Baffert's Bodemeister is early favorite to win Kentucky Derby
Dr. Kendall Hansen wasn't worried when the Kentucky Derby draw came down to No. 14 spot or the dreaded No. 1 hole. He figured his good fortune would continue.
"I don't know why I just felt lucky. I was pulling for that from the beginning - 14 or 15," said Hansen, whose horse by the same name starts with 10-1 odds as the fifth choice with no winner coming from No. 14 post in 51 years. "You have to breathe through times like that, but yeah, it was interesting. I had a good feeling, though."
Bodemeister was made the early 4-1 favorite for the Kentucky Derby on Wednesday, with Union Rags a close second choice at 9-2 in a full field of 20 horses. Gemologist is third at 6-1 followed by Dullahan at 8-1 and Hansen, the near all-white colt who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November.
"To have an adrenaline rush with little peas coming out of a bottle is kind of fun," said Hansen, who operates a pain management clinic in Crestview Hills, Ky.
Meanwhile, the focus remains squarely on the top choices - Bodemeister in the No. 6 post, where six winners have started, and Union Rags in No. 4, where Super Saver won in 2010.
"My original thought was that I wasn't crazy about it, but where everybody is, I don't think it's so bad," Union Rags trainer Michael Matz said.
Bodemeister, trained by three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, is the stronger of his two horses, having won the Arkansas Derby by 9 1/2 lengths in the most dominating performance of the Derby prep races. His other, 50-1 shot Liaison, landed the No. 20 spot for Saturday's race.
It's the third time the Hall of Fame trainer has had the early Derby favorite. The first two didn't work out.
Lookin At Lucky drew the inside post in 2010, got trapped along the rail and finished sixth. In 2001, Point Given was the heavy favorite and wound up fifth. He went on to win the Preakness and Belmont stakes, the final two legs of the Triple Crown.
"At least we're in a position where we have a good chance of winning," Baffert said. "If I got the one-hole I would be thinking they just don't want me to win this Derby. After Lookin At Lucky, when he got the one-hole, the excitement just left me because I knew he had too much to overcome."
Baffert had a heart attack on March 26 in Dubai, scaring his 7-year-old son Bode, who was with him and is the namesake of the Derby favorite.
"I just hope I have a chance to get my heart rate going turning for home," said Baffert, whose War Emblem was the last wire-to-wire Derby winner in 2002.
Matz won the Derby in 2006 with Barbaro only to have the colt stunningly break down after the start of the Preakness. Barbaro valiantly fought his injuries, but was euthanized eight months later.
Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia said if Bodemeister had drawn the No. 1 or 2 post, he would have made Union Rags the favorite.
"I wanted to make them co-favorites," he said. "I haven't been this close on two horses since Curlin and Street Sense (in 2007). I wanted to make them co-favorites and I didn't. They went off 10 cents apart."
Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Hansen and Daddy Long Legs have the most graded stakes earnings in the field. Hansen leads the list with more than $1.5 million, while Daddy Long Legs has $1.2 million.
Steve Asmussen, who is 0 for 9 in the Derby, will saddle two long shots in 15-1 Daddy Nose Best and 30-1 Sabercat.
Optimizer is the record 45th Derby starter for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Derby winner. The colt will break from the No. 2 post and is one of five 50-1 shots. He got into the field when Mark Valeski was withdrawn from consideration Tuesday.
The 21st horse on the earnings list is My Adonis, an also eligible who would need a defection before 9 a.m. EDT Friday, when Derby wagering opens, to get into the 1 1/4-mile race.
The horses in post-position order are Daddy Long Legs (30-1), Optimizer, Take Charge Indy (15-1), Union Rags, Dullahan (8-1), Bodemeister, Rousing Sermon (50-1), Creative Cause (12-1), Trinniberg (50-1), Daddy Knows Best (15-1), Alpha (15-1), Prospective (30-1), Went the Day Well (20-1), Hansen, Gemologist, El Padrino (20-1), Done Talking (50-1), Sabercat (30-1), I'll Have Another (12-1) and Liaison.
The draw was a traditional pill pull in which horses' entries are pulled at the same time as a numbered pill to determine what stall a horse will break from the starting gate.
If all 20 horses start, the $2,219,600 purse would be the richest since 2005, when the Derby first became a guaranteed $2 million event. The winner earns $1,459,600. Post time is 6:24 p.m. EDT.