By Kevin Martin
The three-year streak of short-priced winners in the Kentucky Derby is likely coming to an end this Saturday, May 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville. This year’s race lacks a clear favorite since even the best of the bunch ran a sub-par or, in some cases, bad race in 2017. Among the entries, there is no stand-out like we had the last three years with the trio of California Chrome, American Pharoah, and Nyquist. There is no need to fret about the lack of an obvious favorite as parity among the top contenders will make this year’s Derby a great betting race. Even the post time favorite is expected to go off at odds around 4 to 1.
Five runners most likely to win the 2017 Kentucky Derby
Classic Empire is the most accomplished in the field with a win in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the award for 2-year-old champion already on his resume. His 3-year-old season had its share of setbacks that included an uninspiring third place finish in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park back in February. He followed that poor performance with a month and a half without a timed work because of nagging injuries that kept him off the track. He returned with a win in his second start of the year on April 15th in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. That professional performance put him back to the top of many Kentucky Derby contenders lists. He is the morning-line favorite based primarily on his 2-year-old form and the lack of another dominant entry.
Irish War Cry beat Classic Empire in the Grade 2 Holy Bull and soon after found himself among the favorites for the Kentucky Derby. He followed that win with an inexplicably poor seventh place finish in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes over the same track a month later. For his next start, his trainer Graham Motion shipped him north to the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in New York where Irish War Cry bounced back in a big way with an impressive win. His sire Curlin won five times at the Derby distance (1 1/4 miles) in his career. Graham Motion won the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom and finished fourth with Went the Day Well in 2012. Irish War Cry is bred for the distance, has a high-class trainer, and has a big shot to wear the roses on Saturday.
Always Dreaming was making his graded stakes debut in the fifth race of his career when he won the Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 1st. He finished an impressive five lengths in front of a field that included multiple graded stakes winner, Gunnevera. His sire, Bodemeister, narrowly missed winning the 2012 Kentucky Derby when he was passed very late in the stretch. Always Dreaming is trained by Todd Pletcher who has entered a near record forty-five starters in the Kentucky Derby. He has a single win to his credit (Super Saver, 2010). Always Dreaming lacks experience and his trainer lacks Derby luck but he’ll be among the deserving favorites based on his dominant performance in the Florida Derby.
McCraken and Gunnvera both finished third in their respective races prior to the Kentucky Derby but neither would surprise should they land in the winner’s circle on Saturday. McCraken won his first four career races including last year’s Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. Gunnevera has two graded stakes wins on his resume and has been out of the top three in only two of his nine career races. Both McCraken and Gunnevera are stretch runners. They will run off the pace early and start their charge as the pace setters begin to lose their steam.
Whoever you like in this year’s Kentucky Derby, you’re almost certain to get a nice payout should you pick the winner. Post-time for the race is 6:46 EST on Saturday, May 6.
If you would like a rundown of all of this year’s entries, check out Hello Race Fans 2017 Kentucky Derby Cheat Sheet.