LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- California Chrome, winner of four straight races on the West Coast, was installed as a 5-2 morning-line favorite and drew the No. 5 post for Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
He's answered every question put in front of him. Now he gets to answer a couple of big ones.
Can he handle the Churchill Downs surface in his first race outside the state of California? And can he handle the demands of some speed horses inside of him and having 14 horses to his right looking to press in toward the rail?
It's not as advantageous a draw for California Chrome as, say, a spot in the auxiliary gate, where the past three Derby winners have come from, but the colt has this to his credit -- his jockey, Victor Espinoza, has won from that spot before, above War Emblem in 2002.
One challenge for the favorite is that Vicar's In Trouble, Uncle Sigh and perhaps Harry's Holiday represent early speed inside of him, with much of the race's early speed concentrated in the first ten post positions.
Asked if the post might change his plan for the race, Espinoza said, "Yeah, probably. I mean, now that I know what position I have, we can look at it and figure out how we want to ride California Chrome. It's just good that I don't have the one hole."
Espinoza said he hadn't looked at the race closely enough to have a good expectation of how he expects it to be run, but says that he won't try to force too much on his colt. Asked if the race might shuffle him a bit farther back that he might be comfortable, Espinoza said, "For me, maybe, but I don't know about California Chrome. If he's comfortable, I have to be patient and let him run his race. I just want him to be happy and not force him too much early in the race. If he breaks well he can be in the lead, but he doesn't have to be in the lead. It all depends. The Kentucky Derby is unpredictable. I haven't really looked at how the race is going to set up, but we'll be ready."
The Derby pill pull started with a bang. The first post position drawn was No. 1. And the horse to get it? Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Vicar's in Trouble. This vicar might truly be in trouble.
The No. 1 post hasn't produced a Derby winner since 1986, and hasn't even had a horse finish in the money since Risen Star did it in 1988.
"We didn't even have a chance to catch our breath," Ken Ramsey said. "It's not been a great spot. You can't say you'd have picked it. But now that we're there, maybe we get running early and try to make it an advantage. That's about as good a spin as I can put on it."
While California Chrome was made a 5-2 favorite, pretty low odds for a 20-horse field, Ramsey said his We Miss Artie might've been short-changed at 50-1 in Mike Battaglia's morning line.
"Maybe we should've named him We Miss Rodney," Ramsey said. "For Rodney Dangerfield. Because he didn't get any respect today."
In general, nobody was squawking much about their draw. A run around the field:
Uncle Sigh (No. 3, 30-1): Trainer Gary Contessa said, "I'm not unhappy with it. He breaks well. I think he’s faster than the horses inside of him. This gives him an opportunity to get position, maybe even get to the rail in the second flight. I love that position.”
Danza (No. 4, 10-1): “Good spot for him," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He won the Arkansas Derby out of the No. 1 hole. He’s fine with being on the inside."
Samraat (No. 6, 15-1): Trainer Rick Violette said, "I think it is a terrific spot. I think you just have to try to break clean and go straight and size things up past the wire for the first time. The speed is inside of us and we have tactical speed. I don’t think there’s a downside to it.” We Miss Artie (No. 7, 50-1): "Perfect," Pletcher said. "Just what I was dreaming of." General a Rod (No. 8, 15-1): "I couldn't be happier with that draw," trainer Mike Maker said. Vinceremos (No. 9, 30-1): "That's a good spot for him," Pletcher said. "We did well with our draw." Wildcat Red (No. 10, 15-1): "We're very happy with the draw," trainer Jose Garofallo said. "I think it's a very good position. The good thing is that we have two of the tough horses inside of us. We have General a Rod inside of us and California Chrome inside of us." Hoppertunity (No. 11, 6-1): "I'm happy with the way the horses are training, and that's more important (than post position)" said trainer Bob Baffert, who also trails Chitu (No. 13, 20-1). "The only 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."
On Chitu, Baffert said, "You don’t know what’s going to happen. 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. Martin Garcia thinks he can do it so he’s real confident about the horse.” Dance With Fate (No. 12, 20-1): "I'm thrilled with it," trainer Peter Eurton said. "There's a lot of speed to the inside of us rather than outside and that should give us a good chance to pick a spot." Medal Count (No. 14, 20-1): "That's a good spot," trainer Dale Romans said. "That’s where, last week when we were talking about it, Robby (Albarado) said he’d like to be the last one in the main gate and that’s where he is. It doesn’t matter because we’re going to drop back and make one run. I just want my jock happy and he was happy with it.” Tapiture (No. 15, 15-1): "I think it's ideal for us right now," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "The way that the draw unfolded, so much speed to the inner ten, it's every chance we've ever wanted." Intense Holiday (No. 16, 12-1): "We like it," Pletcher said. "Orb drew the 16 last year and he got it done. The outside gate is hot and it will allow Johnny (Velazquez) an opportunity to get clear and pick a spot." Commanding Curve (No. 17, 50-1): "It's great for us," trainer Dallas Stewart said. "All the speed's inside. I didn't think the post position was a major, major factor for us. We'll find out. I didn't want the inside. I didn't want the direct outside." Candy Boy (No. 18, 20-1): "It’s OK," trainer John 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." Ride On Curlin (No. 19, 15-1): "The way they angle these gates, I told Billy (trainer Billy Gowan), from the last few races, that the winners have been coming from that last gate," owner Daniel Dougherty said. "And the way it lined up, all the come-from-behind horses are in the second gate more than the first gate. So we can kind of gauge ourselves where we need to be with that group of horses and not worry so much about the front-runners. I didn't want to get stuck in 2 or 3 or 4 with these front-runners. That's not the pack we want to be in." Wicked Strong (No. 20, 8-1): "It might be that speed is quick and they get to rolling in a clump and he can draft in behind them and it’ll work out OK," trainer James Jerkins said. "The one positive is that he’s not in the gate very long. I’m trying to convince myself that it’s not a bad post, but I don’t know if I can."
Copyright 2014 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved. Some trainer quotes provided by Churchill Downs.
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