Kentucky Derby draw complete with less angst than expected

Matt Stone/The Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
The post positions for the Kentucky Derby were drawn this past Saturday at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — We know everyone’s starting spot for the Kentucky Derby and, unlike most draws, there were no audible gasps in the room when the post positions were selected Saturday at Churchill Downs.

“With my speed horses, I want them to see them outside, said trainer Chad Brown, whose trainee, Domestic Product, drew the 15 slot. “Domestic Product has a lot of speed, and that’ll be good for him. 

“With my come from behind horse, I don’t want to be caught wide, an inside draw is fine… the 2 may be just a couple spots in, but I’ll tell ya I’d rather be saving ground in that first turn with a closer.”

Brown also trains Sierra Leone (No. 2 position), the likely second betting favorite on Derby day.  It was Dornoch (No. 1), trained by Danny Gargan, who drew the now-dreaded inside post. 

In 2020, Churchill Downs purchased a 20-horse gate; this replaced a system where an auxiliary gate was attached to the outside of a 14 horse gate.  Prior to the purchase of the 20-horse gate, any horse breaking from the first, second, and third post positions were essentially running into the rail, and had to duck to their right to avoid it.  These horses were largely tossed as contenders.

Good pole, bad pole

The two hole for Sierra Leone is not a death sentence, but Brown was less pleased about that than the 15 for Domestic Product.

The other slight gasp?  Likely favorite Fierceness drew the 17 position — the only post position to never win a Kentucky Derby.  Horses from that gate are 0 for 44.  It’s likely coincidental, but gamblers find that an impossible trend to overlook.

Jockey Tyler Gaffalione is going to ride Sierra Leone in the Derby, and champion jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. picks up the mount on Domestic Product.  Horse racing is an interesting sport, in that there are two athletes — one equine and one human — working in concert to time a proper run to hit the finish line first. 

A jockey and horse can develop a rhythm and balance they simply cannot establish with another.  Case in point: the connections for Endlessly (14th position) flew in jockey Umberto Rispoli just for the horse’s final workouts here in Louisville; he immediately flew back to L.A. to ride at Santa Anita. 

Ortiz, Jr. being available to ride Domestic Product likely upgrades his positioning in some handicappers’ minds.

An interesting tidbit is that Brown made it clear Tyler committed to Sierra Leone in the February Derby prep race in New Orleans.  Tyler said after Domestic Product had won the Tampa Bay Derby and a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate — and he was super high on Domestic Product. 

Clearly, he knew which was the better contender in his mind to take home the garland of roses — the closer Sierra Leone.

We’re doing radio here, people

Rabaut’s coverage of Derby Week can be heard on ESPN Louisville at 7-9 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 7-10 a.m. Friday and 8-11 a.m. Saturday.  His updates will appear on The Sporting Tribune throughout the week and his Derby picks will publish Friday.