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Kentucky Derby favorite Lookin at Lucky will start in first position

By Baltimore Sun
Thursday, April 29, 2010; D06

LOUISVILLE -- Lookin At Lucky wasn't particularly charmed Wednesday during the post-position draw for the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby.

The pre-race favorite drew the rail in the post position in the blind draw, meaning he'll either have to get out early in the 1 1/4 mile race or fight his way through traffic if he's going to win Saturday's Run for the Roses.

Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia said the inauspicious No. 1 position didn't significantly affect Lookin At Lucky's odds and that he'll still go off at 3-1, in part because Sidney's Candy, the second choice at 5-1, drew the No. 20 position.

"It kind of evened everything out," said Battaglia, who has been the Derby's oddsmaker since 1975.

Three horses were co-third choice at 10-1: Ice Box, who drew No. 2; Awesome Act, who drew No. 16; and filly Devil May Care, who drew No. 11.

Although the No. 1 position has produced 12 Derby winners since 1900, tied for the most all time, many of those wins came before the field expanded to 20 horses. No horse has won starting on the rail since Ferdinand in 1986. Big Brown won from the No. 20 post in 2008 but was only the second horse to accomplish that feat.

Lookin At Lucky's trainer, Bob Baffert, could only shrug and joke about his fate. This year was the first since 1998 that the Derby reverted to its original format of having a blind draw. In previous years, the draw was a two-step draft in which the horse's name was picked randomly, then the trainer would choose one of the available positions.

"Nothing surprises me with this horse," Baffert said. "He just can't catch a break. He's either inside or outside. If they hadn't changed the draw, I would have finally gotten a break after all those years.

"It is what it is. You can't worry about that. You have to break well, though. If he doesn't break well, then you're screwed."

Lookin At Lucky's co-owner, Mike Pegram, took a similar approach.

"There is no use crying about it," said Pegram, who won the 1998 Kentucky Derby with Real Quiet. "All we've got to do is think positive. Real Quiet was buried down on the rail [No. 3] in '98 and he came through. It's all about position, and I've got the best jockey.

"When you've got lemons, you make lemonade, right?"

Sidney's Candy trainer John Sadler also was nonplussed. "Not the best of draws. What can I say?" Sadler said. "At least you're on the outside and can see what's going on. It just shows you how tough it is [to win the Derby]. But what are you going to do? That's how it works. You've just got to deal with what you've got and do the best you can."

The draw could turn out to be another example of how wide open this year's Derby really is. A week ago, it looked as if Eskendereya might go off as an odds-on favorite. But when he was scratched Sunday with swelling in his front left lower leg, it became anyone's race.

"To me, the biggest challenge is getting away cleanly and getting that smooth trip into the first turn," said Todd Pletcher, who despite scratching Eskendereya and Interactif from the race, still has four horses in the field. "The riders have to be a little bit careful of that first quarter, because oftentimes they go too fast when everyone is looking for position and sometimes sacrificing some horse to get there. That can compromise you at the quarter pole for sure."

The buzz seems to be building for Pletcher's filly, Devil May Care, who probably wouldn't have entered if Eskendereya had been healthy. They shared the same rider, John Velazquez, and Pletcher and owner John Greathouse say they would have entered Devil May Care in Friday's Kentucky Oaks instead had Velazquez not been available.

"She's so strong-minded and so competitive," Velazquez said. "She always wants to be better than the horse she's next to. I'm pretty positive about my chances."

No horse has ever won from the No. 17 or No. 19 position, but D. Wayne Lukas didn't mind getting it because he has won twice from No. 16 (Thunder Gulch in 1995; Charismatic in 1999) and once from No. 15 (Grindstone in 1996).

"Your draw is always in relation to where everybody else draws," said Lukas, who has Dublin in the No. 17 position at 12-1. "Where the other horses are is more important probably than where you drew. That dictates your strategy. Certain horses that have certain styles are compromised by various positions. This one complements us."

There is always a chance, too, that the Derby could produce another long-shot winner as it did in 2005 with Giacomo (50-1) or Mine That Bird (51-1) a year ago. Four horses will likely start the race at 50-1 odds: Dean's Kitten, Make Music for Me, Backtalk and Homeboykris.

"Any post can be trouble in a 20-horse field," said Tom Amoss, trainer of Backtalk, who drew post 18. "The outside does alleviate traffic, but at the same time it could cause you to go wide. I'd like to see it be a clean race where everyone has a fair chance to win, if I had my way."

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