LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Things could’ve gone a little better for Art Sherman at Wednesday’s Kentucky Derby draw. But not by much.
The 77-year-old Sherman is training his first Derby horse and he’s got the 5-2 opening line favorite for the 140th edition of the Run for the Roses in California Chrome. California Chrome drew the fifth position, enough distance off the rail but with some speedy competitors surrounding him in the 20-horse field that Sherman was nothing but smiles after the draw was announced at Churchill Downs.
"He likes a target to run at," said Sherman. "He’s got natural speed. If he wants to use it, he can run at a horse. To me, a good horse is a good horse. For his ability, if he’s good enough he’ll win this race."
Jockey Victor Espinoza also was pleased with the starting gate. This will be Espinoza’s sixth Kentucky Derby mount. He won atop War Emblem in 2002 starting out of the No. 5 spot.
"I just want to have California Chrome enjoy the time and the race," Espinoza said. "I think the key is going to be the first three-eighths."
California Chrome has won six of his 10 career starts, including four stakes races in a row. That includes the Grade I Santa Anita Derby and the Grade II San Felipe Stakes.
Hoppertunity is the second choice by handicapper Mike Battaglia at 6-1. He is one of the two horses being trained by Bob Baffert and will start in the 11th spot with jockey Mike Smith, who won the 2005 Kentucky Derby aboard Giacomo. Wicked Strong is the third choice at 8-1 but is starting on the far outside in the 20th gate, while Danza opens up at 10-1 just on the inside of California Chrome in the No. 4 gate.
Rosie Napravnik will be riding Vicar’s In Trouble (30-1) out of the No. 1 post, while Calvin Borel — who has become famed for his ability and eagerness to ride along the rail — will start out of the No. 19 spot on Ride On Curlin (15-1).
Hoppertunity ran second to California Chrome at the Santa Anita Derby.
"We’re all assuming a lot of stuff but this Derby, aside from that California Chrome has proved he’s a really good horse, there’s a lot of horses in there that are pretty close," said Baffert, who has at least one horse in the field for the 23rd time in his career. "There’s a lot of parity in this field so that’s why we have 20 horses."
Saturday’s forecast calls for a high of 74 degrees and only a 10 percent chance for rain, which is a stark contrast to last year’s race won by Orb on a sloppy track.
California Chrome is attempting to become just the third California-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby. Decidedly was the last winner in 1962. Sherman was a practice rider for 1955 winner Swaps.
"I’m enjoying it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetimes place to be at this time in my career," Sherman said. "I feel really blessed to be here. I really do."
All of his attention, however, is on California Chrome. The heavy lifting of training is completed as the final couple of days before the Derby approach. Now it’s just a matter of fine-tuning.
"I would think about (gate) seven or eight would have been my logical place but if he’s good enough he can win from five," Sherman said. "I just want him to be relaxed with no pressure. He’s got a lot of schooling to do in the paddock and in the gate. He’s adapting to everything. I don’t look to have any problems. I really don’t."