At the post position draw Wednesday for the Kentucky Derby, trainer John Servis selected the first spot in the auxiliary gate for Smarty Jones, hoping to give his colt an ideal outside position to stalk the front-running Lion Heart.
The choice turned out pretty well.
As if going into the 129th Preakness Stakes on Saturday with an undefeated Kentucky Derby winner was not advantage enough, Servis got exactly what he wanted again in the draw for the second leg of the Triple Crown. A lottery at 11:30 a.m. gave Servis the second pick for the Preakness in the post position draw later in the day, and he chose No. 7 for Smarty Jones, guaranteeing the same kind of tactical options outside of the speed horses that he had at Churchill Downs.
"We've had a lot of luck with the seven," said Servis, whose runner was made the 8-5 morning-line favorite by Pimlico line-maker Frank Carulli. "He [was No. 7] in the Southwest [Stakes], seven in the Rebel and [the Derby] was his seventh win in a row."
The pace scenario for the Preakness shapes up much the same as it did in the Derby, with Lion Heart out winging on the lead and Smarty Jones among a group of stalkers expected to be right behind.
Lion Heart led in Kentucky through fast fractions until Smarty Jones ran him down in the stretch, and trainer Patrick Biancone will take another shot at getting his colt to win wire-to-wire.
Biancone signaled his intentions to have Lion Heart go to the front again when, selecting immediately after Servis, he picked the inside post position. Lion Heart should have little problem getting clear when the horses run down the long homestretch at Pimlico for the first time in the 13/16-mile race.
"We may surprise some people," Biancone said. "We're happy with the draw."
Trainer Nick Zito placed his speedy Derby Trial winner Sir Shackleton right next to Smarty Jones in post position six. Although a long shot at 30-1, Sir Shackleton has the speed to hound Smarty Jones for much of the race.
Earlier in the week, Zito insisted Sir Shackleton wasn't in the Preakness to soften up the Derby winner to give a better chance to his other runner, stretch-running The Cliff's Edge. After the draw, Zito coyly responded when asked about the pace of the race.
"He likes to stay close to the pace but you never know what happens when the gate opens," Zito said.
The Cliff's Edge, entered despite a foot problem discovered in the morning, will run from post position four.
While Zito appeared gloomy at the draw, which took place at a downtown restaurant, and left quickly to return to his barn afterward, New York-based trainer Mark Hennig looked positively ebullient.
Hennig's colt, Eddington, has flashed a world of potential in six starts, and the trainer had targeted him to run in the Kentucky Derby before a lack of earnings in graded stakes races knocked him out.
Now, with the opportunity to run in a Triple Crown race, and with the services of Jerry Bailey, the top jockey in the country, Hennig sounded ready.
"We don't have any regrets [about the Derby], and we're ready for Saturday," Hennig said. "He was ready to run two weeks ago. I've just been keeping him on an even keel."
The Preakness looked like it would have a field of 10 until, at the last moment, trainer Jennifer Pederson called the racing office to enter her New York-based Song of the Sword.
The horse was checked at the first turn in the Kentucky Derby and wound up 11th, but ran well in two graded stakes previously.