American Pharoah is the Kentucky Derby favorite, at least on the morning line which was posted on Wednesday along with the assignment of post positions. Much was made at the time about American Pharoah’s less than desirable #18 starting position. Adding insult to injury–he’s gone from a bad starting position to an even worse one.
None of this is American Pharoah’s fault, of course, but he is the recipient of some bad ‘racing luck’ several days before the actual race. When the entries for the Kentucky Derby were finalized on Wednesday there were 22 horses. Twenty went into the field for the race with the other two designated as ‘Also Eligible’. The ‘Also Eligible’ status means that if one of the 20 starters ‘scratch out’ before Friday morning (when betting begins) one of the two ‘alternate’ horses moves into the field.
That’s exactly what happened on Thursday morning. Todd Pletcher’s horse Stanford was scratched from the race which moved the first ‘Also Eligible’ horse–Frammento–into the field. When this happens, the ‘Also Eligible’ horse starts from the #20 position with the rest of the field outside of the scratched horse moving over one space. And this is where American Pharoah’s bad luck begins. Stanford was slated to start from the #11 hole meaning that Frammento gets the #20 position and horses 12 through 19 move over one spot.
American Pharoah was originally in the #18 spot which has produced only one Kentucky Derby winner since the use of gates began in 1930 (Gato Del Sol in 1982). With Stanford’s withdrawal, American Pharoah moves over into the #17 spot–which has *never* produced a Kentucky Derby winner, or at least not since 1930. From a tactical standpoint, it wouldn’t seem like it changes much. American Pharoah will be in roughly the same place on the track and jockey Victor Espinoza will have to quickly get some better track position. In the mind of the superstitious horse racing community, however, it’s a big deal.
It’ll be interesting to see how this impacts the Kentucky Derby betting on American Pharoah. He’s definitely got the ability to overcome the #17 post position ‘curse’ but he may lose betting support for this reason alone.