star Tony Danza, is the fourth choice in the early line at 10-1. He will be coming out of the gate just inside of California Chrome in the No.4 post position. The No. 16 horse Intense Holiday is 12-1 followed by No. 6 Samraat, No. 15 Tapiture and No. 19 Ride On Curlin, all rated at 15-1.
Handicapper Ted Whitley of the Whitley Group examined the post positions and said that while the favorite did not get the best draw, it was not a disaster: “I put a minus on California Chrome because of his draw, meaning I think his draw hurt him.” However, he says, it could be the horse “is simply that much better than these other horses. That’s what they’re saying.” He went on to say he is leery of all of the unknowns surrounding the favorite. “He has been third or fourth in a 10-horse field. We don’t know what he does when he’s behind 10 or 12 [horses]. Also, he’s never been pressed in the stretch. He’s always been ahead by four or five [lengths] at the quarter pole and he won’t get that at the Derby.”
Two horses who definitely did not benefit from the post position draw were Wicked Strong, Ride On Curlin and Candy Boy (20-1) who drew the far outside posts. “They have to get over to the rail which finds them mid-pack at best and you have to weave your way through so many horses,” and, he adds, “that’s not normally a huge obstacle to overcome, but the pace up front is so fast…it is difficult to make up.”
One horse that Whitley seems to favor is 15-1 Samraat, who will be breaking from the No. 6 position just outside California Chrome: “He was so game at the Wood [Memorial at Aqueduct] as he fought back to get between horses.” Whitley says he liked Samraat’s persistence in finishing second in that race to Wicked Strong.
Overall Whitley says the race will be fast-paced on the front, and trying to keep up with that pace could be another reason California Chrome might not win the Kentucky Derby. “If he [jockey Victor Espinoza] allows Chrome up there, what we’re all looking to see is ‘how much horse is California Chrome?’ and if he’s the horse they say he is, he’s going to beat the field.”
For the Kentucky Derby on Saturday Whitley says he is leaving the favorite, No. 5 California Chrome, out of his plans. “Make money with No. 14 Medal Count; make money with No. 6 Samraat; and fill in the bottom of the trifecta with No. 12 Dance With Fate,” says the handicapper. If you need a few more names to add to your trifecta box, Whitley recommends throwing in Hoppertunity and Candy Boy. Early wagering opens on Friday morning.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky