LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When the connections of the horses pick their post positions today for the 124th Kentucky Derby -- the first time that has ever happened -- they will vie for 15 or 16 slots in the starting gate.
That appears to be the size of the field after four horses on the fence dropped off: Nite Dreamer, Heart Surgeon, Voyamerican and Maryland-bred Smolderin Heart. The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Yarrow Brae remained a possibility.
The Derby horses for 1998, in order of likely betting preference, are: Indian Charlie, Halory Hunter, Favorite Trick, Cape Town, Real Quiet, Victory Gallop, Artax, Old Trieste, Parade Ground, Chilito, Hanuman Highway, Rock and Roll, Robinwould, Basic Trainee and Nationalore.
The draw begins at 5 p.m. in the Kentucky Derby Museum. Televised by ESPN, it will mark a revolutionary change in how post positions are determined.
In the past, numbered pills were drawn, designating the starting assignment for each horse. Today -- and for the Preakness, too -- numbered pills will still be drawn, but they will designate the order in which each horse's connections select their position.
For example, if pill No. 1 is drawn for Chilito, his connections, including the Maryland trainer H. Graham Motion, will have their pick of starting positions. Then, if Favorite Trick draws pill No. 2, his connections will pick second -- and so on through the entrants.
The idea is to spice up traditionally dull events. Most trainers seem to like it.
"I think it's good," said Bob Baffert, who trains Indian Charlie and Real Quiet and won last year's Derby and Preakness with Silver Charm. "You still need luck. But it spices things up a little bit.
"More important, it gives you a reason to go. Before, there was no reason to go to the draw. You just sat there. There wasn't anything you could do."
Said Bill Mott, trainer of Favorite Trick and Rock and Roll: "I think everybody will anxiously be waiting to see what tactics people use. I'll be interested in seeing that myself."
Like other trainers, Mott kept secret on which position he'd pick if he went first.
"I think anybody in the race is probably going to go for somewhere in the middle," he said. "I don't think anybody, if they had first choice, would choose the 1 or the auxiliary gate."
Lukas, who has trained three Derby winners, called the new draw "a great idea. Anything that can generate more interest in the sport, I'm for it."
Riva Ridge honored
In addition to Mott, others selected to racing's Hall of Fame were two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Jacinto Vasquez and thoroughbred champions Bayakoa, Riva Ridge and Fort Marcy.
Penny Chenery, who owned Riva Ridge and Secretariat, said of Riva Ridge, winner of the '72 Kentucky Derby and Belmont: "I think he suffered by having the big red horse in the next stall. He was my favorite because he needed me. Everybody loved Secretariat, but Riva Ridge needed somebody to scratch his ears and tell him he was wonderful."
Motion feels better
The Derby experience for Motion, the Laurel Park-based trainer of Chilito, took a turn for the better yesterday when the colt breezed a half-mile in 48 or 49 seconds, depending on whose clock you trust. Motion recorded 48 and the official clockers 49. They both timed Chilito galloping out five-eighths of a mile in 1 minute, 1 second.
Motion decided on the extra work after Chilito turned in a lackluster, five-furlong breeze of 1 minute, 4 2/5 seconds the day before.
"I can breathe easier now," said Motion, who was visibly upset the day before.
Pub Date: 4/29/98