Kentucky Derby Diaries: Draw Day

The Life

One of the things that I love the most about being at Churchill Downs in the morning in the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby is the knowledge that, as I take photos of the 20 contenders as they take their morning exercise, I am seeing among them the 2014 Kentucky Derby champion.

It’s a heady feeling, as is the puzzle that lies around figuring out which horse that will be.

The Wednesday before the Derby is special because it’s Draw Day: that means that the post positions for the Run for the Roses are determined by random chance in a tension-filled ceremony in the evening. It’s interesting and intense, and I’ll take you through it after we visit training hours and look at the Derby contenders at work.

I’ve found that I can best pick my favorite for the big race by watching them work out in the mornings and judging how they look and how they handle the racetrack surface.

Since, as always, I had my trusty Nikon with me this morning, I’ll walk you through the horses I saw and let you know what I thought of them.

First off: Let’s talk a little California Chrome. Sadly, I have been having some slight (OK, actually massive) computer issues this week, and the replacement computer I have now ate all of my good photos of the Derby favorite. But, I do have some handy cell phone snaps, and let me tell you, they do not do this horse justice. He looks tremendous, and he is so at ease with the crowd of pony paparazzi that follows him around. He mugs for the cameras and clearly relishes the attention; that’s something that will serve him well as he faces 150,000 rowdy Kentucky Derby fans on Saturday.

As he got his post-gallop bath, California Chrome also got a little loving from his groom; California Chrome is clearly a horse that’s used to being pampered, and that shines through in his personality and appearance.

He also has a lot of sass to him: here he is sticking his tongue out at the competition this morning:

Ride On Curlin, who finished second in the Arkansas Derby in his final Kentucky Derby prep, looked like a dynamo on the racetrack this morning. He was enthusiastic but professional, and he looks amazing every time I see him.


Another funny thing about Ride On Curlin: while he certainly seems like a happy horse, he also has an edge to him. Check out the sign next to his stall.

Ladies and gentlemen, keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times when you’re near this horse!

Another Kentucky Derby contender that I was very impressed with this morning was Danza, the winner of the Arkansas Derby. This horse just floated over the track, which is pretty impressive considering that there’s been a ton of rain here in Louisville in the last few days.

Medal Count is yet another horse that caught my eye this morning. He was very full of himself, and his rider had his hands full keeping him at a gallop throughout his time on the track. Some people may discount this horse because his race schedule has been pretty intensive this spring — the Kentucky Derby will be his third race in a month — however, his trainer, Dale Romans, has referred to Medal Count as a “throwback horse,” which means that he thrives on racing, much like horses of the early part of the 20th century. All I know is that I like the way this horse looks and acts, and I’ll be paying close attention to him in the coming days.

Dance With Fate is just a grand-looking horse. I’ve heard a lot of people comparing him to “The Black Stallion,” that fictional monster of a horse from Walter Farley’s novels. I certainly see the resemblance: he’s a huge horse, especially for a 3-year-old, and his dark coat is very eye-catching. He was very relaxed as he waited to get his morning exercise, accepting pats from the rider on the pony that accompanied him to the track.

However, once he was by himself, he was more than ready for his gallop and looked like he wanted to do much more than that. You can see by the way that he’s got his face turned inside that he’s looking for a way to get a little wiggle room from his rider so he could step out a bit.

Uncle Sigh was definitely a horse that was on his toes this morning. Although he was very patient during the time that he waited to gallop (and enjoyed lots of pats and affection from his groom in the meantime), he was very much on the muscle when he was galloping.

“On the muscle” means that he was remarkably energetic, and that’s just how Uncle Sigh appeared. He had his head high in the air and was trying to drag his rider into a higher gear. Those antics can be the sign of a horse who’s in top form; but they also can tire a horse out. For me, the jury is out on him for the moment.

Intense Holiday is one of the buzz horses around the track this week, and to be honest I wasn’t entirely sure why when I first saw him; he’s a very nice looking horse, but he didn’t seem to be physically outstanding from the rest of the pack on my first impression.

Then I saw him gallop. That, my friends, is a horse who likes to run. He was active and engaged in his exercise, and he had an alert and pleasant expression on his face as he took a lap around the Churchill Downs dirt main track.

Candy Boy seemed very workmanlike on track, going about his business with a professional air. I’m not sure if I think he’ll win the Derby, but to me he seems like the kind of horse that will keep running and winning for a while to come.

I also got this fun shot of him getting his face washed – he seems like a really mellow horse, and he happily lowered his head to make sure that his groom could work some scrubbing bubbles right between his ears.

