LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Knowing their favored horses won’t start the Kentucky Derby on the rail left Richard Mandella and Bob Baffert more relieved than happy.
What matters for the Hall of Fame trainers is turning workable starting spots into victory – and a long-sought celebration for Mandella.
Omaha Beach is the 4-1 early favorite for Saturday’s 145th Run for the Roses after drawing the No. 12 post position on Tuesday. That could be a good sign for the colt and Mandella, considering that the horse favored to win the Derby has taken the past six.
“I hope it comes out that way,” Mandella said.
Baffert-trained Game Winner is the 5-1 second choice from the No. 16 post in the 20-horse field for the Triple Crown’s first leg.
Game Winner will start inside stablemate Roadster, the 6-1 co-third choice with Improbable, a Baffert colt who will go off from the No. 5 hole in the 1 1/4-mile race at Churchill Downs.
Omaha Beach enters the $3 million showcase on a three-race winning streak. The dark brown colt is coming off a one-length victory in the slop over Improbable in the Arkansas Derby, a race that demonstrated his recent knack for getting up front quickly and staying there.
Mandella believes Omaha Beach and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who won last year’s Derby for Baffert aboard Justify, will make the most of his spot.
“It’s really important if you get luck with it,” Mandella said. “If you get a bad luck, a good post position doesn’t work.
“His last couple of races he kind of sits back and bides his time a little bit, then decides when to just cruise along. Mike will have to figure that out.”
Baffert, meanwhile, aims to match Ben Jones’ record with his sixth Kentucky Derby win and second straight. He won last year with Justify, culminating in the Triple Crown. That came three years after he took the Triple Crown with American Pharoah.
It remains to be seen how the Derby will unfold, hitting the first turn with so many horses vying for the same spot, but Improbable is in a relatively good spot.
Game Winner, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile here last fall, and Roadster will have their work cut out for them, starting from post positions that are a combined 4 for 87 in the Derby. When it was noted that Roadster’s No. 17 post is 0 for 40, nervous laughter grew in a crowded room of horsemen including Baffert, his connections and the media.
Baffert later took all of his horses’ slots in stride, if only because none was on the rail. War of Will drew that unenviable spot and was given 20-1 odds as a result.
“I like the 16 hole; it’s a good spot,” he said of Game Winner’s position. “Roadster, he’s out there. I don’t know. I always get two horses together. A lot of times in California they draw so … I’ll be watching those two leaving there.”
War of Will’s trainer, Mark Casse, chose to be encouraged about his horse’s post.
“It could be worse, I think,” he said of the horse who had a three-race winning streak halted in the Louisiana Derby. “Our horse is really on his game, so he’ll come away from there running.
“I think we’ll probably be on the lead and play catch me if you can. And you know, if we come away from there like he normally does, we’re going to come away from there running. … I’ve thought I had great draws before and gotten wiped out, so maybe this is the change.”
Points leader Tacitus will start from the No. 8 post with 10-1 odds as he tries to give trainer Bill Mott his first Derby victory. The son of Tapit and Close Hatches by First Defence has Grade 2 wins in the Wood Memorial and Tampa Bay Derby during a three-race surge.
Another 10-1 choice is unbeaten Maximum Security, who starts from the No. 7 hole and will try to follow up his victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby.
Todd Pletcher entries Spinoff and Cutting Humor face 30-1 odds after drawing the Nos. 19 and 10 post positions.
Also eligible is 30-1 Bodexpress, who can get into the field with a defection.
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