LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nobody wanted to be No. 1.
No. 20 wasn’t too popular, either.
Dialed In managed to avoid both — the inside rail and far outside — at Wednesday’s post-position draw for the Kentucky Derby.
He was made the early 4-1 favorite for Saturday’s race after drawing the favorable No. 8 post, prompting owner Robert LaPenta to let out a cheer. Uncle Mo was the second choice in a full field of 20 horses.
Ten horses have won from the No. 8 position; the last, 50-1 shocker Mine That Bird two years ago.
“It’s a big thing, and he deserves it,” two-time Derby winner Nick Zito said, referring to his horse’s status as the favorite. Dialed In has won 3 of 4 career races.
Three times in the last seven runnings the favorite has worn the garland of roses, most recently Big Brown in 2008.
“So far, so good,” Zito said. “If he has another couple of good days we’ll be happy. Things are doing all right.”
Things haven’t been quite so right for Uncle Mo, who drew the No. 18 post, three slots from the outside. The colt is being treated for a gastrointestinal infection, which was blamed for his stunning first-ever defeat in last month’s Wood Memorial.
Owner Mike Repole has said if Uncle Mo isn’t sufficiently recovered, he won’t run in the 1¼-mile Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher, however, said Uncle Mo might be able to win even if he’s at less than his best.
“But we’re committed to bringing him over there at 100 percent, anything less than that, we won’t accept,” he said.
Uncle Mo, last year’s 2-year-old champion, jogged a mile around the dirt track at Churchill Downs and later stood in the starting gate to familiarize himself with the surroundings. He is scheduled to gallop on Thursday.
“I’ve always said I think he’s the best horse of his generation,” Pletcher said. “We proved that last year and identified what we thought was the reason for the poor performance in the Wood. I think if he shows up and he’s the Uncle Mo from the Breeders’ Cup or the Champagne or even the Timely Writer, he’s the horse to beat.”
Uncle Mo would have to overcome a bit of history.
Only one horse since 1900 has come out of the No. 18 hole to win and that was Gato Del Sol in 1982.
Still, Pletcher and Repole were relieved to have avoided the rail.
“We had this overlying fear we were going to get the 1,” the trainer said. “Once it was anything besides that we were happy.”
Repole’s other colt, Stay Thirsty — also trained by Pletcher — landed in the No. 4 post and is 20-1 on the morning line set by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.
Pletcher ended an 0-for-24 skid in the Derby last year when Super Saver won from the No. 4 post.
Nehro was the third choice at 6-1. The other 17 horses were listed at double-digit odds.
The dreaded No. 1 post — the last position revealed — went to Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch. That spot did in last year’s Derby favorite, Lookin At Lucky, who was blocked behind horses and finished sixth for trainer Bob Baffert.
“I have always wanted to be No. 1, but not in the Kentucky Derby starting gate,” said Jinks Fires, the 70-year-old trainer of Archarcharch who will give specific race instructions to jockey Jon Court, his son-in-law.
“I’ll just tell Jon to get good position, save ground and figure out a way to get out. It is still the shortest way around and at least I am not out next to the track kitchen.”
Like Uncle Mo’s connections, Baffert was happy that stalker Midnight Interlude escaped the inside post.
“My wife texted me. She’s at LAX and said, ‘If we draw the No. 1, let me know so I can get off the plane,'” he said. “This is the toughest part of getting through the whole Derby. From now on it’s the luck.
“I wanted to be on the outside. When you have a lightly raced horse you want to keep him in the clear as much as possible.”
Archarcharch and Midnight Interlude were the co-fourth choices.
The other trainer with two starters is Mike Maker, who will saddle Twinspired and Derby Kitten.
A total of 22 horses were entered, two more than the maximum allowed field of 20, which is based on earnings in graded stakes races. Sway Away and Ruler On Ice were shut out because their earnings weren’t high enough to put them among the top 20.