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Kentucky Derby 2017 Favorites
How Do The Kentucky Derby Favorites Stack Up
By Jessica Paquette
The Kentucky Derby is one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year, and with a field of 20 three-year-old horses, anything can happen. The race does, however, have a history of being kind to favorites – from 142 editions of the Run for the Roses, the favorite has won 50 times.
In 2016, Nyquist took his undefeated record to Louisville after winning a showdown in the Florida Derby (G1). He remained perfect and delivered as the favorite to give the connections of trainer Doug O’Neill, owner Paul Reddam and jockey Mario Gutierrez their second Kentucky Derby victory. It is worth noting that O’Neill and Reddam will be back this year with longshot Irap.
This year, the field is shaping up to be particularly wide open and contentious. With no true clear cut divisional leader, the actual post time favorite is still yet to be determined. There are several contenders who could go to post as the favorite.
Classic Empire is the potential star of the crop. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner and Eclipse Award champion, there is no denying that this colt is a world-class talent. He has developed a Jekyll and Hyde persona, however, and there is no guarantee which Classic Empire you are going to get on race day.
As a juvenile, he won the first two starts of his career before taking a sharp turn out of the gate in his third start for no apparent reason, losing his rider in the process. After a dull performance in his sophomore debut, he was plagued by minor physical ailments and major behavioral ones – he was refusing to train in the mornings. While it appears he is currently doing well, the crowds at Churchill Downs in the week leading up to the Derby and during the race itself are extraordinary and could pose a real challenge for his mental state.
His quirky, sometimes challenging behavior is not enough to dismiss him based on history. In 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus had a deep bag of tricks himself, and despite that, went to the gate as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and won impressively.
Since joining the powerhouse Todd Pletcher barn at the beginning of the year, Always Dreaming has rapidly ascended the ladder and is a perfect 3/3. He made his graded stakes debut and stamped his ticket to the Kentucky Derby with a visually impressive Florida Derby (G1) victory. The Florida Derby (G1) has yielded two of the last five Kentucky Derby winners so it is a prep race that bears a lot of weight.
However, Always Dreaming has a couple of black marks. He lacks some of the battle-tested experience that his rivals have and didn't defeat most star-studded field in the Florida Derby (G1). His best efforts come on, or near, the lead and he will need a lot to go his way to be as effective in the Kentucky Derby.
Gormley has been a somewhat frustrating horse to watch over the course of the road to the Kentucky Derby. In his first two starts as a juvenile, he looked like a legitimate contender for divisional honors but flopped in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). He has struggled with consistency as a sophomore as well, but has won two of his three starts this year and looks great when he wins. However, his losses are not unflattering.
His Santa Anita Derby victory was a big step in the right direction. He showed that he could be very ratable and versatile and rallied gamely to edge out some talented rivals for the win. The question remains whether consistency is an issue for him but he appears to be a horse who is maturing at the right time and could be poised for a major performance.
McCraken may actually offer terrific value on the first Saturday in May. Though a perfect 4/4 to start his career, he suffered his first career loss with a third place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) last time out. While he was third, it was his first start off of a brief layoff after a minor ailment forced him to sit out a scheduled prep race earlier in the season. He looked like a horse who simply came up short off of the bench. With that foundation under his belt, he could improve significantly and be a legitimate threat in Kentucky.
It is also worth noting that he has one major advantage over several rivals – he is not just proven at Churchill Downs, he loves the surface. The first three victories of his career came beneath the famed Twin Spires and Churchill Downs can be the sort of surface that horses either love or hate.
Irish War Cry
Irish War Cry rebounded in a big way to win the Wood Memorial (G2) last time out and solidified his status as a front-runner heading into the Kentucky Derby, He was a relative unknown early in the season and burst onto the scene with a minor upset over Classic Empire in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2). Though he faltered in his following start at Gulfstream, the change of scenery to Aqueduct seemed to do the trick.
Though he defeated a suspect field in the Wood Memorial (G2), it was more about how he ran than who he beat. He galloped out strongly, and that, coupled with his stamina-infused pedigree, suggests that he is a contender who should excel with the added distance in the Kentucky Derby. The race is held at 1 ¼ miles and it will be the first time any of these horses have had to run that far in their brief careers.
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