- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Favorite Bellamy Road and two top rivals opted for outside post positions yesterday for Saturday’s 131st Kentucky Derby, trying to avoid a rapid early pace.

Trainer Nick Zito chose No. 16 in the 20-horse field for the 5-2 favorite rather than the available No. 4 to avoid a speed duel with long shot Spanish Chestnut (50-1). Bandini (6-1) took No. 15 with the first choice instead of a traditional post between 7 and 10, while Afleet Alex (9-2) went with No. 12 with the second choice. With five of the last 10 Derby winners having come from the auxiliary gate’s Nos. 15 to 20 posts, it’s no longer taboo to take the longer route.

“I wanted to be on the outside,” Zito said. “We’ll get a clear run.”

Said Bandini trainer Todd Pletcher: “We wanted to be towards the outside because you have more options out there.”

Afleet Alex trainer Tim Ritchey’s reasoning had nothing to do with the race or even the sport. The Pittsburgh native chose the number of Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

“Number 12 has been very lucky for Steelers fans,” said Ritchie, who wore the team’s sweatshirt in the morning. “There were four Super Bowls [titles] with Terry Bradshaw, so I went with my instincts.”

Only three front-runners have led every step over the last 20 years. Opposing trainers knew Spend a Buck (1985), Winning Colors (1988) and War Emblem (2002) would try to steal the race early but never challenged them despite prerace bluster.

Bellamy Road probably still will be the leader by the race’s midpoint. However, Zito may have shown a willingness to let others compete in the traditional cavalry charge in the opening quarter-mile.

“The first turn is such a key to the way the whole race is going to unfold,” said Pletcher, who has three entrants. “You want to get to that first turn with the least amount of congestion as possible. There’s just so much bouncing off one another going into that first turn that I think it takes away so much energy from these horses.”

Betting angles

Churchill linesmaker Mike Battaglia visited Zito’s barn in the morning looking for advice. The longtime friends jousted over Battaglia’s ability to anticipate the public’s betting temperament.

“Between you and I, you need [help],” Zito said jokingly. “Bellamy Road is the favorite. Afleet Alex, Bandini will get a lot of support, then High Fly and Noble Causeway.”

Battaglia said he would have made Zito the 4-5 favorite if his five horses were entered together. Kentucky no longer requires all horses trained by one person to be coupled. Pletcher’s three horses would have been 4-1 combined.

Meanwhile, local jockey Pat Day’s 21-year Derby streak will end because he is recovering from hip replacement surgery — releasing all the novice backers in the past who looked at his daily domination at Churchill and not at his 1-21 Derby mark. Battaglia expects that blind faith money to fall on Zito, though it will lose some impact spread over five horses.

Wagers even have the option of picking all of Zito’s horses — or a combination of them — in a box bet.

“I’m going to box Zito,” joked Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, a horse owner and friend of the trainer.

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