California Chrome draws No. 5 spot for Kentucky Derby

California Chrome draws No. 5 spot for Kentucky Derby
Exercise rider William Delgado plays with California Chrome as he received a bath after a morning workout at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. (Garry Jones / Associated Press)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome drew a favorable No. 5 starting spot Wednesday for Saturday's 140th Run for the Roses.

The fear for most Derby connections is the No. 1 post at the rail. That's because the 20-horse field tends to break down toward the rail and squeeze the horse or horses closest to it.


The rail post was drawn by 30-1 shot Vicar's In Trouble, and jockey Rosie Napravnik, interviewed afterward, said that while she was a little taken aback at the bad luck, "Vicar is not in trouble yet."

California Chrome's trainer, Art Sherman, said of the No. 5 spot, "I like it. Victor [jockey Victor Espinoza] likes it. He won his one Kentucky Derby from the No. 5 spot [War Emblem, 2002]. I feel no pressure. This is terrific."

California Chrome was given morning line odds of 5-2, and oddsmaker Mike Battaglia remarked that those were quite short "for a 20-horse field."

What about Bob?

Trainer Bob Baffert has two horses in the Derby, Hoppertunity and Chitu. He says that the extra eighth of a mile in the Derby is "Hoppertunity's friend and is not Chitu's friend."

Baffert talked about Sherman, saying he was happy for him and adding, with true Baffert inability to resist a good line, "He doesn't have as many hoppertunities at this level as some of us."

And then, he had to tell the story of the naming of the horse owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.

"I got the horse and I think the initial name was something like 'Anyway U Way,'" Baffert said. "I wondered what kind of name that was.

"I think Karl Watson named him that, but he won't fess up to it now."

As the name was being discussed, Baffert was talking to his wife, Jill, about her friend, Kathleen Hopper, who, with husband Chad, was trying to have a baby. From this sprouted the thought of the name Hoppertunity.

The pregnancy did not occur, but the Hoppers have been close fans of the horse ever since.

Rail travel

Veteran jockey Mike Smith said that the 20-horse cavalry-charge start doesn't always mean the horse on the rail is in deep trouble, even though the general feeling is that it is better to not be squeezed by the rest of the field.

"The year Smarty Jones won [2004]," said Smith, who will ride Hoppertunity, "I drew the No. 1 hole on Lion Heart. He got out of there so fast I had no problem. He just shot clear of all the trouble and we finished second."


Fixing it

Paralyzed jockey Ron Turcotte, who won the Kentucky Derby back-to-back with Riva Ridge and Secretariat before suffering his career-ending injury in 1978, posted an angry note on social media that said Churchill Downs has treated him badly in things such as wheelchair access and handicapped parking for his return visits to the Derby.

In response, Churchill Downs said it was sorry, embarrassed it hadn't done better and would fix whatever Turcotte needed.

John Asher, vice president of communications for the track, said Wednesday, "It was clearly a communications problem and we can't say enough about how sorry we are. Ron is a valued member of our family and we'll fix it."

The last word

Sherman, trying to put into words just what California Chrome has meant to his legacy and resume: "Before, I was kind of an also-eligible. Now, I'm in the race."