John Oxley's silks are placed on the draw board for the  143rd Kentucky Derby

John Oxley's silks are placed on the draw board for the 143rd Kentucky Derby

Coady Photography

Derby Favorite Classic Empire Draws Post 14

Champion Classic Empire is the 4-1 morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

John Oxley's Classic Empire  was the next-to-last name announced at a May 3 draw for the May 6 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), keeping his connections in suspense.

Last year's juvenile champion and recent winner of the Arkansas Derby (G1) drew post 14 and was installed as the 4-1 morning-line favorite in a full field for Kentucky Derby 143, while Always Dreaming, winner of the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1), drew post 5 and was made the co-second choice at 5-1 by linemaker Mike Battaglia. McCraken joins him at 5-1 after drawing post 15.

"I was like, nothing has been easy," said Classic Empire’s trainer Mark Casse on the Pioneerof the Nile  colt being one of the last drawn. "Why would this change? But it's a great post for both horses (he also trains State of Honor, who drew post 6). It worked out perfect for us. I love having State of Honor right outside of Always Dreaming and I like Classic Empire being able to watch Always Dreaming and State of Honor."

Irish War Cry, winner of the Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets (G2) is the third choice on the morning line at 6-1. All others in the 20-horse field are 15-1 or higher, including Girvin, the points leader heading into the Run for the Roses, who will break from post 7 (15-1).

"A couple of the key contenders are outside of us, which is kind of nice," Casse said. "Irish War Cry may have a little more speed than us, maybe not. The good news is if you do get pinched back a bit, being outside you can go around and still have time to position yourself. (If) you get pinched back when you're down inside, you need a lot of breaks."

"I'm going to leave it to (jockey) Rajiv (Maragh),” trainer Graham Motion said of the strategy for Irish War Cry’s trip. “This horse is a little better on the outside. I think he's going to lay close. He's going to be handy. It gives him a cleaner trip. I didn’t want to be stuck down on the inside. I don’t think anybody does, because it just gets very tight.

“I feel like I can't really control anybody else's horse, but I want what's best for mine. … I'm happy with my draw. We'll just take it as it comes." 

This year’s morning line reflects how wide open the field is. That is in stark contrast to the last three Derby editions, which featured heavy favorites—and winners—California Chrome  (2014), American Pharoah  (2015), and Nyquist  (2016). Throwing in Orb  (2013), the post-time favorite has won the last four.

Whitham Thoroughbreds’ homebred McCraken won his first four starts before finishing third as the favorite in the Blue Grass. Trainer Ian Wilkes, who worked with two-time Derby-winning trainer Carl Nazger, was pleased with post 15.

"I'm happy with it, because we're the first ones in the auxilery gate, which is good," he said. "Now that I drew good—if I had gotten the dreaded 1 hole, I might have had to change my strategy-—but now I drew 15 and I can let (jockey) Brian (Hernandez Jr.) ride his race and not give him too many instructions.

"Having the speed inside helps. It really helps, because sometimes with 20 horses you get a big log jam. Horses speed from the outside coming across. But it looks like there is some speed to the inside, which can take the field forward instead of it being a log jam."

"Like everyone else, we just didn't want to come out of here with the 1 or the 20," said West Point Thoroughbreds' Terry Finley of the draw for Always Dreaming. "I think the top four or five horses all got solid posts. If the top four or five horses get beat, I don't think they'll be in a position where they can use post position as an excuse … which is good.

"I think we were the eighth pick, but it's really nerve wracking. You think, four years of work and your fate could be doomed by the pull of a pill. But that's the way it has to be."

Always Dreaming, from the first crop of Bodemeister , has won three straight for a large partnership group that includes Brooklyn Boyz, Teresa Viola Racing, and West Point.

The two toughest posts went to L and N Racing’s Lookin At Lee and Calumet Farm’s Patch. Lookin At Lee (20-1) will break from the rail for trainer Steve Asmussen. The rail has famously failed to produce a winner since 1986, when Ferdinand won. Lookin At Lee is a son of Lookin At Lucky , the champion 2-year-old male of 2009 who finished sixth as the favorite in the 2010 Derby after drawing the inside post.

