Derby pick California Chrome gets ‘perfect’ post

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The only time Victor Espinoza won the Kentucky Derby was aboard War Emblem in 2002. They broke from the No. 5 post, the same position he’ll start the 140th edition of the race with early 5-2 favorite California Chrome.

“Hopefully, that’s my lucky number,” Espinoza said Wednesday.

Eight horses have won from there, most recently Funny Cide in 2003.

“I think it’s a perfect spot,” trainer Art Sherman said. “I think we break clean, he’ll get out of a lot of trouble. He’s got a little gas leaving there.”

At 77, Sherman could become the oldest trainer to win the Derby, surpassing Charlie Whittingham’s record of 76 when Sunday Silence won in 1989.

California Chrome comes into the Derby having won his last four starts by a combined 24¼ lengths.

“Just an amazing horse to ride,” Espinoza said. “I let him do his own thing and I think he likes that.”

Hopportunity was made the 6-1 second choice in the full field of 20 horses.

Hopportunity, who lost to California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby, drew the No. 11 post for the race at 3:32 p.m. PDT Saturday at Churchill Downs. He’s trained by Bob Baffert, a three-time Derby winner with two starters.

“Other than California Chrome, who’s proven he’s a really good horse, there’s a lot of horses in there that are pretty close,” Baffert said. “There’s a lot of parity in this field.”

His other horse, Chitu, is a 20-1 long shot that drew the No. 13 post.

Wicked Strong, named for the victims of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, is the 8-1 third choice and will break from the 20th post on the far outside. He and the No. 10 horse, Wildcat Red, will be the last ones loaded into the starting gate, so they won’t be in there very long.

Some trainers don’t like the No. 20 post because their horse is on the far outside and has to quickly make its way over toward the rail to save ground.

Calvin Borel will break from the No. 19 post aboard Ride On Curlin. The jockey nicknamed “Bo-rail” for his love of riding along the rail has won three Derbies since 2007, and he’ll have to hustle his horse over quickly to snag his favorite position.

California Chrome, Hopportunity and Wicked Strong were the only horses listed at single digits by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.

Danza is the 10-1 fourth choice and drew the No. 4 post. He’s one of four horses trained by Todd Pletcher. The others: Intense Holiday, 12-1; Vinceremos, 30-1; and We Miss Artie, 50-1.

“We made out well,” Pletcher said. “It doesn’t matter where you draw, you’re just looking for a clean trip.”

Mike Maker will saddle a trio of horses: General a Rod, 15-1; Harry’s Holiday, 50-1; and Vicar’s In Trouble, a 30-1 shot that drew the dreaded No. 1 post.

Rosie Napravnik will be aboard Vicar’s In Trouble trying to become the first female jockey to win the Derby. She was fifth last year with Mylute, the highest finish by a woman in history. Napravnik watched the draw from the jockey’s room at the track.

“I was just kind of shocked, being the first one drawn,” she said. “Vicar’s real sharp out of the gate and I think he’ll be able to get in good position. There’s been plenty of winners out of the one-hole, so Vicar’s not in trouble yet.”

Eight horses have won from the first spot in the starting gate, but none since Ferdinand in 1986. Most trainers despise the No. 1 hole because their horse starts next to the rail and could get pinched going into the crowded first turn.

The starting gate is loaded two horses at a time, and the first ones to go in will be Vicar’s In Trouble and No. 11 Hopportunity, meaning they’ll have the longest wait while the rest of the field is loaded.

“He’s a pretty cool, calm horse so he should be fine in there,” Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith said about Hopportunity.

Hoppertunity didn’t race as a 2-year-old, setting him up for a chance to break one of the Derby’s oldest jinxes: No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby without racing at 2.

The No. 10 post has produced the most Derby winners with nine, most recently in 2005, when Smith won with 50-1 shot Giacomo. Wildcat Red, trained by Jose Garrafalo, landed in that spot this time.

The other 50-1 shot in the race is Commanding Curve, who will break from the No. 17 post.

The 21st horse on the points list is Pablo Del Monte, an also eligible who would need a defection before 9 a.m. Friday, when Derby wagering opens, to get into the $2.2 million race.

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