LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Bodemeister was made the early 4-1 favorite for the Kentucky Derby on Wednesday, with Union Rags a close second choice at 9-2 in a full field of 20 horses.
Trained by three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, Bodemeister drew the No. 6 post. Six horses have won from that position, the last being Sea Hero in 1993.
Bodemeister is the stronger of Baffert’s two horses, having won the Arkansas Derby by 9 1-2 lengths in the most dominating performance of the Derby prep races. His other, 50-1 shot Liaison, landed in the No. 20 spot for Saturday’s race.
It’s the third time the Hall of Fame trainer has had the early Derby favorite. The first two didn’t work out.
Lookin At Lucky drew the dreaded inside post in 2010, got trapped along the rail and finished sixth. In 2001, Point Given was the heavy favorite and wound up fifth. He went on to win the Preakness and Belmont stakes, the final two legs of the Triple Crown.
“At least we’re in a position where we have a good chance of winning,” Baffert said. “If I got the one-hole I would be thinking they just don’t want me to win this Derby. After Lookin At Lucky, when he got the one-hole, the excitement just left me because I knew he had too much to overcome.”
Baffert had a heart attack on March 26 in Dubai, scaring his 7-year-old son Bode who was with him, and is the namesake of the Derby favorite.
“I just hope I have a chance to get my heart rate going turning for home,” said Baffert, whose War Emblem was the last wire-to-wire Derby winner in 2002.
Union Rags drew the No. 4 post and was listed second choice on the morning line set by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia. He is trained by Michael Matz, who won the Derby in 2006 with Barbaro only to have the colt stunningly break down after the start of the Preakness. Barbaro valiantly fought his injuries, but was euthanized eight months later.
“The horses that are around him, the horses in the 1 and 3 don’t have that much speed,” Matz said. “That should push us closer to where Bodemeister is and we know that horse has speed. It looks like it ends up all right, we just have to be running away from the gate.”
Battaglia said if Bodemeister had drawn the No. 1 or 2 post, he would have made Union Rags the favorite.
“I wanted to make them co-favorites,” he said. “I haven’t been this close on two horses since Curlin and Street Sense (in 2007). I wanted to make them co-favorites and I didn’t. They went off 10 cents apart.”
Wood Memorial winner Gemologist was the third choice at 6-1 and drew the No. 15 post. The undefeated colt is one of two trained by Todd Pletcher, who won his first Derby in 2010 with Super Saver. The other, El Padrino, will be in the next stall toward the outside as one of two 20-1 shots.
“I wouldn’t trade places with anybody,” said Elliott Walden, president of WinStar Farm which owns Gemologist.
Since 20 horses can’t fit in one starting gate, an auxiliary gate is used, creating a gap between the No. 14 and 15 posts. That gives horses in those stalls some precious extra room in the chaotic moments after the gates spring open.
“We get a little air there,” Walden said. “If there’s a misstep or something, you kind of recover a little bit without getting jammed up.”
Blue Grass winner Dullahan was the 8-1 fourth choice. He got the No. 5 post, drawing the loudest cheers from his connections.
The No. 1 and No. 14 posts remained open until there were just two spots left, leaving the connections of speedy Hansen and Daddy Long Legs in suspense. UAE Derby winner Daddy Long Legs got the inside stall, while 10-1 shot Hansen avoided the unpopular spot and landed the No. 14 slot.
“If we were in the one-hole, we’d have to chase Secretariat for the track record. We don’t have to do that now, so we’ll play around with the other horses,” said Dr. Kendall Hansen, who owns the nearly all white colt named after him and plans to have 200 family and friends on hand.
“We’re going to win this race. We’re not worried about anybody. We’ve got the best horse; speed is dangerous.”
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Hansen and Daddy Long Legs have the most graded stakes earnings in the field. Hansen leads the list with more than $1.5 million, while Daddy Long Legs has $1.2 million.
Steve Asmussen, who is 0 for 9 in the Derby, will saddle two long shots in 15-1 Daddy Nose Best and 30-1 Sabercat.
Optimizer is the record 45th Derby starter for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Derby winner. The colt will break from the No. 2 post and is one of five 50-1 shots. He got into the field when Mark Valeski was withdrawn from consideration Tuesday.
“There were a few on the board I’d rather have,” Lukas said. “It’s OK because we’re not a speed horse anyway.”
The 21st horse on the earnings list is My Adonis, an also eligible who would need a defection before 9 a.m. EDT Friday, when Derby wagering opens, to get into the 1¼-mile race.
The draw was a traditional pill pull in which horses’ entries are pulled at the same time as a numbered pill to determine what stall a horse will break from the starting gate.
If all 20 horses start, the $2,219,600 purse would be the richest since 2005, when the Derby first became a guaranteed $2 million event. The winner earns $1,459,600. Post time is 6:24 p.m. EDT.