There may be 16 starters in the 117th Kentucky Derby, but it is essentially a four-horse race.
That's how Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia assessed the field when he issued the odds at the post draw today.
"I've been doing this since 1975, and I've never put four horses this close together," Battaglia said. "It's hard to separate them."
Battaglia made Fly So Free a lukewarm 5-2 choice over Hansel at 3-1. Best Pal is listed at 7-2, followed by Strike The Gold at 4-1.
Of the top four horses, Hansel and Strike The Gold drew the most desirable post positions. Hansel drew No. 6 and Strike The Gold comes out of No. 5.
Fly So Free drew the inside post, which means he will have to commit himself early to go after probable pacesetter Sea Cadet, at No. 4. However, 12 Derby winners have broken from the 1 post position, more than any other spot in the starting gate.
Trainer Ian Jory said he was disappointed when Best Pal drew No. 15. "That means he has to come from out of the auxiliary gate," Jory said. "But it's not the end of the world. He'll have to jump out smartly, and just go a little bit further than the others."
Only one Derby winner has broken from the 15-hole. That was Swale in 1984,when he chased speed filly Althea and then got by her for the win.
Last year's Derby winner, Unbridled, broke from post No. 8. Green Alligator, who is lumped in the pari-mutuel field with four other horses as the 12th betting interest, drew the 8-spot this year.
There was only one surprise at the draw. Pimlico jockey Mark Johnston was named to ride longshot Forty Something.
Forty Something, who Johnston rode when the horse campaigned at Laurel earlier this year, recently won a 6-furlong allowance race at Keeneland. He was ridden by Corey Black in that race.
Black said, "the trainer [Reggie Vardon] told me to work him out an extra eighth after that race, because they had big things in store. But I never dreamed it was the Derby."
Black was named on Derby starter Alydavid, last weekend's winner of the Derby Trial.