Kentucky Derby

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The hunt for another Triple Crown winner begins at Churchill Downs, continues at the Preakness Stakes (May 20) and concludes at the Belmont Stakes (June 10).

The long lead-up to Kentucky Derby 2017 is almost over. The final participants which we’ve been waiting for to get to town will arrive in the next day or two. We can only hope that all of the twenty horses expected to enter the starting gate will have a smooth and healthy week. Clearly the draw, set for Wednesday morning, in a 20-horse field will play a part in final decisions, but with six days to go, this is how I evaluate the full field for the Derby, including my most current projected odds…

McCraken  (8-1)  Ian Wilkes / Brian Hernandez, Jr.

As you know from yesterday’s Why McCraken will win Kentucky Derby 2017 column, the three-time stakes winning son of the champion Ghostzapper will be my top selection to take home the roses on May 6. From a hot local rider, to a trainer who knows how to build a horse up to a Kentucky Derby victory, to an ideal running style and pedigree, I believe this bay colt has all the needed ingredients to etch his name in racing history. As much as anything, though, it is his fondness for Churchill Downs that could put him over the top. He loves the track, and this is his home. The importance of the location of a big race can often be underestimated, so being on a horse thriving and happy with where he is, can only be considered an advantage. He has looked fantastic here since arriving back in Louisville, and I saw enough in his first four wins, the first three coming at Churchill Downs, to know that the Blue Grass was far from the total package. He will bring his ‘A’ game on Saturday, and that gives him a big chance to take over at the top of the stretch on his way to Kentucky Derby glory. Top Pick in Wide Open Affair

Gunnevera  (8-1)  Antonio Sano / Javier Castellano

Ten furlongs at Churchill Downs, with an honest pace, may just be what this horse was born for. Win or lose, his late running prowess is always evident. His victory in the Fountain of Youth, as well as other impressive wins at two, are clear signs that he has the class and closing rush to win the Derby on his best race. They say pace makes the race, but of course, the entire make-up of a race plays a big part in who comes out on top. Looking at how this race sets up, it’s hard to imagine the son of Dialed In not running strongly down the lane. Whether that results in a win, or something a little bit less, his strong rally is one of the most predictable things in this year’s Derby. As far as being well beaten in the Florida Derby, I believe we saw what we needed to see in his final prep for first Saturday in May. Despite a bad post, moderate pace, speed favoring track, and a big performance from the winner, he kept coming for third. His four-time Eclipse Award winning jockey should give him every chance to roll by the field as the real running begins. Will Be Rolling Late

Lookin At Lee  (30-1)  Steve Asmussen / Corey Lanerie

If I am calling this a wide open edition of the Kentucky Derby, than I absolutely must be willing to sprinkle in my favorite longshots liberally in my wagering. Like the one just above him, the son of two-time champion Lookin At Lucky should be absolutely motoring late. He has never been able to take home first money in graded stakes competition, but the way he finishes well every single time should be respected. He also figures to appreciate the added distance of the Derby. That, and the fact that many of the horses ahead of him will be staggering home late. I thought his latest, a third in the Arkansas Derby, was his best yet. With a straight path down the lane, he might even have had a shot to get to Classic Empire at the wire. He also gets the benefit of a fearless rider that knows his way to the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs. Top Longshot Late Runner

Hence  (15-1)  Steve Asmussen / Florent Geroux

The second from trainer Steve Asmussen on the list, it seems that Hence has been very much a work in progress, but one that his connections always liked. After only occasional flashes in talent, that faith was rewarded in a big way in the Sunland Derby, when he came from well back to smoke the field in strong time. It was a visually impressive victory, but also one that has become even more important with the excellent results of the horses he had beaten easily. Conquest Mo Money, Hedge Fund, and Irap, second, third, and fourth behind Hence respectively, all came back with big performances in their next race. If this son of Street Boss can also move forward off the Sunland Derby, his competition on Saturday could be in trouble. I have a feeling he is still learning, but the light switch may have been turned on in time. He also picks up a high quality rider, in Florent Geroux. Exits Key Race

