LOUISVILLE — Kentucky Derby favorite Orb comes from one of the country’s oldest racing families, with ties to the greatest horses of the era.
The second choice, Verrazano, is a product of Todd Pletcher’s new-school empire; he’s one of five the trainer is sending to the post.
The third favorite, Goldencents, comes from the trainer who, a year ago, lost the chance to run for a Triple Crown when his horse withdrew with an injury a day before the Belmont.
All three drew favorable starting spots Wednesday in the post-position draw for the 139th run for the roses, and they were established as the horses to beat by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia. The race, worth $2 million and run over a mile and a quarter, is scheduled to go off at 6:24 p.m. Saturday.
Orb is the 7-2 favorite on the morning line and will start from the No. 16 post. Undefeated Verrazano comes in at 4-1 and will break from the 14th position. Goldencents, trained by Doug O’Neill and starting from No. 8, is right behind at 5-1.
“I’m happy my horse is the favorite,” said Orb’s trainer Shug McGaughey, who saddled favorite Easy Goer in 1989 and saw him finish second. “Just means he’s done something to earn it.”
Orb is owned by the Stuart Janney III and Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps partnership, which has ties to Ruffian and Secretariat. Janney’s parents bred Ruffian, considered one of the finest fillies of all time, out of Phipps family stallion Reviewer, a son of Secretariat sire Bold Ruler. Phipps ran third-place Awe Inspiring in the 1989 Derby; Janney hasn’t had a horse in the Derby.
An impressive short breeze by Orb on Monday likely vaulted the Malibu Moon colt into the top spot.
Verrazano has been impressive as well and appeared to be living up to his record as the only undefeated horse in the field. But a reputation for shying away from traffic has followed the colt, who did not race as a 2-year-old and won a slow-paced Wood Memorial by only three-fourths of a length.
NBC Sports analyst Randy Moss said Verrazano’s advantage over Orb is tactical speed — he’ll be close to the lead and will be comfortable no matter where he ends up in relation to the pace-setters. On the other hand, he said Verrazano hasn’t raced in traffic much “and it looks to me like he doesn’t want to be inside other horses.”
Janney watched the draw from his apartment in New York and was pleased that Orb drew the No. 16 post and wouldn’t have to race from the inside.
He also wasn’t surprised when he heard that his colt had become the morning-line favorite.
“I had enough people calling me about what’s been going on out there with his mornings,” Janney said by phone. “At the beginning of the week I thought it would be Verrazano, but I guess he has moved ahead. It doesn’t really matter anyway. You’ve gotta run the race.”
Pletcher also downplayed the morning line.
“As far as Orb being the favorite over Verrazano, that’s not an issue,” he said. “He deserves to be the favorite. And it might even be an advantage. There’s usually more pressure on the favorite.”