LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Fly So Free and Best Pal became Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside when post positions for tomorrow's 117th Kentucky Derby were drawn yesterday.
A field of 16 was drawn for the race, with the most noteworthy assignments -- and potentially most problematic -- going to Fly So Free, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, and Best Pal, the 7-2 third ,, choice.
Fly So Free drew the No. 1 post, and Best Pal drew No. 15. In a
large field, a horse can lack room along the rail in the critical run to the first turn after breaking from the inside post. And from post 15 outward, horses must break from the far outside from an auxiliary gate, because the main gate will hold only 14 horses.
The other two in this Derby's Big Four -- Strike the Gold (4-1) and Hansel (3-1) -- drew favorable slots, getting No. 5 and No. 6, respectively.
Scotty Schulhofer, trainer of Fly So Free, seemed unfazed by drawing the inside post, saying strategy for the race would remain essentially the same.
"Now I won't have to worry about getting to the rail and saving ground," he said. "I'm going to do what I've said all week, and that's not give [jockey Jose] Santos any instructions. I'm just letting him ride his race."
Nor was Ian Jory, Best Pal's trainer, particularly displeased.
"I just got done talking to Scotty," he said, "and he said he'd rather have No. 1 than No. 15, and I said I'd rather have No. 15 than No. 1. So it's OK."
Both colts own tactical speed, which usually helps runners to overcome whatever disadvantage the draw might present.
"[Fly So Free] should be able to find position by himself," said Santos.
Jerry Bailey, who will ride Hansel, sounded unaware of the colt's post when he walked into the paddock for yesterday's fourth race at Churchill.
"I just flew in," he said. "What'd I get?" When told No. 6, he said, "Six is great. Very pleased."
This Derby is being called a jockeys' race, because with similarities in the running styles of three of the Big Four, a jockey's split-second judgment may be the difference between victory and defeat.
"I'd say that's true," Bailey said. "With a lot of horses in the race, the jockeys will definitely come into play."
The Big Four are "the most well-matched group of favorites since I've been making the Derby line, which goes back to 1974," said Mike Battaglia, Churchill Downs announcer and oddsmaker.
The early stages of the race set up somewhat predictably, with three of the Big Four figuring amid a pack of pace chasers. Sea Cadet and Corporate Report are the likely front-runners, and the handlers of Fly So Free, Hansel and Best Pal are hoping their horses will settle into good early position, just several lengths from the front.
Only Strike the Gold, to be ridden by Chris Antley, figures in the second half of the pack in the early running.
"The good thing about him is the way he has matured," said Antley. "In the Florida Derby, he got way back, then passed the whole field until he came up to Fly So Free and finished second. In the Blue Grass [which he won over Fly So Free], that was the first race he's put out fully the whole way. He was right on top of the other horses at the three-eighths pole. In my mind, if he runs his best race, he'll win."
Strike the Gold posted a four-furlong work of 51 2/5 seconds on Wednesday. The clocking is considered slow, and although Antley and trainer Nick Zito downplayed its significance, it did cause Battaglia to reverse Best Pal and Strike the Gold in his line. Earlier this week, Battaglia said Strike the Gold would be his third choice and Best Pal his fourth. "But after the way they've worked," he said, "I had to switch them."
Two of the five horses bunched in the mutuel field -- the group considered by Battaglia to have the least chances of winning -- have Maryland connections. Green Alligator is owned by Anderson Fowler, a New Jersey resident who has raced horses in Maryland for over 50 years, including Maryland Classic winners Master Speaker and Timely Warning. Green Alligator won the California Derby in his last start.
Forty Something, a winner of a six-furlong allowance race at Keeneland in his last start, will be ridden by Mark Johnston, a Kentucky native who rides regularly in Maryland. Forty Something, owned by Sam Morrell of Canandaigua, N.Y., is trained by Reggie Vardon, who has trained a small stable at Laurel Race Course off and on for the last several years.
Derby at a glance
What: 117th Kentucky Derby
Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.
When: Tomorrow, 5:32 p.m. post time
Purse: $500,000 added
Total purse if all start: $905,800 (race record)
Value to winner if all start: $655,800
Distance: 1 1/4 miles
Weight: All carry 126 pounds
Television: Channels 13, 7, 4:30 p.m.
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), 5:05 p.m.
Weather forecast: Race-time temperature of 80 degrees, with a 40 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms.
Last year's winner: Unbridled