Aaron Sones always turns off his cell phone at night. But Sunday night, while he and his family were on vacation in Hawaii, he continued. He had a feeling.
Sones, a former ER doctor, loves dabbling in horse racing property and one of his horses, Ethereal Road, was on the verge of doing the 20 horse Kentucky Derby field. He was on standby as he currently ranked 21st in qualifiers. All he needed was another horse to abandon.
Then at 3:30 the phone rang. It was coach D. Wayne Lucas.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I guess we made it to the Derby,’” Sones said. “I answered the phone and Wayne said, ‘This is it.’”
Ethereal Road entered the field thanks to the abandonment of Un Ojo. The news came just before Monday’s draw for Saturday’s 148th race Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
With a field of 20 horses, the draw is always interesting. You don’t want to be too close to the railing or too far out.
Mo Donegal, with an odds of 10-1 on the morning line, equalized the first position for coach Todd Pletcher and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
“The new gate” that keeps the horses inside farther from the rail “should work to Mo Donegal’s advantage,” Pletcher said. “He has some experience in there. He just won the Wood Memorial from a hole. He is used to having dirt on his face and I hope Irad can save ground around the first corner and put us in a good position. “
As for the twentieth starting position, that of Ethereal Road (30-1).
This is the third trip to the Derby with a horse for Sones, who lives in Los Angeles. In 2016, he did the unthinkable and qualified a maiden, Trojan Nation, and took him to Churchill Downs. He drew that and was pushed against the railing and finished 16th.
“I was joking with Wayne before we got into the race that getting 20 would be a lot better,” Sones said. “Actually, that’s just what we wanted for a come-from-behinder. If you look at his running style, he likes to be outside. “
It is likely that he will be there for a good portion of the 1¼ mile race.
The biggest surprise of Monday’s draw was that Mike Battaglia, who has been making the morning line for the Derby since 1975, picked Zandon (3-1) over Epicenter (7-2) as a favorite. Zandon will start from the 10th gate, while Epicenter will start from the third.
The blue silk of the post 3 “matches his favorite colors,” said Epicenter coach Steve Asmussen, whose barn color and saddle pad are blue. “Like any race, you want to get away from the gate well and start from there. How long it’s in there, how long it takes to load, 150,000 people staring at it, that’s a lot. “
Chad Brown, Zandon’s coach, was concise in his reaction.
“Perfect, we’re ready to go,” he said.
Santa Anita’s two major horses, Messier (8-1) and Taiba (12-1), finished sixth and twelfth respectively. They were among the last three horses to get a seat. Drawing is a simultaneous drawing of a horse’s name and the post position number.
“They kept us waiting,” said coach Tim Yakteen, who took over the horses from suspended coach Bob Baffert. “But in the end we drew well”.
The other Southern California-based horse is Happy Jack (30-1), who drew the No. 2 slots.
“Okay. We are happy,” said coach Doug O’Neill. “I think the new gate makes the horses inside better. We remain optimistic “.
As for Sones, he couldn’t be happier making the Derby pitch and he gives all the credit to Lukas.
“Being around Wayne was the greatest horse racing experience of my life,” said Sones, who co-owns the horse with his wife Julie Gilbert. “He’s the one who chose this horse. I told him if he finds something good, go ahead and buy it. He found it at the Keeneland sale and we figured it would go for $ 500,000, $ 600,000, $ 700,000.
“But it went for $ 90,000 and we were shocked. In fact, I called Wayne and said ‘Are you sure? What did we miss? ‘ I guess he just fell into a hole in the market. “
The starting field can change until 9:00 am on Friday. Rich Strike and Rattle N Roll are called “even eligible,” the equivalent of a waiting list for horse racing.
So the wait grows for 20 horses until the gates open.