Take Them Down at Draw for Derby
The new post-position draw for the Kentucky Derby, introduced to make more interesting television for ESPN, turned into an embarrassing mix-up at Churchill Downs on Wednesday night.
Because of mistakes by Chris Lincoln, the ESPN host, trainer Wayne Lukas, who is running Cape Town in the Derby, lost the chance to have first crack at the post position for his horse. Instead, Lukas had to settle for the No. 11 post in a 15-horse field.
Breaking from tradition, Churchill Downs decided to let the trainers draw numbers that would determine the order in which they would select post positions for their horses. Previously, the numbers drawn were the post positions themselves, leaving trainers with the so-called luck of the draw.
Lincoln drew the small pills with numbers on them at the beginning of the live one-hour telecast, and the first 12 numbers drawn were no problem. But then Lincoln appeared confused as the selection order was drawn for the final three horses. After a commercial break, the problem couldn’t be straightened out and Bernie Hettel, chief steward at the track, ruled the entire draw would have to be redone.
Lukas said he would have taken No. 7 or No. 8 had he been given first choice. But in the revised selection order, he was the 10th to pick and ended up with the 11th post position.
Much planning had gone into the new draw, and Tom Meeker, president of Churchill Downs, appeared angry and chagrined by what developed.
“There was a mistake in the draw,” Meeker said. “All of the pills were gone and not all of the horses’ names had been accounted for. After the mix-up, the correct decision was made. But it was unfortunate and embarrassing.”
A Churchill Downs spokesman, Karl Schmitt, said that three racing officials would run the draw next year.
“Chris Lincoln was acting as a commentator and racing official, and it didn’t work,” Schmitt said. “I guess he misread the numbers.”
It wasn’t clear exactly what Lincoln did, and Lincoln himself wasn’t sure.
“I held the pills too long,” he said. “It was just a human error. I can’t remember exactly what happened. I guess when you’re making history, you’ve got to make it twice to get it right.”
For years, the Derby draw was conducted on the Thursday morning before the race, but Churchill Downs switched it to Wednesday night a couple of years ago to get live coverage from ESPN. Last year’s ratings for the draw show were a disappointment; fewer than 350,000 people watched. The Derby itself usually draws crowds of about 140,000.
Lukas didn’t seem too upset about Cape Town’s eventual post position.
“When you do something like this, you open yourself up to problems,” Lukas said. “Bernie Hettel did the right thing by starting over. I was surprised that a lot of guys ahead of us took inside post positions, and that opened it up for us.”
Since 1900, 48 of the 98 Derby winners broke from inside the No. 6 post. There have been only 13 winners from post Nos. 11 through 15, although Grindstone won from No. 15 in 1996.
Pimlico, which will run the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown series, on May 16, had announced it will join Churchill Downs in changing its draw system. The Triple Crown windup on June 6 is the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, which will retain the traditional draw.
After Wednesday’s draw, Mike Battaglia, the Churchill Downs linemaker, made Indian Charlie the 2-1 favorite. Trainer Bob Baffert, who was second in the selection order, picked post No. 8 for Indian Charlie. Bill Mott, the trainer of Favorite Trick, the third choice at 4-1, had first pick and took the seven hole.
A favorite hasn’t won the Derby since Spectacular Bid in 1979.
Scattered showers hit Churchill Downs on Wednesday, leaving the track sloppy, and more rain is forecast into Friday. There is supposed to be clearing by Saturday, partly cloudy and temperatures in the 60s. If that forecast holds up, there would be a fast track for the Derby.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
KENTUCKY DERBY AT A GLANCE
Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville
Post: 2:30 p.m.
TV: Channel 7
Probable Starters: Artax, Basic Trainee, Cape Town, Chilito, Favorite Trick, Halory Hunter, Hanuman Highway, Indian Charlie, Nationalore, Old Trieste, Parade Ground, Real Quiet, Robinwould, Rock And Roll, Victory Gallop
MANE MAN: Rick Pitino’s Halory Hunter is in the Derby. C6
Kentucky Derby Draw
The mixed-up post-position draw at Churchill Downs on Wednesday resulted in the trainers of the 15 horses picking their posts in this order: *--*
Horse Jockey Odds 1st Draw Post Favorite Trick Pat Day 4-1 3 1 Indian Charlie Gary Stevens 2-1 4 2 Chilito Gary Boulanger 30-1 8 3 Hanuman Highway David Flores 50-1 2 4 Rock And Roll Francisco Torres 50-1 15 5 Halory Hunter Corey Nakatani 7-2 6 6 Parade Ground Shane Sellers 20-1 13 7 Real Quiet Kent Desormeaux 8-1 7 8 Basic Trainee John Velazquez 50-1 9 9 Cape Town Jerry Bailey 6-1 1 10 Nationalore Goncalino Almeida 50-1 11 11 Artax Chris McCarron 12-1 5 12 Victory Gallop Alex Soles 15-1 10 13 Old Trieste Robby Albarado 15-1 12 14 Robinwould Earlie Fires 50-1 14 15
NOTE: All horses carry 126 pounds; Basic Trainee and Robinwould are mutuel field horses and will be coupled in the betting.