The first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown is mere days away as some of the best horses and jockeys in the world have converged on Louisville, Kentucky, for the 2017 Kentucky Derby.
The 2016 edition didn't feature any big surprises, as heavy favorite Nyquist came out on top.
This year, all eyes will be on Classic Empire and Always Dreaming. The latter owns the best odds of winning (4-1), while the former is right behind him (17-4), according to OddsShark.
Below is a preview for Saturday's Run for the Roses.
Post Time: Saturday, May 6, at 6:46 p.m. ET
Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky
Live Stream: NBC Live Extra
|1||Lookin At Lee||Corey J. Lanerie||Steven M. Asmussen||28/1|
|2||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||16/1|
|3||Fast and Accurate||Channing Hill||Michael J. Maker||66/1|
|4||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steven M. Asmussen||50/1|
|5||Always Dreaming||John R. Velazquez||Todd A. Pletcher||4/1|
|6||State of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark E. Casse||40/1|
|7||Girvin||Mike E. Smith||Joe Sharp||16/1|
|8||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steven M. Asmussen||22/1|
|9||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug F. O'Neill||25/1|
|10||Gunnevara||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||12/1|
|11||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||28/1|
|12||Sonneteer||Kent J. Desormeaux||J. Keith Desormeaux||33/1|
|13||J Boys Echo||Robby Albarado||Dale L. Romans||33/1|
|14||Classic Empire||Julien R. Leparoux||Mark E. Casse||17/4|
|15||McCraken||Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr.||Ian R. Wilkes||13/2|
|16||Tapwrit||Jose L. Ortiz||Todd A. Pletcher||25/1|
|17||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||H. Graham Motion||13/2|
|18||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John A. Shirreffs||16/1|
|19||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad C. Brown||16/1|
|20||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd A. Pletcher||33/1|
|Source: KentuckyDerby.com; OddsShark|
With a name like Classic Empire, a horse had better be able to deliver, and through six graded stakes races, the colt has largely done just that. Classic Empire has three victories in his last four events, including the 2016 Breeders' Cup juvenile race.
Granted, Classic Empire didn't prevail in decisive fashion, with Not This Time making a late push and narrowly missing out on the top spot as he crossed the finish line.
Distance will be one concern for trainer Mark E. Casse heading into the Derby. Never before has Classic Empire run a race measuring 1 ¼ miles.
Casse, however, doesn't see that as being a hindrance for the horse.
"I don't see that being an issue whatsoever," he said, per Daily Racing Form's Mary Rampellini. "I think it's a plus, not a minus."
Always Dreaming hasn't built a comparable resume. He has run in only one graded stakes race—which admittedly came in a winning effort in the Florida Derby. Always Dreaming surged ahead of State of Honor and Gunnevera over the final stretch:
The post draw offered a major boost to Always Dreaming. He'll start in the No. 5 post, which ties for the most wins (nine) in the last 87 events, according to Christina Moore of America's Best Racing.
"Ideally, I'd have liked to have been a little farther out," trainer Todd Pletcher said, per horse racing writer J.J. Hysell. "But he won the Florida Derby from the four."
At the very least, Always Dreaming received a better draw than Classic Empire, who will start from the 14th gate. Carry Back in 1961 is the last horse to win after drawing No. 14. Granted, American Pharoah was only one spot over when he began his Triple Crown voyage in 2015.
Based on the last few years at the Kentucky Derby, anything other than a Classic Empire or Always Dreaming victory would be a surprise. I'll Have Another in 2012 was arguably the last genuine underdog to come out on top.
The trend makes sense given both the distance of the Kentucky Derby and its placement in the Triple Crown. The strongest horses are better equipped to handle 1 ¼ miles, and they've yet to be subjected to the physical rigors of running three races in a little over a month, which is why so many Triple Crown bids die at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
Kentucky Derby odds are courtesy of OddsShark.