Preakness, Derby alter post draw Trainers to select gates after drawing numbers

November 26, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

More pre-race drama. More participants. More mystery. More strategy.

Those are expected to be the offshoots of the radical change in the procedure for drawing post positions in the 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

During a teleconference yesterday, trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a three-time Derby winner, said, "I didn't even attend the draw half the time [before]. This will add a lot of intrigue to it."

Under the new procedure, a horse's representatives will draw a number by lot, then they will pick their own starting position in order.

For example, if a Lukas horse draws No. 1, the trainer will have first selection of that horse's starting gate number. He will be given a to-be-announced time (probably about a minute to accommodate ESPN's telecast) to make the selection before No. 2 goes.

In the case of multiple entries under a trainer, the number for a specific horse will be non-transferable. And if the horse's agents exceed the starting time, they would be pushed to the back of the selection line.

"This major departure has been anticipated," Churchill Downs president Tom Meeker said. "The burning question is: Why? Churchill Downs and the Maryland Jockey Club is doing whatever we can to promote our sport.

"We are on national TV with these draws, and this will increase the element of drama in the process and get our sport before a national audience."

Next year's Preakness draw is on May 13 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

"The exposure is something we're really looking forward to," said Lenny Hale, vice president of racing for the Maryland Jockey Club. "Racing is changing more rapidly every day. As for the break from tradition, the Preakness has been run at seven different distances and was even run the same day as the Belmont one year."

And why is the Belmont not involved? "I can't speak for the NYRA [New York Racing Association]," Meeker said. "But they have a mile-and-a-half race, and the post position is not as critical as in the Derby and Preakness."

Trainer Bob Baffert, who won both races with Silver Charm last year, said the new process will force people "to do their homework. Before you get in there, you'll have to know the horses and the players. People are going to find out how smart or stupid trainers are."

Because of crowded fields-- particularly in the Derby -- the rail [No. 1] is the scourge for most trainers. The majority prefer to be in the middle of the field or on the outside.

The least desired spot "is going to be the 1 hole in most of these draws," Lukas said.

Oddly, the most common winning position in the Derby is No. 1 (12 times). Despite Pimlico's longtime reputation as a rail-favoring track, in the Preakness, it is No. 6 (14 times).

But much will depend on the characteristics of individual horses and even jockeys, both a trainer's own and those near his horse at the start.

"If you select early, it will give you some advantage," Lukas said. His three Derby winners have all been on the far outside. "If you have a horse who is tense or fractious in the gate, getting outside and loading last will be important.

"Most of it centers on your ability to know what your horse prefers."

The draw itself will require more of a team effort from a horse's connections with input from the owners and the jockeys.

Lukas said that knowing both the other horses' and riders' tendencies from the gate will be vital, especially if a jockey is in one of the big races for the first time or if your horse is next to a speedy rival.

"If I have the guys I usually ride, Gary Stevens or Jerry Bailey, I want their input," he said. "Owners will vary. Some will want to be very involved; others will leave it up to you."

"We'll no longer be sitting there with a knot in our stomachs during the draw," Baffert said. "Now, we have a chance to affect it."

And the race-goers will have a chance to second-guess them like crazy.

"Joe Fan now is going to match wits with Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert," Lukas said. "He is apt to get very involved, so this will become an event."

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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