The Kentucky Derby Is Saturday May 1; Post Position Breakdown Of The Field

The following is a newsletter that is written by John Cherwa of the Los Angeles Times.  There are plenty of places in Virginia to wager the annual “Run for the Roses. Betting is available at any VA-Horseplay Off Track Betting Center in Henrico (Breakers), Chesapeake (Buckets) and Collinsville (The Windmill), at any Rosie’s Gaming Emporium in Richmond, New Kent, Vinton, Hampton and Dumfries) and online via,, and Post time for the big race is 6:57 PM.

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we do a little reminiscing with Bob Baffert.

We hope you don’t mind, but we thought we’d hit you with an extra newsletter or two this week coming from the lovely media bunker at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. (Note: You can’t see the track from here, but we have lots of big televisions and a window that looks onto people who are walking into the stands and can see the races live.)

Post time for the 2021 Kentucky Derby is 6:57 PM.

OK, we know you hate the media whining about the hardships of being at the Kentucky Derby.

The drama from Tuesday’s draw was all about who was going to get the one post. As most of you know, it’s the worst post to have because you have an immovable rail to your inside and 19 horses to your outside. Now, last year they did build and use a new starting gate that eliminates the auxiliary gate and allowed them to move the one a bit farther from the rail.

They were down to their last three picks and the one was open and Essential Quality hadn’t been chosen.

The pill and paper were drawn. And in the one … Known Agenda.

Was trainer Brad Cox nervous?

“Yeah, a lot, a whole lot,” he said.

He even had his spin ready.

“Churchill does have a new gate,” Cox said. “That’s going to give the one a little bit more opportunity at a clear run. That was the positive spin I was going to put on it if I got the one, but fortunately I don’t have to use that excuse.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher, meanwhile, did use that excuse (see later in the newsletter), but in a moment of candor, put it this way:

“I started weeping, open weeping,” he said. “Look, there were three numbers left and at that point, it was a one in three chance. I was hoping for 14 or 16 but it was one those situations that you have no control over so you go with it.”

You can’t be everywhere, but the Churchill Downs notes crew can. These are the edited quotes they gathered on Tuesday at the draw where the media was not supposed to be. (But, some of us snuck in.)

The VA-Horseplay OTB at Breakers Sports Grille in Richmond will have an outdoor walk-up betting tent outside its front door.

This is by post position. And, spoiler alert, some of these quotes add absolutely no insight.

1. Known Agenda (trainer Todd Pletcher, jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., 6-1) Pletcher: “Obviously it’s not what we were hoping for. But, of course, this is one of the things you can’t control. With the new (20-stall) gate, we’re hopeful that things will be better than they were in the past and the post won’t be that bad. He had an inside trip in the Florida Derby and he handled it very professionally.”

2. Like the King (Wesley WardDrayden Van Dyke, 50-1) Ward: “He’s a come-from-behind horse so it really doesn’t matter where he draws. If he had gotten the one post that might have been a problem if they started playing bumper cars out there.”

3. Brooklyn Strong (Danny VelazquezUmberto Rispoli, 50-1) Velazquez: “It’s deep inside but it’s OK. (Owner) Mark (Schwartz) says three is his lucky number and he’s won from there before. Hopefully, he gets a good break and can settle into third or fourth early.”

4. Keepmeinmind (Robertino DiodoroDavid Cohen, 50-1) Diodoro: “I’m very happy with it.”

5. Sainthood (Pletcher, Corey Lanerie, 50-1) Pletcher: “We’re happy with the draw.”

6. O Besos (Greg FoleyMarcelino Pedroza, 20-1) Foley: “I don’t think my heart was racing that hard in a long time with one of five horses left and the rail still yet to be drawn. We drew a great spot in the gate.”

7. Mandaloun (Brad CoxFlorent Geroux, 15-1) Cox: “It ended up working out very well drawing post seven. He’s a horse that, like Essential Quality, has a tactical advantage and can put himself where he needs to be.”

8. Medina Spirit (Bob BaffertJohn Velazquez, 15-1) Racing manager Gary Young: “It worked out great for us.”

9. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’NeillFlavien Prat, 8-1) O’Neill: “We (the trainer and his sizable contingent of owners, including Boat Racing, five former Brown football players in their late 20s) decided we were going to give it a pump no matter what post we drew. But we’re delighted with the nine. It’s a real good post. And the way they load this field, it means we won’t be standing in the gate very long. They’ll put us in, then one other and we’re gone. We’re really happy with it.”

