Based on a draw conducted earlier in the day to determine order in which post positions would be selected, Big Brown’s owners and trainer had the 16th draw out of the 20 starting positions.
“We prefer just to break on the outside,” said Richard Dutrow, Jr., who trains Big Brown. “We get assured of a clean trip. If he breaks good, we figure it’s to our advantage. We had a few choices and felt we took the best shot.”
In his last start, Big Brown won the Florida Derby (gr. I) from the outside post. The only Derby winner from the No. 20 post was Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.
“I feel that if we run our race, and he breaks clean, I don’t see a horse as of yet that can beat Big Brown,” Dutrow said. “I just don’t see it. I don’t want to see it, either.”
When the draw began, the post positions from 5-10 were in greatest demand Wednesday. Trainer Michael Matz went first, choosing post 8 for Visionaire. That was the same post he selected in 2006 for Barbaro, the ill-fated winner of that year’s Derby. Another Derby-winning trainer, Barclay Tagg, went second and took post 7 for Big Truck. In his first trek to the Derby in 2003, Tagg won the race with Funny Cide.
In succession, the next three post positions drawn were 10 (Colonel John), 6 (Z Fortune), and 5 (Eight Belles).
Colonel John, the best 3-year-old in the West, was the second betting choice at 4-1. Pyro, a one-time Derby favorite who leaves from post 9, was next at 6-1. Every other horse was 15-1 or higher.
Eight Belles is the first filly to run in the Derby since 1999. Only three have won, with Winning Colors the last to do so in 1988.
“We’re going to give it a whirl,” said Eight Belles trainer Larry Jones, who finished second in last year’s Derby with Hard Spun. “If she runs her race against the colts and doesn’t get intimidated we feel like she can be right there.”
Derby rookie Gabriel Saez has the call on Eight Belles, who brings a four-race winning streak into the Run for the Roses.
The inexperienced Big Brown burst onto the Derby scene with a 12 3/4-length romp in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on March 5. A five-length win in the Florida Derby made him 3-for-3 in his career. Last year, Curlin arrived for the Derby with the same record and finished third. Kent Desormeaux has the mount on the favorite.
“I do think the people are going to bet on Big Brown, even though he is from the 20 post,” Battaglia said. “He’s undefeated. He looked awfully good in Florida. There are plenty of knocks on Big Brown, like the fact he has only raced three times.”
Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Colonel John is an interesting second choice since the colt will be making his first start on the dirt. Trained by Eoin Harty, Colonel John is 4-for-6 with two runner-up finishes. He had an exceptionally fast workout at Churchill Downs earlier in the week.
“The synthetic tracks make it very tough,” Battaglia said. “Look at Colonel John. He’s never raced on the dirt. That’s just a big X factor.”
Pyro is coming off the worst race of his career, a 10th-place finish in the Blue Grass in his only start over a synthetic surface. The colt trained by Steve Asmussen won the Risen Star (gr. III) and the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) in his two previous starts.
“What do I do with the Blue Grass? Do you completely throw it out?” Battaglia asked. “Do you think he might be on the decline? You just don’t know.”
Asmussen, who also trains Z Fortune, says he expects Pyro to “run his lifetime best when it matters most.”
Three other trainers have two horses in the Derby, including Todd Pletcher. The nation’s top trainer sends out Monba and Cowboy Cal, the 1-2 finishers in the Blue Grass, in his quest to end an 0-for-19 Derby record.
Barclay Tagg sends out Tampa Bay Derby winner Big Truck and Wood Memorial winner Tale of Ekati, and two-time Derby winner Nick Zito has Anak Nakal and Fountain of Youth winner Cool Coal Man.
Post Position—Horse, Jockey, Trainer, Morning-Line Odds
1 Cool Coal Man, Julien Leparoux, Nick Zito, 20-1
2 Tale of Ekati, Eibar Coa, Barclay Tagg, 15-1
3 Anak Nakal, Rafael Bejarano, Nick Zito, 30-1
4 Court Vision, Garrett Gomez, Bill Mott, 20-1
5 Eight Belles (f), Gabriel Saez, Larry Jones, 15-1
6 Z Fortune, Robby Albarado, Steve Asmussen, 30-1
7 Big Truck, Javier Catellano, Barclay Tagg, 50-1
8 Visionaire, Jose Lezcano, Michael Matz, 20-1
9 Pyro, Shaun Bridgmohan, Steve Asmussen, 6-1
10 Colonel John, Corey Nakatani, Eoin Harty, 4-1
11 Z Humor, Rene Douglas, Bill Mott, 30-1
12 Smooth Air, Manoel Cruz, Bennie Stutts Jr., 20-1
13 Bob Jack Black, Rich Migliore, James Kasparoff, 20-1
14 Monba, Ramon Dominguez, Todd Pletcher, 15-1
15 Adriano, Edgar Prado, Graham Motion, 30-1
16 Denis of Cork, Calvin Borel, David Carroll, 20-1
17 Cowboy Cal, John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher, 20-1
18 Recapturetheglory, E.T. Baird, Louie Roussel, 20-1
19 Gayego, Mike Smith, Paulo Lobo, 15-1
20 Big Brown, Kent Desormeaux, Rick Dutrow Jr., 3-1
(f) - filly
All horses carry 126 pounds.
10th race of 12 - 134th running
Site: Churchill Downs - Louisville, Kentucky
Post Time: 6:04 p.m. ET (Live - NBC)
2007 winner: Street Sense
Stakes Record: Secretariat 1:59 2/5 (1973)