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KENTUCKY DERBY

Luck of draw not with Tapit

Wood winner gets post No. 18

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Tapit, winner of the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct April 10 and the third choice in the morning line at 8-1, was the one Kentucky Derby contender who may have been adversely affected by last night's made-for-television selection draw for Saturday's event.

A selection order was randomly drawn in the morning, and the connections of each entrant then picked a post position in the order dictated by the random draw. Trainer Michael Dickinson was 16th in line to select a post, and he could do no better than No. 18, far out in the auxiliary gate, for Tapit. Dickinson avoided the dreaded rail, where Derby horses are often intimidated as opponents come crashing over looking to save ground.

"It's a long way out," said Dickinson. "We're starting right out of the hot dog stand. But it's preferable to being right on the rail."

The Cliff's Edge, winner of the Blue Grass, was made the 4-1 choice, and trainer Nick Zito, who had the eighth selection, nestled him comfortably in the main gate (which holds 14) at No. 11. "He'll load and that's it," said Zito. "When the gates open, the horses will do the running. I think this will be the best betting Derby ever."

Zito could not believe that oddsmaker Mike Battaglia had made Zito's other entrant, Birdstone, 50-1, the longest shot in the line. Birdstone won the Grade I Champagne at Belmont as a 2-year-old and, though he has recently battled an infection, he has always been highly regarded. "To make that horse 50-1 is insane," said Zito. "I like Mike, but please."

Smarty Jones, the undefeated winner of the Arkansas Derby, was made a close second choice at 9-2. Trainer John Servis, who had the 11th selection, chose post No. 15, the first stall in the auxiliary gate, which affords room because there is extra space between post 15 and post 14, the last stall in the main gate.

"I'm happy with the post," said Servis. "It leaves a little margin for error in case he ducks out. Plus, we'd like to be outside the majority of the speed horses in the field. We'll see how it shakes out."

Jockeying for position

The jockeys are suing the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority in United States District Court for the right to wear advertising on their white pants during the Derby.

A small buzz went through the backstretch yesterday when it was reported that riders John Velazquez and Jose Santos had said on a morning TV show that they would boycott the Derby if the jockeys lost the case.

Velazquez is scheduled to ride Pollard's Vision and Santos is listed aboard Limehouse, both trained by Todd Pletcher.

Judge John Heyburn is scheduled to rule on the matter today and local observers believe the jockeys will win. But Pletcher wasn't waiting for the ruling.

"It is my understanding that that was not a correct interpretation of what they were planning," said a stern Pletcher. "Both riders will be here."

Patience paying off

Seth Klarman, a financier who is one of the owners of Read the Footnotes, winner of the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and a 12-1 shot, is from Boston.

"He's been an absolute prince," said trainer Rick Violette. "I've been with him 2 1/2 years and for the first 1 1/2 years I didn't make many good phone calls to him. One thing after another went wrong. And I don't mean small things. There were some disasters. He's taken bad news very well. The pendulum has swung the other way now. He's just tremendous to work for."

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