Hot Rod Charlie, 4th early favorite at 8-1, gets a bath after galloping on April 27. Photo by Coady Photography.

10. Midnight Bourbon (Steve AsmussenMike Smith, 20-1) Asmussen: “We did well. It’s the perfect spot.”

11. Dynamic One (Pletcher, Jose Ortiz, 20-1) Pletcher: “We’re happy with the draw.”

12. Helium (Mark CasseJulien Leparoux, 50-1) Assistant trainer David Carroll: “We’re happy that we didn’t get the rail. The draw should suit him perfectly. We didn’t want him getting stuck down inside in general but we really didn’t want the one.”

13. Hidden Stash (Vicki OliverRafael Bejarano, 50-1) Oliver: “We’re happy with it. We wanted to be somewhere in the middle and that’s exactly where we got.”

14. Essential Quality (Cox, Luis Saez) Cox: “It got a little nerve wracking with both horses still to go and the rail still being out there. I think it’ll be a good spot. He’s got good tactical speed that he’ll be able to get into a good position from there.”

15. Rock Your World (John SadlerJoel Rosario, 5-1) Sadler: “It’s a good post and we’re happy with it.”

16. King Fury (Kenny McPeekBrian Hernandez, Jr., 20-1) McPeek: “I like it. Actually, the 14 and the 15 are horses inside of us that have a little speed. So, we’ll probably follow them right into the first turn. They’re going to go on and we’ll follow them right out. If he breaks well, you just have to get him in rhythm and let him do his thing.”

17. Highly Motivated (Chad BrownJavier Castellano, 10-1) Brown: “I’m OK with it. Certainly, when it was late in the process and the one was still out there, I would’ve paused and put 17 back on my wish list. Like the Oaks, it’s a little farther outside than we would have liked but there’s a long run into the turn and this horse clearly has a lot of natural speed. Hopefully we’ll be forward enough to come over and get some position into the first turn.”

Highly Motivated, the 5th early Derby favorite at 10-1, gallops April 27 at Churchill. Photo by Coady Photography.

18. Super Stock (Asmussen, Ricardo Santana, Jr. 30-1) Asmussen: “We did well. It’s the perfect spot.”

19. Soup and Sandwich (Casse, Tyler Gaffalione, 30-1) Assistant trainer Carroll: “He has speed and has the entire stretch to get into position. I’d rather be outside than inside.”

20. Bourbonic (Pletcher, Kendrick Carmouche, 30-1) Pletcher: “We wouldn’t have chosen this post but he will be OK. He’s going to drop back and make one run so it’ll work out.”

Baffert remembers wins and losses

There wasn’t the usual crush of media around Bob Baffert this time at Churchill Downs as he only has Medina Spirit, a 15-1 shot, in this year’s Derby. Plus, it was a Tuesday, and most of the media hadn’t arrived yet. Still, despite being the most recognizable name and face in the sport, he always makes himself available to pretty much anyone who comes by his barn for a selfie, an autograph, or just to chat.

So, it was no surprise he had an extended session with the couple of reporters who dropped by Tuesday morning. Some of it was interview style, but most of it was just folks talking. At one point, he was asked about how much pressure he felt having won six Kentucky Derbies.

“I could have won eight,” Baffert said with a laugh and then went on to explore the question of if the best horse usually wins.

This is a slightly edited version of his explanation.

“I have had some bad luck and there are some that got away from me. And there are other guys that I beat when they should have won. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.

“I won it with some good horses. I won it with the best horses.

“Authentic (2020) came into a screwed-up year and won it. But Tiz the Law was the favorite.

“Silver Charm (1997), I don’t know if he was the best horse. We were in there with Pulpit and he was the hot horse.

“Real Quiet (1998) had Indian Charlie in there and I thought he was the best horse.

“War Emblem (2002), I just bought him and I thought he was the best horse but I also thought he needed the lead.

“Justify (2018), I knew he was the best horse.

“American Pharoah (2015) and Justify, I knew if I got beat with those it would be horrible.

“Point Given (2001) should have won and he got beat. That was a tough one.

“Cavonnier (1996) got beat a nose. He wasn’t the best horse. Grindstone was a good horse, better than Cavonnier.

“Unbridled Song (1996) was the best horse, but he had [hoof] issues and he didn’t win [also losing to Grindstone].

“I don’t look back on anything, I just focus on what’s ahead of me.

“It sounds good that you won six but, every year you start all over. Like when Authentic won it, it felt like my first winner after what we went through last year.”

The Derby is still not back to normal, but it’s a lot closer than it was last year.