LOUISVILLE — When it was suggested Tuesday that I Want Revenge was likely to be deemed the Kentucky Derby favorite, trainer Jeff Mullins didn't mince words.
"I try not to think about it," Mullins said. "I just don't want it."
Like it or not, it's now Mullins' burden.
As expected, Wood Memorial Stakes winner I Want Revenge was made the 3-1 morning-line favorite by odds-maker Mike Battaglia after Wednesday's post-position draw for Saturday's 135th Kentucky Derby.
Although the field boasts eight to 10 legitimate contenders, Battaglia said I Want Revenge — who will start his run from post No. 13 — emerged as the clear choice when Florida Derby winner Quality Road was declared out this week because of a quarter crack.
"The fact that Quality Road did drop out made my life easier because I really could not make up my mind between him and I Want Revenge," Battaglia said. "I think this is a quality field, this is a good group of 3-year-olds this year."
Santa Anita Derby winner Pioneerof the Nile and Florida Derby runner-up Dunkirk will break alongside each other in posts 16 and 15, respectively, and were made the co-second choices at 4-1.
Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire is the fourth choice at 5-1 and will start from post No. 6.
"I was surprised the six was still left," said Larry Jones, trainer of Friesan Fire. "He should be laying anywhere from third to fifth early and suck back behind the speed and hopefully get a clear run when the real running starts."
After finishing third to Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 7, I Want Revenge became a more formidable animal in winning the Grade III Gotham Stakes by 81/2 lengths in March before his 11/2-length victory through bad luck in the Grade I Wood Memorial.
The son of Stephen Got Even had more good fortune come his way during Wednesday's draw when expected pacesetters Join in the Dance and Regal Ransom both drew inside him, in posts nine and 10, respectively.
"We wanted the 14, but (Atomic Rain) took it right in front of us," said David Lanzman, co-owner and breeder of I Want Revenge. "We just wanted to avoid disaster. We didn't want one, two, three or four, and we didn't want 17, 18, 19, 20. So we couldn't be happier."
Just hours before the draw, the landscape of the Derby field — which had already shifted several times this week — shuffled again when Rebel Stakes winner Win Willy dropped out after X-rays revealed a "suspicious" line in the colt's front ankle.
Win Willy's defection opened a spot for the Nick Zito-trained Nowhere to Hide.
Nowhere to Hide is one of six Derby horses who have only a maiden win to their credit. The others are Mr. Hot Stuff, Join in the Dance, Atomic Rain, Summer Bird, and Flying Private.
"The graded earnings system has made it almost like if you have enough graded earnings to get in, people can justify running because of that," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle three Derby horses in Dunkirk, Join in the Dance and Lexington Stakes winner Advice.
"It's almost like when one of the really small schools wins their tournament and earns a berth in the NCAA Tournament. You know they're going to be a 16 seed but they earned their way in so they're going to give it a try."