Classic Empire  (5-1)  Mark Casse / Julien Leparoux

The son of Pioneerof The Nile was the best juvenile in the land in 2016. Two Grade 1 stakes wins to end the year, not to mention a thrilling, late-running stakes win at Churchill Downs earlier in the season, were enough to clinch that standing. This year has been a struggle, though. Physical and mental issues have kept most of his three-year-old season in doubt. Thanks to his class, and good training, he was able to bounce back in time to surge to victory in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Now he comes back to Churchill Downs as the most likely favorite. He’s earned the role, but I have to wonder if the push to have him primed at Oaklawn Park, and that tough race, will allow him to be at his very best for a test where he needs to be. Thoughts of his quirkiness also come into play when talking about everything that is the Kentucky Derby. Doubts and all, it would be no surprise to see him prove once again that he is the best horse of this crop. Respect The Champ

Always Dreaming  (5-1)  Todd Pletcher / John Velazquez

It used to be unheard of for a Kentucky Derby winner to have only one stakes race for experience. Times have changed, though, and in the Florida Derby, much like Big Brown had, this son of Bodemeister proved himself to be a talent to be reckoned with. Will he be the second Derby winner for seven-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher? He looks to have the talent to do it, but like Classic Empire, I have enough questions to keep him off the top few spots. In the Florida Derby, his first attempt against good horses, he had a perfect trip, and never faced adversity. Unless he is even better than I think, he is sure to face serious adversity on Saturday. A little headstrong since arriving to Louisville, I wonder if he will be up to the test. Talent could win out, but I am willing to pick more experienced horses ahead of him. Big League Talent

Irish War Cry  (8-1)  Graham Motion / Rajiv Maragh

To say that this good-looking son of Curlin bounced back in the Wood Memorial, would be an understatement. Of course, part of the reason it was such a bounce-back was because of how poorly he ran in the Fountain of Youth. It should be noted that in both of his easy wins, he got a favorable trip. Things are bound to be tougher against a field that includes many horses that prefer to be on, or near, the early lead. Having said that, his Holy Bull and Wood Memorial were good enough to name him the favorite for the Derby had it not been for the Fountain of Youth flop. Was that one a total throw out, or a sign that he might wilt under pressure? It certainly gives me cause for pause, but the likable duo of Motion and Maragh in his corner is a positive. Dangerous Speed

Tapwrit  (25-1)  Todd Pletcher / Jose Ortiz

Looking better with every start, including a good second in the Sam F. Davis, and a smart score in the Tampa Bay Derby, he looked headed to be one of the Derby favorites before a dull fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass. He broke a little slow that day, and never seemed to be really in the race. Can he bounce back from that disappointment? I think he might. Keeneland and Churchill Downs are very different tracks, and the expensive son of Tapit has looked very good getting over the Churchill track, including a recent tandem work with Patch. This year seems to be the year when horses can come back from a disappointing effort to do good things, and with a good running style for the Derby, Tapwrit could be another to do just that, and at juicy odds. Looking Good at Churchill 

Thunder Snow  (25-1)  Saeed bin Surror / Christophe Soumillon

The well-bred son of Helmet has already proven his class in two continents. He also has run farther than any horse in the race, when he surged late to take the rich UAE Derby. Of course, no horse, who has ever made the trip, after winning in Dubai, has been able to even finish in the money on the first Saturday in May. He arrived today in Louisville to acquaint himself with Churchill Downs before the Derby, but the trip and brief acclimation do seem to be a lot to ask of a horse who was all out to win his last. He’s scary, but I suspect this will be one more year of Kentucky Derby frustration for the powerful Godolphin Stable. International Question Mark

Girvin  (12-1)  Joe Sharp / Mike Smith

There can be no doubt that the son of Tale of Ekati was the best of the three-year-old males in New Orlieans this year. He looked to have plenty going for him heading to Louisville, including the pick-up of Hall of Fame rider, Mike Smith, but then a quarter crack was discovered. As much as you liked or didn’t like him before the setback, this development has to be considered a negative this close to the big race. The good news is that after therapy, he came back with a nice work at Keeneland yesterday. If he is somehow at his very best on Saturday, he is a legitimate threat, but anything less than 100% leaves him as a likely also-ran in this one. Quarter Crack Question Mark

Sonneteer  (40-1)  Keith Desormeaux / Kent Desormeaux

Well, if a maiden won the Blue Grass, maybe one can win the Kentucky Derby. That alone, of course, is no reason to play him, but there has been enough shown in his last two, where a case could be made. Strong rallies for the son of Midnight Lute in both the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby point to a horse both on the improve, and one that should be passing tiring horse in the Derby. The solid performances also demonstrate that the Keith Desormeaux runner belongs with this type. Last year, the Desormeaux brothers teamed up for a second-place finish with Exaggerator. As big longshots go, you could do worse. Beware the Maiden

