LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Tension mounted at Churchill Downs on Wednesday afternoon as the draw for the 141st Kentucky Derby reached its midpoint.
As the first 10 starting positions in the 20-horse field were announced, Bob Baffert grew more anxious. A television commercial break only increased his misery.
Neither of the undesirable — and potentially disastrous — Nos. 1 and 2 positions were filled, and Baffert's combo of race favorites American Pharoah and Dortmund had yet to be announced.
"I was not liking this at all," the Hall of Fame trainer said.
So when American Pharoah was installed far outside at No. 18, Baffert exhaled and gave a thumbs up. After Dortmund went three picks later to No. 8, the three-time Derby winner swept his white hair from his forehead, as if to say, "Whew."
"I feel OK," Baffert said, relieved that neither horse drew spots close to the rail. "It could have been worse."
With American Pharoah and Dortmund in his stable, this Derby is regarded as much as Baffert's to lose as it is for him to win. So in some ways the draw could not have played out better for the man seeking his first Derby victory since War Emblem won in 2002.
Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia installed American Pharoah as the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $2.2-million race at 5-2. Dortmund is 3-1.
"We either make history or we leave here doing the low crawl," Baffert said. "That's what the Derby's all about."
Jockey Victor Espinoza, who rides American Pharoah, said his stomach tightened as he awaited his horse's name to be called.
"I love my post, 18," he said. "I feel lucky with that number."
Several contenders, including two of trainer Todd Pletcher's four entries, drew positions close to the rail. Carpe Diem, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes, has post No. 2 and is 8-1. Materiality, the Florida Derby winner, is in No. 3 at 12-1.
"In a perfect world, I would have liked to have been more toward the middle with Carpe Diem," Pletcher said. "But he's a good gate horse and he'll have to get away from there quickly.
"That's pretty much true whatever you draw in this race."
Ocho Ocho Ocho drew the No. 1 spot with the final pull in the draw.
Firing Line, trained by Simon Callaghan and ridden by three-time Derby winner Gary Stevens, will start at post No. 10 and is 12-1. Firing Line narrowly lost to Dortmund twice, in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita and the Los Alamitos Derby.
Proximity to the undefeated horse is a good thing, Callaghan said. "We're going to be on his outside," Callaghan said of Dortmund, "and I think that's going to set up perfectly for us."
Dortmund makes a good target, Stevens said.
"I expect him to be in front of me," he said. "I expect a few horses to be in front of me. It's going to be a fast pace, and if it's not we'll adapt."
Frosted, winner of the Wood Memorial, will start outside at No. 15 and is 15-1. Upstart at No. 19 is also 15-1.
Bolo, trained by Carla Gaines, starts at No. 9 and is 30-1. "Not too far inside, not too far out," she said. "We get options this way."
After morning workouts, Baffert had held court outside his barn and lamented anxiety caused by the draw. "You'll know if don't like my draw when I bend over and grab my belly," he said.
Instead, he was all smiles in the evening, as were American Pharoah's owner Ahmed Zayat and Dortmund's owner Kaleem Shah.
"I'm ecstatic," said Zayat, who also owns Derby entrants El Kabeir and Mr. Z.
"No complaints," Shah said. "Hopefully the best horse wins."
A horse starting from the No. 8 spot has won the Kentucky Derby eight times. The most recent was longshot Mine That Bird in 2009.
Gato Del Sol, in 1982, was the only horse to win starting from the No.18 spot.
But Baffert likes his chances with American Pharoah and Dortmund.
"I'm just going watch and whichever one breaks the best I'm going to just key on him," he said.
He was happy to put the draw behind him.
"Just glad it's over," he said. "I need a hot dog."