04/28/2009 11:00PM

Mullins puts favorite in post 13

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Barbara D. Livingston
I Want Revenge, who will be ridden by 19-year-old Joe Talamo, is the Derby's 3-1 morning-line favorite.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - This is the fifth time trainer Jeff Mullins has brought a horse to the Kentucky Derby, but the first time he will send out the favorite. From his rural roots in Murray, Utah, to first having success in Arizona, and then to the Southern California circuit, Mullins said he never could have imagined being in this position.

"Not at all," Mullins, the trainer of I Want Revenge, said Wednesday after post positions were determined for the 20 horses who were entered in the 135th Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs. "But it's good. They always say having the favorite in the Derby is the kiss of death, but it feels pretty good. I don't know if I'll ever be this fortunate again."

I Want Revenge, the Wood Memorial winner, wound up in post 13 after post positions were selected. He is the 4-1 favorite on the line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, and is 3-1 on the morning line of Mike Battaglia of Churchill Downs. The favorite has won the Derby the last two years and three times in the last five years.

If I Want Revenge wins, he will be the first horse to win wearing saddle cloth number 13 since Burgoo King in 1932.

Watchmaker has Dunkirk, the Florida Derby runner-up, the second choice at 9-2, with Pioneerof the Nile, the Santa Anita Derby winner, next at 5-1. Battaglia made Dunkirk and Pioneerof the Nile co-second choices at 4-1. They will break alongside one another, with Dunkirk in post 15, Pioneerof the Nile in post 16.

Reflecting the perceived disparity in talent in this year's Derby, both Battaglia and Watchmaker have only four horses listed at less than 15-1, and they each have six horses listed at 50-1.

The composition of the field, which underwent daily changes all week, had a final twist on Wednesday morning. Win Willy, the Rebel Stakes winner, was withdrawn from consideration after the diagnosis of the beginning of a fracture in the pastern bone of his left front leg, trainer Mac Robertson said.

"We took X-rays and on one of the X-rays there's a small line in the pastern going up into the ankle," Robertson said. "Three out of the four vets who looked at the X-ray said it looks like something that could spiral up into the cannon bone. He's not off on it, he's not sore, but there's something that's getting started. Most things start out as little problems, and if you look away, they become big problems."

That left a field of 19, but only temporarily. Trainer Nick Zito and owner Leonard Riggio, the Barnes and Noble chief executive who races as My Meadowview Farm, decided at the last second to enter Nowhere to Hide, who was fourth most recently in the Illinois Derby. He had not been under consideration for the Derby until Win Willy's defection.

"You've got to play the game," Zito said. "It's still the Kentucky Derby, and he's a 3-year-old. He was fourth in the Risen Star, fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby, and fourth in the Illinois Derby. I guess I'm going for fourth, right or wrong?"

No other horses entered the Derby at the last second, so no horses had to be excluded under the graded stakes earnings criteria, which kicks into effect if more than 20 horses, the maximum allowed to run in the race, are entered. This is the sixth straight year in which at least 20 horses were entered in the Derby.

The draw for the Derby is unlike nearly any other race in the country. At first, a traditional blind draw is held, but only to determine a draft order. Then, a representative from each horse selects a post position.

The longshot Join in the Dance, one of three horses in the Derby trained by Todd Pletcher, had the first choice, and got post 9. He is co-owned by Rashard Lewis of the National Basketball Association's Orlando Magic.

"We thought about it a lot," Pletcher said cheekily. "Since Rashard Lewis's jersey number was 9 it was pretty straightforward."

I Want Revenge had the 10th selection. Posts 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16 already were taken. Showing no signs of triskaidekaphobia, co-owner David Lanzman, after consulting with Mullins, took post 13.

"We wanted to keep most of the speed inside us if we could," Mullins said. "We were going to take 14, but it got taken just before us" - by Atomic Rain - "so we took the next best thing."

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Todd Pletcher entered three horses in the Kentucky Derby.

Several well-regarded horses are in the auxiliary gate. Pletcher said his first choice for Dunkirk was 15, the first stall in that gate. There is a sizeable gap between the main gate and the auxiliary gate.

"I wanted him to be towards the outside," Pletcher said. "I think he has a better chance to fall into a good spot from the outside as opposed to the inside. I like the auxiliary gate, I like a little bit of space between the 14 and the 15."

Pioneerof the Nile, with the fifth pick overall, got post 16 just before Pletcher selected for Dunkirk.

"It was a little bit of a close call," Pletcher said. "I couldn't decide whether I wanted to go right next to Pioneerof the Nile or not. I notice that he doesn't always behave perfectly in the gate, but it was my first choice."

Garrett Gomez, who will ride Pioneerof the Nile, said he preferred post 16 to 15 because he did not want Pioneerof the Nile to possibly veer left at the start into the large gap between posts 15 and 14. When Bob Baffert, the trainer of Pioneerof the Nile, took 16, only posts 7, 9, 10, and 11 were gone. Baffert said he was cognizant of Pioneerof the Nile, who has never raced on dirt, avoiding the spray of dirt from the front-runners.

"There will be less dirt on the outside than there will be on the inside," Baffert said.

United Arab Emirates Derby runner-up Desert Party, with the 17th pick overall, wound up in post 19. Only posts 1, 2, and 20 also remained at the time.

"We had no choice. It was better to be there than inside," said Saeed bin Suroor, who trains Desert Party. "From 19 there is less pressure to get position early."

Desert Party and Regal Ransom, the UAE Derby winner, are both adding Lasix for this race. All other horses in the Derby regularly receive Lasix. Nowhere to Hide is adding blinkers. He removed them last time after wearing them in his previous three races.

- additional reporting by David Grening

Grade 1, $2 million Kentucky Derby

Post Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 West Side Bernie Kelly Breen Stewart Elliott 30-1
2 Musket Man Derek Ryan Eibar Coa 20-1
3 Mr. Hot Stuff Eoin Harty John Velazquez 30-1
4 Advice Todd Pletcher Rene Douglas 30-1
5 Hold Me Back Bill Mott Kent Desormeaux 15-1
6 Friesan Fire Larry Jones Gabriel Saez 5-1
7 Papa Clem Gary Stute Rafael Bejarano 20-1
8 Mine That Bird Bennie Woolley Calvin Borel 50-1
9 Join in the Dance Todd Pletcher Chris DeCarlo 50-1
10 Regal Ransom Saeed bin Suroor Alan Garcia 30-1
11 Chocolate Candy Jerry Hollendorfer Mike Smith 20-1
12 General Quarters Tom McCarthy Julien Leparoux 20-1
13 I Want Revenge Jeff Mullins Joe Talamo 3-1
14 Atomic Rain Kelly Breen Joe Bravo 50-1
15 Dunkirk Todd Pletcher Edgar Prado 4-1
16 Pioneerof the Nile Bob Baffert Garrett Gomez 4-1
17 Summer Bird Tim Ice Chris Rosier 50-1
18 Nowhere to Hide Nick Zito Shaun Bridgmohan 50-1
19 Desert Party Saeed bin Suroor Ramon Dominguez 15-1
20 Flying Private D. Wayne Lukas Robby Albarado 50-1

Morning line by Churchill oddsmaker Mike Battaglia