LOUISVILLE, Ky. - On paper, California Chrome is the clear standout in Saturday's 20-horse Kentucky Derby. He drew post 5 Wednesday, which pleased his 77-year-old trainer, Art Sherman.
"That's fine," he said. "If he breaks well, he's got enough speed to stay out of trouble.''
The 5-2 morning-line favorite will try to become the first California-bred to wear the roses since Decidedly in 1962. Jockey Victor Espinoza, who is 3-for-3 on the flashy chestnut colt, also liked his spot in the gate.
"When I won the Derby with War Emblem, it was from the 5," Espinoza said, "so maybe it's my lucky number."
The racing gods zinged some of his opponents, especially 30-1 shot Vicar's in Trouble, who drew the dreaded rail, winless since 1986. "I guess I was kind of shocked," Rosie Napravnik said, "especially with it being the first number pulled. It's not ideal, but Vicar's sharp out of the gate and I think I can get good position with him. So Vicar's not in trouble yet."
Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong is out in post 20, which may not hinder jockey Rajiv Maragh because of his 8-1 shot's closing style.
NBC analyst Jerry Bailey said the abundance of early speed could set up Wicked Strong's late move. "It's like being on a freeway," Bailey said. "The faster they go, the easier it is to maneuver through traffic."
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens isn't so sure. "I'm trying to convince myself that it's not a bad post," he said, "but I don't know if I can."
Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia made Hoppertunity (post 11) the 6-1 second choice, with Arkansas Derby winner Danza (4) fourth at 10-1. Both colts have excelled here in the mornings, but Hoppertunity is trying to be the first Derby winner without 2-year-old experience since 1882. Intense Holiday, also training exceptionally well, is rated at 12-1 from post 16. Samraat (post 6), bred in the Hamptons in Water Mill, is 15-1, as is General a Rod (8), Wildcat Red (10), Tapiture (15) and Ride On Curlin (19). The rest are 20-1 and up.
Three trainers will saddle nine horses: four for Todd Pletcher (Danza, Intense Holiday, We Miss Artie, Vinceremos), three by Mike Maker (General a Rod, Vicar's in Trouble, Harry's Holiday) and two by Bob Baffert (Hoppertunity, Chitu).
Sherman could become the oldest trainer to win America's Race. Charlie Whittingham was 76 when Sunday Silence did it in 1989.
"I'm happy and feel no pressure," Sherman said. "I'm going to relax the next couple days and enjoy some of the parties."
He said he's more concerned about the prerace mob scene. "I hope we can get through the paddock," he said. "I can't imagine what it will be like with 20 horses in there. I hope I don't get squashed."
Outside looking in. Pablo Del Monte will draw in from the also-eligible list if there is a scratch before 9 a.m. Friday. Big Bazinga, who would have been the next AE, was not entered.