November 30, 2023

Top contenders emerge unscathed in Kentucky Derby post position draw

143rd Kentucky Derby Draw, Wednesday, May 3, 2017 (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

With the rail post still looming and more than half the positions filled, Classic Empire and McCraken managed to dodge a bullet when receiving gates 14 and 15, respectively, at Wednesday’s post position draw for the 143rd running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

The dreaded rail post eventually went to Lookin at Lee, who may not be burdened by the inside draw. The confirmed closer is going to take back at the break and given Corey Lanerie’s affinity for riding the innermost part of the track, Lookin at Lee figured to wind up inside anyway.

The Kentucky Derby features four main win contenders — Classic Empire (4-1 morning line), Always Dreaming (5-1), McCraken (5-1) and Irish War Cry (6-1) — and there is a big drop-off to the rest of the pack, with Girvin, Gormley, Gunnevera and Hence coming next on the morning line at 15-1 odds.

And none of the big four have anything to complain about, with Always Dreaming expected to show speed from post 5 and Irish War Cry well-situated to the outside of runners in post 17 with his early turn of foot.

Thunder Snow probably took the worst of it when receiving post 2. The Dubai shipper posted front-running wins when winning his first two dirt starts, the UAE Derby (G2) and UAE Two Thousand Guineas (G3), but he may not have the speed to keep up with Fast and Accurate (post 3), Always Dreaming (post 5) and State of Honor (post 6) during the opening stages. If he can’t maintain a forward position, Thunder Snow risks getting shuffled back in traffic entering the first turn from his inside post.

Patch received the far outside but it may not be too much of an obstacle with his late-running style. I’m more concerned by his lack of 2-year-old experience, with no unraced juvenile winning the Kentucky Derby in 135 years.

With outside posts performing well in recent years, Gormley (post 18) and Practical Joke (post 19) may be able to overcome the draw, but they’re more stalking types than Patch and must find a way to angle in during the opening quarter-mile to avoid losing too much ground into the first turn.

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