01/25/2010 12:00AM

Derby's two-tier draw eliminated

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs is scrapping the two-tiered post-position draw that has been used for the Kentucky Derby since 1998 and will revert to the traditional draw for the 136th running on May 1.

Churchill spokesman John Asher said Friday the decision was made primarily because network television coverage of pre-Derby races and events has been dramatically reduced within the last two years. A scaled-down version of the two-tiered post draw was staged last year near the clubhouse turn at Churchill and was televised by HRTV, marking the first year since its inception that it was not televised by ESPN.

"We don't have that national media window anymore," Asher said. "The ESPN telecast had given us a wonderful opportunity not only to share an important Derby tradition with a wide audience, but also provided a terrific national showcase for Louisville and our region."

Long acknowledged by Churchill as a made-for-TV event that served primarily to heighten pre-race enthusiasm on the Wednesday evening of Derby Week, the two-tiered draw deviated from the traditional pill-pull used for everyday races at Churchill and tracks throughout the world.

The process began after Derby entries closed Wednesday morning, when a standard pill-pull was used to assign the order in which horse's connections would select post positions. Those posts were then selected during a tightly scripted one-hour show later that afternoon. In the early years, the draw was held on track property, including at the Kentucky Derby Museum, and from 2006-08 it was held at the Fourth Street Live venue in downtown Louisville.

Asher said the 2010 draw will be held at the track, with television coverage possibly limited to local network affiliates.

Asher said the two-tiered draw was the idea of former Churchill president Tom Meeker.

"We had an hour of TV and a great opportunity to perhaps create an experience for racing fans and the casual fan that wouldn't be unlike the NBA draft," he said. "You had some strategy involved and you got to kind of look at the brains behind the horses."

But as time passed, and with ESPN dropping out, the concept grew somewhat stale.

"We have gotten quite a few suggestions that we go back to the blind draw," Asher said. "It seemed to be the right time to go back."

Following the Derby's lead, the Preakness also began employing the two-tiered draw process in 1999 before dropping it for the 2009 running. Posts for the Belmont Stakes have always been assigned by standard pill-pull.

Even if they had wanted to revert to the standard pill-pull when it became known last year that ESPN would not be televising the draw, Churchill was legally bound to employ the system because it was expressly mandated in the 2009 race conditions. But language requiring the two-tiered system has been dropped for the Derby in the 2010 nomination forms that currently are being disseminated by Triple Crown Productions.