In what was one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of horse racing, the much-hyped revamped Kentucky Derby draw turned into a televised fiasco on Wednesday when the draw had to be repeated because of an error.
To create a more dramatic event for TV, a random draw was conducted first to determine the order of selection. Then, after a 10-minute recess for deliberations, the connections of the first horse whose name was called got first choice of post position, and so on down the line.
The draw was going smoothly until the name of long-shot Rock and Roll was pulled and assigned the 15th pick, which already had gone to Artax. Apparently ESPN commentator Chris Lincoln, who was conducting the draw, misread the numbers. He should have called out Artax as getting the fifth pick instead of the 15th.
According to Kentucky racing regulations, the draw had to be done over.
"We shouldn't have let TV control this," fumed Churchill Downs president Tom Meeker. "Chris Lincoln should not have been doing this. I'm embarrassed by this. Racing officials should have done this, which they do every day. They draw pills. How demanding is this?
"Chris was more worried about his commentary. He has a responsibility to his commentary, but the more important responsibility is to execute the rules of racing. You can't do both things. We should have done a lot better. This is not brain surgery."
"I don't know what happened. There was so much going on," Lincoln said. "We had gone through this and covered all kinds of contingencies. When you make history, sometimes you've got to do it twice to make it right."
Afterward, Kentucky Racing Commission steward Bernie Hettel issued a statement which read in part: "There was a mishandling during the draw of the selection. I elected, through administrative regulations, to go ahead and redraw."
Meeker said that the same format would be used in the future, but never again would a celebrity or TV commentator handle the draw.
The horse hurt the worst by the snafu was Florida Derby winner Cape Town. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas originally was assigned the first pick, but got the 10th selection the second time around. He chose post 11. Owner William Young said he would have taken the seven post with the first pick.
"I thought William Young's comment was the most appropriate," Lukas said. "He said that it felt like we had our number taken down (disqualified) before the race."
On the redraw, Favorite Trick was assigned the first pick. As was expected, a middle post was chosen as trainer Bill Mott took the seven.
"Number seven has always been sort of a lucky number for me," Mott said.
"We already prostitute ourselves to TV," Lukas said. "This will be done differently next year. This is the world's premier racetrack."
How the Derby draw worked
For the first time in Kentucky Derby history, the draw for post positions was determined Wednesday by a "draft order," with the horses' connections able to choose their starting positions rather than having them randomly assigned. Here's how it worked:
The names of the 15 entries were coupled with a number assigned by lot according to the Kentucky Rules of Racing.
Upon completion of the draw, there was a 10-minute period for owners, trainers and jockeys to discuss strategy.
An authorized representative of each horse had 60 seconds to make a post-position selection according to the number assigned during the draw.
Under Kentucky rules, there is a redraw if the draw for the selection process is mishandled.
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