Curlin favored by a head, or a tail

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Doug O'Neill could have complained after yesterday's draw for the 133rd Kentucky Derby. His entry, Great Hunter, will start from the far outside in the No. 20 position. Not an auspicious place to begin, given that only one horse has won from out there.

But O'Neill, who will also start Liquidity from Post 9, didn't complain. In fact, every trainer seemed to find a positive for his horse's starting position - if not for the morning line odds. And if in their hearts some trainers with possibly bad starting spots were worried, O'Neill had a soothing thought - or perhaps a disruptive one for those who think they have the perfect starting place.


"Whatever hole you start from in this race," he said, "you're going to need a lot of luck getting into the first turn."

Curlin, a precocious 3-year-old who didn't race at age 2 but is undefeated in three races this year, was installed as the 7-2 morning line favorite. Churchill Downs odds-setter Mike Battaglia said he flipped a coin to separate Curlin and Street Sense, the second choice at 4-1.


Nobiz Like Shobiz and Circular Quay are third choices at 8-1, and everyone else is in double digits.

Hard Spun, a Pennsylvania horse who will be ridden by Ellicott City jockey Mario Pino in Pino's first Kentucky Derby, will start from Post 8, from which the late Barbaro won by an impressive 6 1/2 lengths last year.

"We were very pleased to get the early draw," said trainer Larry Jones, who chose Hard Spun's position with the third pick. "We couldn't be happier."

Curlin's trainer, Steve Asmussen, said considering that he didn't pick until the 16th selection, he was pleased with Post 2.

"Two is excellent," he said. "He won the Arkansas Derby out of the two hole. He's capable of a lot of speed and a horse his size, you're confident he can secure his position on the racetrack."

But neither Asmussen nor Carl Nafzger, who trains Street Sense (Post 7), had much respect for the odds placed on their horses.

"As far as I'm concerned," Nafzger said, "we're all 19-1 when we go to the gate. And I was actually hoping for 20-1, because that's what Unbridled was when we won [in 1990].

"The morning line odds?" Asmussen said. "I have about as much use for them as Carl. They're free. Nothing good in racing is free. They're not worth anything."


Pletcher arrives

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who will have a quarter of the field in his care Saturday with a record-tying five entries, finally arrived at Churchill Downs yesterday.

Pletcher, 0-for-14 in Kentucky Derby entries, will send Any Given Saturday (Post 18), Circular Quay (Post 16), Cowtown Cat (Post 6), Sam P. (Post 13) and Scat Daddy (Post 14) to the starting gate. He said he will saddle all five of his horses Saturday.

"Wayne [four-time Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas] proved you can do five yourself," Pletcher said. "I saddled four in 2000. We usually have more time in the paddock than we need."

Lukas, who also holds the record for five entries, listened to Pletcher and nodded, but added a little advice.

"The only thing I'd tell him is to saddle the horses in order of their saddle towels [numbers]," Lukas said. "Not the one you like best. You'd be surprised how many people are looking at you to see who you are going to go to first.


"It's also not a bad idea to just go stand with your wife during the race."

Lukas then related a story from the 1999 Derby. He had Charismatic and Cat Thief in the field and was standing with Cat Thief's connections in the grandstand. He was miked for sound and had forgotten about it. As the horses came to the top of the stretch, he saw Cat Thief in front.

"I started yelling, 'Cat Thief! Cat Thief!'" he said. "And as I was yelling I saw Charismatic coming down the stretch and in mid-chant I changed, "Cat Thie ... Charismatic! Charismatic!'"

Charismatic won. Cat Thief was third.

Barbaro special

The Barbaro documentary, Barbaro: A Nation's Horse will air in prime time on CNBC tomorrow at 9 p.m. and on NBC on Saturday at 8 p.m. The special was pre-empted Sunday because of extended live coverage of the double-overtime Buffalo Sabres-New York Rangers NHL playoff game.