Leading up to Wednesday's post-position draw for the Kentucky Derby, many horse racing fans saw this shaping up as a match race between the Bob Baffert-trained duo of American Pharoah and Dortmund. And while the two do have the shortest morning-line odds, the draw brought new scenarios into play.
With American Pharoah starting at post No. 18 in the 20-horse field, he will have to hustle to get to his desired stalking position before the congested first turn. His other option will be to lay back in the short stretch run before the first turn, then try to pass more horses on the backstretch. He appeared to finish with plenty of energy left in his recent wins, but he never has faced a field even half this size and likely will not have the luxury of being able to outrun traffic troubles. Baffert said the post position was fine, but neither of American Pharoah's early-race options is ideal.
Undefeated Dortmund, on the other hand, could not have asked for a better post position, landing a coveted No. 8 post position. He will take the early lead, or get close to it, and ask the rest to catch up. It is very difficult to win the Derby in wire-to-wire fashion, but that likely will be Dortmund's strategy. He appeared to race all out in his most recent efforts, and while that demonstrates great heart, it also might indicate vulnerability with the Derby's extra distance.
If American Pharoah's post position and Dortmund's running style compromise them, there are several horses in the field that will be more than capable of running past them in the stretch. Carpe Diem has just one loss in his career, a forgivable second-place effort as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year. Since then, he has been very strong, winning the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass Stakes impressively. He will have to overcome a tough inside post position but has a versatile running style and has faced and overcome trouble in just about every race in his career. He is good enough to win, and this might be the last time in his career he gets 8-1 odds.
Materiality is undefeated in three starts and is bred to handle the classic distance. Along with the two favorites, he also likes to be in or near the lead. International Star comes into the Derby on a three-race winning streak, including a victory in the Louisiana Derby. He came from a bit farther back in his two previous wins, so he has shown the ability to handle traffic. Upstart finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and has looked pretty strong ever since. He couldn't get to Materiality in the Florida Derby but might have with the Derby's extra distance.
America Pharoah is a deserving favorite but will be a short price and faces a tall challenge. It would be no surprise if he wins, but because he and Dortmund will be heavily bet, other horses' odds will look even better. Carpe Diem's odds should hold steady at 8-1, so he looks to have the best value. I will bet Carpe Diem to win and will box Carpe Diem, American Pharoah, Upstart and Materiality in exacta and trifecta wagers.
Liam Durbin is owner/handicapper of e-ponies.com and creator of the One Click Pony and Exacta Max apps. He shares his Triple Crown picks and betting tips with The Baltimore Sun each year.