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Kentucky Confidential

The Backstretch

Derby Draw: The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

The connections pose for a group photo after the Kentucky Derby post position draw. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Kentucky Derby Post Positions and Morning Line ›

People endlessly debate whether the horses have the stamina to get the mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby, but humans, too, must have a strong foundation just to get through the post position draw.

Inside the cavernous Secretariat Lounge in the Churchill Downs clubhouse late Wednesday afternoon, they conducted a traditional pill-pull draw at a snail’s pace for the benefit of the Versus broadcast. During the commercial break at 5:07 p.m. between horse 10 and 11, the room was as quiet as a library hosting a chess championship.

Laurie Lapenta gives a thumbs up after Dialed In drew #8. (Eclipse Sportswire)

When Dialed In drew the 8 hole, a small whoop went up in the room that almost sounded embarrassed by itself before quickly dying down.

Midnight Interlude drew post position No. 15, and master of ceremonies John Asher pointed out that Bob Baffert had pumped his fist. The first rule of drama is show, don’t tell.

“We’re in a three-minute break,” Asher said during a particularly long pause. “Those who wish to exhale can. Those who wish to curse can. We’re off camera.”

At least the meatballs at the buffet in the back of the room were pop-in-your mouth good, but how many meatballs do you want to eat before the press party?

Exercise rider Tammy Fox, the diminutive wife of trainer Dale Romans, stood off to the side of the rows of chairs and waved away several offers to sit down.

“I can barely see now,” Fox said. Her daughter, Bailey (still bitter that all but one of her scenes in the documentary “The First Saturday in May” had been cut while her younger brother, Jacob, chewed scenery the entire movie), admitted to being nervous, but this was the third draw for the Romans clan since 2006, and they looked like veteran hands.

“I don’t want the rail,” Fox said about her husband’s charge, Shackleford, a bang-up second to Dialed In in the Florida Derby. “On the outside, you can sit outside the speed and watch them. I feel like he’ll do whatever you want. You don’t want the inside because you have to go.”

Shackleford drew safely, perhaps perfectly, with No. 14, the last post in the main starting gate.

Fox was relieved.

When giant cheers rang out from the connections of Mucho Macho Man when the horse drew post 13, Fox quipped, “They must not be superstitious.”

Track linemaker Mike Battaglia, in his 33rd year, showed welcome speed zipping through the odds. He clicked off an incredible eight horses set at 30-1. His favorite at 4-1, Dialed In, actually felt too low considering the wide-open feel of the field.

The event broke up and the media horde descended on the participants. Romans answered rounds of questions, went under the hot lights for a television interview, then made his way through the loitering crowd to find his wife.

It was a long, somewhat stressful event after what must already have been another long, stressful day in the life of a Kentucky Derby trainer. Romans looked beat three days out from the big race.

Asked what he planned to do Saturday night, win or lose, when it was all over, Romans did not hesitate with his answer.


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Author PhotoJohn Scheinman, a long-time writer and editor, covered thoroughbred racing for The Washington Post from 2000-09. He won the Red Smith Kentucky Derby writing contest for best advance in 2007. He is a correspondent for the Thoroughbred Times. Scheinman also has worked extensively in humor writing and sketch comedy. He lives in Washington, DC. More by  ›