Practical Joke (15-1)  Chad Brown / Joel Rosario

After three-straight defeats, it looks like it might be blinkers on for the dual Grade 1 winner, although we are still waiting for confirmation from trainer, Chad Brown. A change of equipment like this could help, but it is also a little worrisome going into the Derby. Too much, too early, in the Derby would not be a good thing. The good looking son of Into Mischief has had trouble finishing off his races against the very best, and at ten furlongs, I maintain reservations about his ability to be strong at the end. Having said that, he is moving in the right direction, and clearly has class and consistency on his side. Ten Furlongs is the Question

Irap  (20-1)  Doug O’Neill / Mario Gutierrez

Few gave him much shot in the Blue Grass, coming in off a fourth-place finish in the Sunland Derby. We were all wrong, as he ran a brave front-running race to break his maiden in the seven-figure affair. Can we dismiss the result as a fluke? Probably not, considering he comes from a two-time Derby winning barn, is bred to get better with time, and had been competitive in several stakes before the Blue Grass. Still, can we expect him to pressure the Derby pace, and then have enough to fight them off down the lane? My guess is no, but he could be getting good at the right time. Blue Grass Upsetter

J Boys Echo  (30-1)  Dale Romans / Luis Saez

In the Gotham, his promise looked realized when he zoomed by the leaders to run off to an impressive win. In the Blue Grass, though, he never looked like a winner. Back at his regular home of Churchill Downs, he might be ready to run a big one for his Louisville native trainer, but it’s hard to know if he is really good enough to run big in a race like this. In the Gotham, he got a dream trip, and was good enough to take full advantage, but Saturday represents a whole new level of challenge. He’s not without a chance, but of the interesting longshots, I do like a few others better. Local Runner Could Be Running Late

Gormley  (15-1)   John Shirreffs / Victor Espinoza

Many will root for this three-time stakes winner, carrying the Moss colors for trainer John Shireffs and ridden by Victor Espinoza, but from a betting perspective, I don’t see him offering true value on Saturday. While two of his wins came in Grade 1 company, I would argue that his two biggest tests were the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and facing Mastery in the San Felipe. In neither did he look good enough, and even in the last, I’m not sure he was the best horse in the Santa Anita Derby. He likes to win, but I am taking the stance that he is not quite good enough to win the roses. Good Horse – Tough Test

Battle of Midway  (25-1)  Jerry Hollendorfer / Flavien Prat

There is plenty of talent here in the son of Smart Strike, and he has come a long way since making his career debut on January 21. Most recently, he hung around doggedly after being part of a fierce pace battle in the Santa Anita Derby. The fractions might be a little slower this time, but I am not sure that it will have less overall pressure. He’s certainly eligible to move forward again, but considering his lack of experience, and the other speed types in here, the Kentucky Derby would seem a tall hill to climb for the talented Jerry Hollendorfer runner. Talented but Inexperienced

Patch (20-1)  Todd Pletcher / Tyler Gaffalione

He was my pick in the Louisiana Derby, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with his second place finish behind Girvin. Now the one-eyed horse comes to Churchill Downs looking to win the Kentucky Derby off of only three lifetime starts. For that reason, and the fact that Tapwrit looked like the better horse in their tandem workout the other day, I am going to take a stand against the horse that will be one of the sentimental favorites this year. Too Much Too Soon

State of Honor (30-1)  Mark Casse / Jose Lezcano

The Canadian-bred has looked very good since coming to Churchill Downs. He also has plenty of speed, and proven class, having stuck around for a piece against a series of very good horses. Expecting him to do that in this one is just a little bit more than I am ready to predict. He probably holds on for a better placing than where I have him listed, but I just cannot see him winning. My Queen’s Plate Horse

Untrapped  (40-1)  Steve Asmussen / Ricardo Santana, Jr.

I’ve actually been impressed with how the son of Trappe Shot has looked in the mornings. He should have a future in front of him. Having said that, I don’t believe that future will be around a route of ground. Look for him to be a strong late runner in shorter races, but not in the ten furlong Kentucky Derby. Comes Up Short at 10 Furlong

Fast and Accurate  (50-1)  Mike Maker / Channing Hill

Well, somebody has to be listed on the final spot in a Derby that may have the smallest gap from top to bottom than any year that I can remember. Stranger things have happened, but I just don’t expect his speed and his Spiral win, on a synthetic surface, to translate well here. Pace Factor Only

May 05 2018

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Date: May 5
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