LOUISVILLE — Favorite Classic Empire drew an ideal post position Wednesday and will break from the No. 14 gate on Saturday in the 143rd Kentucky Derby.
Classic Empire, last year’s 2-year-old champion and winner of the Arkansas Derby in his final prep, was installed as the 4-1 morning line favorite by oddsmaker Mike Battaglia. His trainer, Mark Casse, was sweating out the draw as the dreaded No. 1 position was still on the board when Classic Empire’s name was called. The inside gate is viewed as the most challenging in a 20-horse field because horses can get trapped on the rail and struggle to get a clear path to run.
“Given the last four or five choices, I was real happy because I could just see the 1 hole and the 1 hole could have been disastrous,” Casse said. “I was already ready to tell everybody, hey look, we’ve overcome everything else, so why not this?"
The post position draw didn’t appear to compromise any of the favorites.
Always Dreaming, the impressive Florida Derby winner, will break from the No. 5 gate as the 5-to-1 co-second choice along with McCraken, who drew the No. 15 hole.
A horse that prefers to be forwardly placed anyway, it seems almost certain coming from an inside post position that jockey John Velazquez will put Always Dreaming on or near the lead.
Similarly, Wood Memorial winner Irish War Cry, who is 6-to-1 on the morning line, will be more likely to use his speed coming from the No. 17 post.
Battaglia said he didn’t factor post positions very heavily into his morning line.
“You can get bothered from any post and you can get lucky from any post,” he said.
Lookin At Lee, a late-running longshot, will come out of the dreaded No. 1 post position, but his running style should allow him to save ground on the first turn. He’s also being ridden by Corey Lanerie, who knows his way around Churchill Downs as a 10-time leading rider here.
“I’m not seeing a lot of speed in the race, so having an inside draw should be helpful,” Lookin At Lee’s trainer Steve Asmussen said. “If it’s a compact field, being wide could possibly eliminate anybody. If anybody had to have the 1 hole, Lookin At Lee with his experience being a closer, the races he’s run with Lanerie, they’d be the two that would be able to overcome it."
Irap, who comes from the same barn as Derby winners I’ll Have Another and Nyquist under trainer Doug O’Neill, drew the No. 9 position.
One interesting factor could be Patch, who has drawn attention this week because he had to have his left eye removed as a 2-year-old. Patch drew the far outside at No. 20, meaning he won’t be able to see any of the horses breaking to his inside.
Royal Mo and Master Plan were entered as alternates should one of the 20 Kentucky Derby starters scratch before 9 a.m. ET on Friday.
2017 Kentucky Derby post-position draw and odds (with jockey names)
1. Lookin At Lee 20-1 (Lanerie)
2. Thunder Snow 20-1 (Soumillon)
3. Fast and Accurate 50-1 (Hill)
4. Untrapped 30-1 (Santana Jr.)
5. Always Dreaming 5-1 (Velazquez)
6. State of Honor 30-1 (Lezcano)
7. Girvin 15-1 (Smith)
8. Hence 15-1 (Geroux)
9. Irap 20-1 (Gutierrez)
10. Gunnevera 15-1 (Castellano)
11. Battle of Midway 30-1 (Prat)
12. Sonneteer 50-1 (Desormeaux)
13. J Boys Echo 20-1 (Albarado)
14. Classic Empire 4-1 (Leparoux)
15. McCraken 5-1 (Hernandez Jr.)
16. Tapwrit 20-1 (Ortiz)
17. Irish War Cry 6-1 (Maragh)
18. Gormley 15-1 (Espinoza)
19. Practical Joke 20-1 (Rosario)
20. Patch 30-1 (Gaffalione)
Royal Mo 20/1 (Stevens)
Master Plan 50/1 (Velazquez)