May 1 (UPI) -- The favorites for Saturday's 144th Kentucky Derby all drew reasonably good starting positions in Tuesday's ceremony but all are still challenging history in their bid for glory.
Twenty 3-year-olds were formally entered for the race, officially The Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. There is one also-eligible.
The morning-line favorite, at 3-1, is Justify, a Scat Daddy colt trained by Bob Baffert, who already has three Kentucky Derbys and one Triple Crown to this credit. Justify drew gate No. 7 and the charismatic white-haired trainer pronounced himself pleased enough.
"That's a good spot," Baffert said. "We didn't want to be in the one-hole and we didn't want to be 20. Seven is fine but he still has to break well. If he doesn't break well it doesn't matter what hole he's in."
It will be up to jockey Mike "Big Money Mike" Smith to get Justify off to a clean start.
Baffert also echoed a common theme that Derby 144 shapes up as a classic Classic.
"It's one of the toughest Derbys that I've ever seen and one of the best draws that I've ever seen. The most important horses got good draws," he said. "My excuses are really dwindling so now I've got to come with the horse."
Justify is undefeated in three starts, won by a combined 19 lengths. Most recently, he easily accounted for the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. His historic challenge is that he did not race at age 2 and no horse without at least one 2-year-old race has won the Derby since Apollo in 1882. Yes, 1882.
Next up on the Churchill Downs morning line at 5-1 is Mendelssohn, trained in Ireland by Aidan O'Brien. He earned his way into the Kentucky Derby two different ways, earning 100 qualifying points by winning the Group 2 UAE Derby in Dubai on World Cup night in March and by winding up with dibs on the spot offered through the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby." The UAE Derby victory was by 18 12 lengths, over a field that included some quality horses.
Mendelssohn drew gate No. 14, the last spot in the main starting gate. World-class rider Ryan Moore will be in Louisville to try to end the history of frustration posted by horses coming from Dubai to try to win the Run for the Roses. None has finished in the top three.
Reflecting O'Brien's usual pattern of shipping late, Mendelssohn did not arrive at Churchill Downs until Monday and no one from his camp appeared at the post-position draw, which is a bit of a social failing in Louisville on Derby week.
Pat Keating, head traveling lad representing O'Brien, reported to Dubai racing officials that the son of Scat Daddy shipped well. "Everything is fine and they settled in great," Keating said of Mendelssohn and three equine traveling companions. "We couldn't be happier."
The Churchill Downs oddsmaker posted Arkansas Derby winner Magnum Moon as the third pick on the morning line at 6-1. The Malibu Moon colt's historic mountain to climb is same "curse of Apollo" facing Justify.
Magnum Moon's trainer, Todd Pletcher, has four horses in the 20-horse field and all drew spots in the auxiliary gate with Magnum Moon starting No. 16.
"This is very much a riders' race and I've got four of the best riders around, which makes me feel good," Pletcher said. "When they went through the first 10 horses [in selecting gates] and I hadn't gotten in the mix yet, I thought maybe they'd lost my entries. But it all worked out for the best. We'll hope for a good break for our horses and then see what happens. It figures to be a very interesting race."
Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and 2017 2-year-old Eclipse Award champion Good Magic drew gate No. 6 and was posted at 12-1 odds
The field for the 2018 Kentucky Derby, by post position, with jockey and morning-line odds:
1. Firenze Fire, Paco Lopez, 50-1 2. Free Drop Billy, Robby Albarado, 30-1 3. Promises Fulfilled, Corey Lanerie, 30-1 4. Flameaway, Jose Lezcano, 30-1 5. Audible, Javier Castellano, 8-1 6. Good Magic, Jose Ortiz, 12-1 7. Justify, Mike Smith, 3-1 8. Lone Sailor, James Graham, 50-1 9. Hofburg, Irad Ortiz Jr., 20-1 10. My Boy Jack, Kent Desormeaux, 30-1 11. Bolt d'Oro, Victor Espinoza, 8-1 12. Enticed, Junior Alvarado, 30-1 13. Bravazo, Luis Contreras, 50-1 14. Mendelssohn, Ryan Moore, 5-1 15. Instilled Regard, Drayden Van Dyke, 50-1 16. Magnum Moon, Luis Saez, 6-1 17. Solomini, Flavien Prat, 30-1 18. Vino Rosso, John Velazquez, 12-1 19. Noble Indy, Florent Geroux, 30-1 20. Combatant, Ricardo Santana Jr., 50-1 AE-21. Blended Citizen, Kyle Frey, 50-1
The race is 1 1/4 miles, starting from the chute at the top of the Churchill Downs stretch, then past the finish line and once more around the track. Post time is 6:46 p.m. EDT. The race is televised by NBC-TV and carried live on Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net). The total purse, with 20 horses starting, is $2,192,000 with $1,432,000 to the winner.