When I saw Chitu today, I thought he looked like he was very comfortable on the racetrack. However, he didn’t seem to be as alert or engaged as some of the other Derby contenders I saw today.  I’ll keep my eye out for him on Thursday and see if he makes a bigger impression on me.

Vinceremos is coming into the Derby as a longshot; however, I was pretty impressed by what I saw this morning when he was galloping. He was really boogying, and his rider had his “feet on the dashboard” – meaning that his feet had slipped forward because the horse was pulling him so hard. He’ll be an interesting horse to watch for the rest of the week as we get closer to the big race!

Oddly enough, a horse I wasn’t overly fond of was We Miss Artie. He’s one I really want to like, but he just didn’t grab me for some reason this morning. Of course, I’ve been wrong many times before and I definitely will be again, so I’ll update you if something I see later on from him this week changes my mind.

One horse I’ve loved since I first saw him way back in January is Samraat. That guy just tries his guts out every time he runs, and he also just seems like a love of a horse. Here he is happily getting some pats this morning:

But he’s also all business on the racetrack. I am definitely very interested to see what he does on the first Saturday in May!

The last horse I saw galloping today was Wildcat Red. Now, he and I both hail from the great state of Florida, so I have a soft spot for this guy. He’s another horse that just has so much try, and when I saw him go this morning I was impressed with how he looks. I don’t know if he can face this field, but I’ll definitely be rooting for him. We Floridians have to stick together!

After I was done watching the morning works, it was time for me to boogie back to the press box and get ready for the draw. When the time came, I headed to the Secretariat Lounge at Churchill Downs to take in the action. The place was packed, with journalists, owners, photographers, trainers, TV crews and jockeys all mingling in that huge, magnificent space.

And at the center of it all was the big prize of the year: the Kentucky Derby trophy itself. This is a piece of art with 140 years of history behind it, and it’s the reason that every single person was in the room for the Derby on draw night.

As the time came for the actual draw itself, a hushed anxiety pervaded the space as owners, trainers and jockeys hoped and prayed for a good post position. For those who don’t know, a horse’s post position is very important in the Kentucky Derby. Because the field is so large at 20 horses, no one wants the inside post (#1) because horses tend to hustle to the rail to save ground and the #1 horse can get pinched right after the start.

On the same vein, the outside post position isn’t desirable because horses have more ground to cover as they make their way around the racetrack. Additionally, no horse has ever won the race from the #17 post position, so there’s a bit of a stigma surrounding outside post positions.

Post positions are determined by a double-blind draw. One official has pills numbered 1-20 in an opaque bottle and shakes one pill out which assigns the post position. Another official randomly selects a Derby horse’s name from a group of papers, which determines which horse is assigned to that post position. It’s all down to chance, and post positions can make or break a horse’s Derby trip.

When the draw began tonight, a collective groan swept through the room as the first pill was pulled: it was the dreaded #1. Immediately after that, Vicar's in Trouble was assigned to that stall. While most people would be upset, his jockey Rosie Napravnik seemed upbeat about it, quipping that she didn’t think that Vicar was in trouble after all.

After that, post positions were filled out and odds were laid for the Kentucky Derby. Below, in my horrifying penmanship, are the post positions and odds for the 140th Run for the Roses:

And with that, the draw was at an end. What do you think of the post positions? Has anything made you think twice about who your Derby horse will be?

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll be back tomorrow with even more from Kentucky Derby week!

$2-million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands

Saturday, Churchill Downs, Race 11, Post Time 6:24

1 ¼ miles, dirt, 3-year-olds

Television: NBC coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET





ML Odds


Vicar's in Trouble

Rosie Napravnik

Mike Maker



Harry's Holiday

Corey Lanerie

Mike Maker



Uncle Sigh

Irad Ortiz Jr.

Gary Contessa




Joe Bravo

Todd Pletcher



California Chrome

Victor Espinoza

Art Sherman




Jose Ortiz

Rick Violette



We Miss Artie

Javier Castellano

Todd Pletcher



General a Rod

Joel Rosario

Mike Maker




Joe Rocco Jr.

Todd Pletcher



Wildcat Red

Luis Saez

Jose Garoffalo






Dance With Fate

Corey Nakatani

Peter Eurton




Martin Garcia

Bob Baffert



Medal Count

Robby Albarado

Dale Romans




Ricardo Santana Jr.

Steve Asmussen



Intense Holiday

John Velazquez

Todd Pletcher



Commanding Curve

Shaun Bridgmohan

Dallas Stewart



Candy Boy

Gary Stevens

John Sadler



Ride On Curlin

Calvin Borel

William Gowan



Wicked Strong

Rajiv Maragh

Jimmy Jerkens



Pablo Del Monte

Jeffrey Sanchez

Wesley Ward



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