Kentucky Derby 2017 Predictions
Kentucky Derby Picks and Analy
Eight nths and 35 qualifying races after it began, the road to the Kentucky Derby has ended at Churchill Downs, where 20 three-year-old colts will go to the gate and take a shot at winning the biggest prize in North American racing. With no clear superstar in this year's field, the race looks to be one of the most wide-open in years, and a case can be made for several to get the win or finish in the money to round out exotic wagers.
Here's how we think it will go down.
Kentucky Derby Win Contenders
As per most of the bookmakers, including Bovada, four horses in the field are at odds of 6-1 or lower to win, with Classic Empire (4-1), Always Dreaming (9/2), McCraken (6-1) and Irish War Cry (6-1) in that bunch. Based on past performances that's a fair assessment. But we like Irish War Cry and Classic Empire over the other two.
Historically, horses that win the Derby have two things going for them; the speed from the gate to get near the front of the pack early in the large field, and the ability to "rate", or stalk the lead horse or horses within a few lengths down the backstretch and into the final turn, leaving something in reserve to explode down the stretch and hold off the late runners.
This describes Irish War Cry to a T. In both his recent wins, he got to the front - in the Holy Bull Stakes he won wire-to-wire, in the Wood Memorial he moved up quickly to stalk the pacesetter, slowly pulled even and then took over with 1/8 mile to go. That's exactly the race he needs to run to win the Derby. The fact he has to come from the #17 post position shouldn't be a problem, as the horses on either side are drop-back types, leaving him room to start moving closer to the rail within a half-dozen strides out of the gate.
Classic Empire is a very similar type of runner, with enough early speed to get into the first flight and be in good position for the run down the backstretch. He's fast and talented enough to win, but he missed training time and one prep race while dealing with minor injuries. He's only run one race in the past three months and might not be in the condition he needs to win at 1 1/4 miles. He can also be a bit headstrong and you can never be sure of his mood when they go into the gate.
Always Dreaming is a fast colt who deserves consideration based on his recent record of three consecutive wins, all by open lengths. But he's the one colt of the big four who didn't draw a very good post position. Like the other two, he'll want to get near the lead early, but he'll be coming from the #5 spot, the horses right around him are all go-to-the-lead types, and he'll have 15 horses to his outside bearing down as they near the first turn.
He could be squeezed back to the second flight while facing the toughest competiton of his career so far. It's not clear that he can win coming from the back of the pack.
McCraken, meanwhile, like Classic Empire missed training time and a prep race dealing with injuries. He ran third in his final tuneup for the Derby. What he doesn't have is Classic Empire's early speed, and although his record is impressive on paper, he has yet to face, let alone beat, any of the top Derby contenders.
Long Shots for the Kentucky Derby
While it's always tempting to try and find a winner at huge odds, the fact is there have only been five winners in the past 40 years of the Derby at odds of 21-1 or higher and one of those was in a race run on a sloppy track, where all bets are off.
That being said, there are a couple in here worth a gamble at double digits, both of whom will be closing late. It's easy to dismiss the win by Hence (16-1) in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby, considered one of the minor Kentucky Derby prep races.
But consider that all four of the horses that finished behind him in that race have since come back to run a faster race next out, with fourth-place Irap winning the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes, and second-place Conquest Mo Money running second in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Beating horses that come back to win in their next start is a significant handicapping angle.
If you believe in speed figures, only three horses in the field - two being Irish War Cry and Classic Empire - have run a faster race than Hence. He drew a great post position in #8, has tons of distance pedigree on his mare's side and is getting a big jockey upgrade. He may be overlooked at the betting windows based on past record, but he's a dangerous outsider.
The other come-from-behind runner deserving of a look is Gunnevera (12-1). Since the end of 2016, he's run four times, with two wins, a second and a third. Last out in the Florida Derby he was forced to break from the widest post and then dropped back too far for his own good, but he still closed ground late into fairly quick fractions. He's a one-run closer, and if he can manage to stay within a dozen lengths off the lead into the backstretch, he could be able to pass enough of the front runners late to get into the exotics mix.
#17 - Irish War Cry
#14 - Classic Empire
#8 - Hence
#10 - Gunnevera
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