LOUISVILLE, KY. — In the brief moment of silence after Kentucky Derby favorite Nyquist drew the No. 13 post for Saturday's race, trainer Doug O'Neill looked over to owner Paul Reddam.
"We were No. 13 and we won the Breeders' Cup," Reddam said, grinning.
Jockey Mario Gutierrez yawned, content that he'll be able to make his own luck with an undefeated horse who has won at a variety of locations and distances. Nyquist will start as a decisive 3-1 favorite in the morning line.
The No. 13 post actually hasn't been terribly lucky over the years, with just four winners in 69 tries. Smarty Jones in 2004 was the last to win from that spot. But it's easier to shrug off such history when your horse has always found a way to finish first.
"We've got a horse who's doing great, and we've got a jockey who's got ice running through his veins," said O'Neill, who won the Derby with I'll Have Another in 2012. "So we're feeling good."
The Wednesday evening draw at Churchill Downs was generally kind to the favorites for the 142nd running of the Derby. The most intriguing twist came when Danzing Candy, expected to burst to an early lead, drew the No. 20 post on the far outside.
That draw left trainers wondering if jockey Mike Smith will still take Danzing Candy out fast or if he'll conserve energy and concede the lead to another horse, possibly Nyquist.
"Is he going to send hard to clear?" O'Neill said. "If he does, it might affect his energy late. If he doesn't send hard, is that going to make us make the lead? That's the most interesting thing."
Danzing Candy's positioning could change the calculations for a number of trainers who hope their horses will stalk the lead from a few paces back but stay well ahead of a large group of late chargers.
Nyquist was expected to be in that middle group along with the Todd Pletcher-trained Destin and Outwork, Bob Baffert-trained Mor Spirit, Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner and one-time Derby favorite Mohaymen.
All of these contenders possess the coveted trait horsemen refer to as tactical speed. This means their jockeys can place them anywhere in the race and move to the lead whenever the pace dictates. It's a quality that served American Pharoah last year and California Chrome in 2014.
Speaking about his horse Gun Runner, a 10-1 co-third choice from the No. 5 post, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said, "I think that versatility is his best quality for this race."
Mohaymen, meanwhile, is a 10-1 co-third choice after his deeply disappointing showing in the April 2 Florida Derby. He was undefeated in five career starts going into that final prep and was favored over Nyquist. But he faltered to a fourth-place finish.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said the performance was an anomaly and called Mohaymen "the horse to beat."
McLaughlin doesn't want his colt to be caught out wide as he was in the Florida Derby, so he was reasonably pleased to draw the No. 14 post.
Baffert was relieved that 50-1 long shot Trojan Nation pulled the dreaded No. 1 post early in the draw. The Hall of Fame trainer said he coveted the No. 16 post for Mor Spirit, a 12-1 co-sixth choice who always races hard. But he was fine with the No. 17, even though no horse has ever won the Derby from there.
"I think we have a very good chance," he said. "He's going to have to run better, and he should run better. He's improving."
Destin turned in one of the best performances of the prep season in winning the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby, but he hasn't run since, leading many to wonder if a horse can win at Churchill Downs off such a long rest.
Pletcher was happy to draw the No. 9 post for Destin, a 15-1 choice in the morning line, and equally content to draw the No. 15 for his other horse, 15-1 choice Outwork.
"I'd like to see us five or six lengths off the pace and hopefully find a spot where we can get into a groove," said Destin's owner Steve Davison, of Kentucky-based Twin Creeks Racing. "He's got enough speed to hopefully stay in contact with the lead, and we need to be well ahead of the closers. If the pace comes back a little bit, we hope he'll be one of the first pouncers."
That leaves an atypically large group of deep closers, including Exaggerator, an 8-1 second choice in the morning line.
"It is unusual," McLaughlin said. "And they're good closers."
Trained by Derby rookie Keith Desormeaux and ridden by his brother, Kent, Exaggerator turned in the most impressive performance of the prep season in winning the April 9 Santa Anita Derby. On the other hand, he has already lost to Nyquist three times.
Keith Desormeaux said he remains confident in part because Nyquist's best speed figures — statistics used to rate a horse's performance relative to field speed and track conditions — aren't as good as Exaggerator's best.
"Someone asked me do I think Exaggerator has to improve to beat Nyquist," he said. "Well, according to the numbers, Nyquist has to improve to beat us."
He said he trusts his brother to navigate the cluster of horses likely to be charging from the back Saturday. Exaggerator will start from the No. 11 post.
Kent Desormeaux said his goal is not to mount a late charge but to help his horse find a steady, comfortable pace, just as he did at Santa Anita. The rest of the field crumbled before Exaggerator's relentless run in that muddy race.
Other late chargers include the Asmussen-trained Creator, who drew the No. 3 post, and his chief rivals from the Arkansas Derby, Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore, who drew No. 2 and No. 10 posts, respectively.
"With Creator, he's at the back early, and he won't have a long ways to go to find the rail," Asmussen said of his 10-1 co-third choice.
Blue Grass Stakes winner Brody's Cause, who was among the unluckiest contenders in drawing the No. 19 post, is also expected to come late.
"He's the best shot I've had," trainer Dale Romans said of the 12-1 choice.