Los Angeles (AFP) - Oddsmakers favorite Classic Empire drew the number 14 post on Wednesday for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby, the leadoff race in America's Triple Crown thoroughbred horse racing series.
Classic Empire is a 4-1 favorite in the field of 20 for Saturday's $2 million showdown of three-year-olds over 1 1.4 miles (2km) at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
McCracken, a second-favorite at 5-1, will start just outside Classic Empire from the number 15 gate while another 5-1 horse, Always Dreaming, starts from the fifth chute. Irish War Cry, at 6-1, departs from the 17th slot.
Only 12 horses have swept the Derby, Preakness and June's Belmont Stakes in the same year to capture US flat racing's Triple Crown. The most recent of those was American Pharoah in 2015 to snap a drought that had lasted since 1978.
Classic Empire, owned by John Oxley and ridden by French jockey Julien Leparoux, won the Arkansas Derby on April 15, passing three rivals in the last furlong for the victory to secure his fancied place in the Run for the Roses.
After winning last year's Breeders Cup Juvenile, Classic Empire was expected to be a Derby stalwart, but a disappointing third-place showing last February at the Holy Bull Stakes and an abscess on the colt's front right hoof forced trainer Mark Casse to send the horse to Florida.
While recovery took longer than anticipated, the Arkansas Derby win secured Classic Empire as the horse to beat in Kentucky.
"We couldn't be in a better place," Casse said.
Todd Pletcher, trainer for Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming, hopes for another Derby win after Super Saver in 2010. He also trains 20-1 Tapwrit, who starts between Wood Memorial winner Irish War Cry and McCraken and 30-1 Patch, who leaves from the far outside post.
Lookin at Lee (20-1) drew the rail, which has not produced a Kentucky Derby winner since Ferdinand in 1986.
Longshots in the field are 50-1 Fast and Accurate, leaving from the third gate from the rail, and 50-1 Sonneteer, in the 12th slot.