No. 1 post, speed are tough parlay for Storm Tower Derby gates drawn for 19-horse field

April 30, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The first horse's name you will hear during the call of the Kentucky Derby tomorrow probably will be Storm Tower.

But it is just about the worst-case scenario that could have happened to the Maryland-based colt if he is going to have a chance to win the 10-furlong race.

A field of 19 3-year-olds was entered yesterday for the 119th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Track oddsmaker Mike Battaglia installed Prairie Bayou, the only horse in the field to score recent back-to-back stakes victories, in the Jim Beam and Blue Grass stakes, as the 5-2 favorite. Santa Anita Derby winner Personal Hope is second choice at 7-2, and Storm Tower, ridden by Pimlico jockey Rick Wilson, is the third pick at 9-2.

Storm Tower is a speed horse in a race that traditionally frowns on front-runners, and he has drawn the No. 1 post.

During the past 40 years, only three horses have won the Kentucky Derby leaving from the 1 post position. All of them -- Needles (1956), Chateaugay (1963) and Ferdinand (1986) -- came from far off the pace.

Drawing the 1 gate means that Wilson has no option other than to jet to the lead to avoid being pinched back on the inside.

There is an additional disadvantage.

Wilson and Storm Tower will be on the inside of their speediest adversary, Personal Hope.

"If they had let me set the post positions, we would have been on the outside of Personal Hope," said Ben Perkins Jr., Storm Tower's trainer. "That way, we could have sat right off of him."

A cheer went up in the Kentucky Derby Museum yesterday from the connections of Personal Hope when their horse drew the 7 post.

Mark Hennig, the horse's trainer, said that starting from the inside "forces Wilson to commit early and lets our jockey [Gary Stevens] see what he needs to do going into the first turn. Wilson is in a tough spot."

Wilson, reached at Pimlico yesterday said: "I really don't like it. But what can I do? Personal Hope has shown speed, but, remember, he runs on those rock-hard California tracks. This is a whole different ballgame [in the East]. We'll find out tomorrow just how quick he is."

The worst thing that could happen is that the two horses set too fast a pace and wear themselves out before the stretch run.

But Hennig said Stevens won't let that happen.

"Our jock has been here before and has handled this type of

situation," Hennig said.

Tomorrow's trip will be Stevens' eighth Derby appearance. He won on front-runner Winning Colors in 1988 and has been second the past two years with Best Pal (1991) and Casual Lies (1992).

It is only Wilson's second Derby ride. He finished 14th in 1984 with long shot Raja's Shark. "But it's great to be here with a contender this year," he said.

Most of the other trainers were delighted with their post positions, except those on the extreme outside.

The main Derby starting gate holds 14 horses, so that the horses starting from positions 15 to 19 break from an auxiliary gate.

However, Cot Campbell, part owner of Wallenda, who drew the 16 hole, said: "I don't see it as crucial. I see it only as a 3 to 4 percent negative factor."

Mack Miller, trainer of 30-1 shot Sea Hero, said he was "lucky as the dickens" to draw post 6.

"My son-in-law is a Presbyterian minister," he said. "Maybe he had something to do with it."

Miller added that he would hate to be either in the 1 or 19 posts.

"Last year, I drew the No. 1 post 27 percent of the time in all the racesI ran and never won when I did," Miller said.

As for post positions 15-19, Miller said horses that break from that far outside "use up their get-up-and-go."

Tom Bohannan, trainer of favorite Prairie Bayou (post 5) said he was just happy to be in the main gate. "I wouldn't want to be any farther out than that," he said.

Storm Tower will have another disadvantage by loading first. He will have to stand in the gate for a couple of minutes while the starter loads the rest of the field.

The joke going around the Churchill Downs press box yesterday was that Wilson should give the horse a magazine to read until the start of the race.

But Wilson took a philosophical stance.

"Everyone can talk all they want about post positions and pre-race strategy. But so much goes on at Churchill Downs that day [before a crowd estimated at 125,000 people].

"You never really know what is going to happen until the gates open."

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