It’s that time of year again when people from all walks of life suddenly become gamblers and make their once a year bet on the Kentucky Derby. I wonder if these are the same people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter? As usual it’s a loaded field with 20 horses going for the Run for the Roses. Looking back, the last three Derby winners really weren’t big surprises or pay-offs. Will this year be different? I’ll give you my top choices along with a few long shots.
Classic Empire (4/1). The class of the field on paper is the Mark Casse trained horse Classic Empire. If Classic Empire can stay on task he will be in the money. This horse is a head case though. Last September at Saratoga he was favored in the Grade 1 Hopeful and proceeded to throw his rider after breaking from the gate. Then after finishing 3rd in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February he refused to break from the gate for two timed workouts. So, what does Classic Empire do next? In April he goes on to win Arkansas Derby in a thrilling finish. What will happen come Saturday is anyone’s guess but I like him.
Always Dreaming (5/1). This colt was very impressive in winning the Florida Derby on April 1st by five lengths. After going winless as a two-year-old, this Todd Pletcher trained colt has gone on to win all three of his starts in 2017, all at two turns. There will be plenty of up front speed so jockey John Velazquez will have his work cut out for him this trip.
McCracken (5/1). After winning his first four career starts McCracken took a step back in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th. I’ll blame it on his ankle injury back in February. He is 3 for 3 racing at Churchill Downs so we know he likes the track. With McCracken’s running style, the large field and his post position (15) shouldn’t be a major factor in the outcome of the race. Trainer Ian Wiles will have this colt in top form.
Thunder Snow (20/1). This colt shipping in from overseas really has me intrigued. No horse that has wne the UAE Derby has come across the pond and won the Kentucky Derby. Granted, there are a lot of reasons as to why he cannot win but I’ll give you my reasons for making him my long shot selection. 1) He has won at distance. 2) He’s won on an off track. 3) He went from turf to dirt without missing a beat and actually improved. 4) The big field won’t bother him (16 in the UAE Derby). 5) This will be his first time on Lasix and that may give him the extra boost.
Gormley (15/1). Gormley was able to close on the pack to win the Santa Anita Derby after letting the pace setters have their way. His highest Beyer figure (94) came when he won on a sloppy track at Santa Anita in the Grade 3 Sham in January. I think jockey Victor Espinoza, who has won the Derby three times, most notably with California Chrome and American Pharoah, will keep him within seven lengths of the lead before making his move in the stretch.
Girvin (15/1). Girvin is unbeaten in his three starts on the dirt. He is coming off two G2 wins and will be ridden by jockey Mike Smith after Girvin’s regular rider; Brian Hernandez, Jr. opted to ride McCracken. As with every horse in this field the finish will depend on the pace and the trip they get.
Overall, there is no horse in this field of 20 starters who stands out alone. Additionally, if the rain comes and it’s a sloppy or muddy track then all bets are off and you may as well close your eyes and point at one in the program.