Patch (30-1), runner-up to Girvin in the Louisiana Derby (G2), will be asked to break from post 20. Big Brown  is the lone Derby winner from the far outside post.

Doug O’Neill, trainer of Reddam Racing’s Irap, winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2), was happy with drawing post 9.

"We were dreaming of 10, so we love getting 9," he said. "We don’t want to stand in the gate for too long. We’re looking to pop out of there and be forwardly placed and in the clear, so he doesn’t have his momentum broken."

Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Gormley  (by Malibu Moon ) drew post 18. Trainer John Shirreffs noted: "I’d rather have been in the main gate, but (jockey) Victor Espinoza just called and said 18 was a lucky number (the same post as 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah ). We’re not looking for the lead. We just want to find a place to tuck in. Gormley is very versatile. He can do a lot of different things. Victor is experienced in this race and has ridden the horse and is familiar with him.”

Trainer Dale Romans got post 13 for the Albaugh Family Stable’s J Boys Echo, winner of the Gotham Stakes (G3) and fourth in the Blue Grass.

"Couldn’t be better," Romans said regarding the spot for the son of Mineshaft . "It’s a good spot. I think 13 is a lucky number. I’d rather be there, farther outside than inside."

While the rail is the spot connections dread, post 2 has had a longer drought. Affirmed, the Triple Crown winner in 1978, is the last Derby winner to come from the slot. It has been 19 years since a winner came from post 3 (Real Quiet).

Irish-bred, Dubai-raced Thunder Snow will break from post 2 under Christophe Soumillon and Kendall Hansen, SkyChai Racing, and Bode Miller’s Fast and Accurate drew post 3.

The most productive posts for the last few decades have been 5, 8, and 10.

Two horses are on the also-eligible list. Jerry and Ann Moss’ Royal Mo is No. 21 and China Horse Club, WinStar Farm, and Al Shaqab Racing’s Master Plan is No. 22. They can draw into the race prior to 9 a.m. Friday.

Royal Mo, winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3), finished third in the Santa Anita Derby for Shirreffs, and Master Plan rallied late to finish third behind Thunder Snow in Meydan’s UAE Derby Sponsored By The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2). If he goes, he’ll be one of four for trainer Todd Pletcher.

The draw was conducted by Churchill Downs’ racing secretary Ben Huffman and Dan Bork.

Frank Angst, Greg Hall, Alicia Wincze Hughes, and Lenny Shulman contributed to this report

Kentucky Derby May 6, 2017 6:46 PM EDT
Post Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1 Lookin At Lee Corey Lanerie Steve Asmussen 20-1
2 Thunder Snow Christophe Soumillion Saeed bin Suroor 20-1
3 Fast and Accurate Channing Hill Mike Maker 50-1
4 Untrapped Ricardo Santana Jr. Steve Asmussen 30-1
5 Always Dreaming John Velazquez Todd Pletcher 5-1
6 State of Honor Jose Lezcano Mark Casse 30-1
7 Girvin Mike Smith Joe Sharp 15-1
8 Hence Florent Geroux Steve Asmussen 15-1
9 Irap Mario Gutierrez Doug O'Neill 20-1
10 Gunnevera Javier Castellano Antonio Sano 15-1
11 Battle of Midway Flavien Prat Jerry Hollendorfer 30-1
12 Sonneteer Kent Desormeaux Keith Desormeaux 50-1
13 J Boys Echo Luis Saez Dale Romans 20-1
14 Classic Empire Julian Leparoux Mark Casse 4-1
15 McCraken Brian Hernandez Jr. Ian Wilkes 5-1
16 Tapwrit Jose Ortiz Todd Pletcher 20-1
17 Irish War Cry Rajiv Maragh Graham Motion 6-1
18 Gormley Victor Espinoza John Shirreffs 15-1
19 Practical Joke Joel Rosario Chad Brown 20-1
20 Patch Tyler Gaffalione Todd Pletcher 30-1
AE Royal Mo Gary Stevens John Shirreffs 20-1
AE Master Plan John Velazquez Todd Pletcher 50-1