KENTUCKY DERBY 2017 PICKS

As you are probably aware, this 143rd version of the Run for the Roses is wide open with no front runner in the mix, unlike in recent years.

During this prep season, two of the top horses in the field were retired due to injury (Not This Time & Mastery) and most of the other top contenders either have been inconsistent, had issues training, and/or dealt with some kind of minor injury.

That said, having an unpredictable Derby on a wet track adds a ton of intrigue and has proven to set up for an agonizing week of making a prediction for this race.

I am hesitant to pick an outright winner, as I just have no idea what will happen. But, I do have some gut instincts and lots of information floating around in my head, so here are my thoughts:

Always Dreaming

If you put a gun to my head and made me pick a Derby winner this year, I’d pick Always Dreaming.  He has several factors in his favor that could set him up to help bring his trainer Todd Pletcher his 2nd Kentucky Derby win.

First, there is a tremendous buzz surrounding his talent.  Pletcher has said this colt has “superstar potential” and his jockey John Velazquez has gushed over his “pushbutton acceleration”.  This ability to be versatile in a 20 horse field will be key.

Second, he is the only horse with 2 wins at 1 1/8 miles and has posted the highest speed figures at 9 furlongs.  Well, speed is not totally essential to win the Kentucky Derby, but Always Dreaming has also shown the ability to get into traffic trouble (like the Florida Derby) and still push through, which is an advantage here.

Third, we know distance won’t be an issue for him since both his sire (Bodemeister) and grandsire (Empire Maker) both came in 2nd at the Kentucky Derby.  And, his grandsire won the Belmont Stakes.

Fourth, I like this #5 post for Always Dreaming.  Right next to him will be State of Honor at #6 who is a pace setter and likes to take the lead.  Just like in the Florida Derby which both these horses raced in, State of Honor took the lead and/or stayed near the lead.  Right behind him was Always Dreaming who is a stalker/pace presser.  If they both break well, it could be a repeat with Always Dreaming finishing first, State of Honor 2nd (or drifting back) and Gunnevera flying up from behind to compete for the win.

Fifth, temperament is the only variable to have concern about with this colt.  He has apparently not settled as well as the trainers would like at Churchill Downs and has shown to exhibit aggression and energy while here this week.  This could be bad or good.  Bad, meaning: he is using the energy he needs for 10 furlongs and is not a happy camper.  But, it could be good meaning the horse is peaking now and ready to rumble.  I guess we’ll find out later today what it all really means.

Gunnevera

As just mentioned, I like Gunnevera to finish in the top 3 or be near the finish.  He is the best closer in this bunch and like Exaggerator last year, likes to come from way off the pace.  My only concern is that he will get too far behind to make up the ground needed in the slop.  Still, he has been the most consistent horse during the prep season and we know that this race favors deep closers.  If he doesn’t do well enough at Churchill Downs, he will surely be a top contender for the Belmont and/or Preakness.

Classic Empire

On paper, this colt has the classiest breeding and should be right there at the finish line with the front runners.  He is American Pharoah’s half-brother and was  the 2-year old champion.  However, he has had injuries as a 3-year old and only raced twice since then.  He also has legendary issues with temperament (throwing riders, resisting training).  But, despite this, he has managed to fight through adversity during races, which is a good thing for the Derby.  (I checked Twitter this morning, and his trainer said he is calm & happy today).

In addition, Classic Empire has “natural speed” and has shown the ability to settle early and make a late run, which bodes well for him in this longer contest.  He should be dueling with Always Dreaming down the stretch and could push past the favorite.

Irish War Cry

Another top choice for me.  He has the pedigree for stamina and distance, plus a lot of speed as well as having won after facing adversity.  Unfortunately, no horse has ever won the Derby from the 17th post.  He could change that stat today as he has looked good over a wet track and the word is he is relaxed & settled well at Churchill Downs.

Also, an outside post could suit this NJ-based colt’s style well.  In the Wood Memorial, he had an outside post and was taken off the pace by his jockey.  He then got into a stalking position and pounced down the stretch to close well.  The Derby could set up similarly well for Irish War Cry, in this respect.  A big bounce back win for him worth seeing again:

McCracken

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this colt who is a favorite for the Derby since he trains at Churchill Downs and has won 3 of 3 races here.  This is a major advantage.  I also like the fact that he has come from behind to win a couple of his races and other horse trainers have pointed out his undeniable talent.

Thunder Snow

This U.A.E. Derby winning horse was shipped over from Dubai and is the ruler of Dubai’s horse.  No U.A.E. contender has finished better than 5th in the Kentucky Derby, but this horse is intriguing.  Unfortunately, he could get slammed inside due to his #2 post.  I just like his breeding and how he fought to win the Dubai Derby in a similarly crowded field.  That fighting spirit will help him in this crowded field of 20.  Could be a big payoff for bettors if he takes home the win.

Sonneteer

One trait that is important in winning the Kentucky Derby is showing signs of improvement and this horse has that.  He has also looked good at Churchill Downs, is reminiscent of Exaggerator and could be running well at the end.  He is also trained and being ridden by the Desormeaux brothers who know what to do on wet tracks.  This is a great long-shot to bet.

J Boys Echo

He’s got the speed and will be running late since he has rallied late in each of his six starts.  This track favors that kind of horse and he has excellent breeding for the distance.  He has also faced tough competition as a 3-year old, so the feeling of being with this kind of quality is not foreign to him.  I wouldn’t rule this one out and would include him in my exotics.

Girvin

One final horse to mention is Girvin, who I like very much for this contest.  A very classy horse, he will be ridden by hall of fame jockey Mike Smith, which bolsters his chances.  The only issue (which is a big one) is that the horse has/had a crack in one of his hoofs and the trainers have been working feverishly to help it heal in time.  They have made assurances that the horse is feeling fine and doing well with the adjustments.  If so, his racing style (stalker/closer) sets up well.

 

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