Classic Empire and Always Dreaming head the betting for the 2017 Kentucky Derby in what's set to be one of the most open fields in years at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 6.
This year will see the Run for the Roses staged for the 143rd time and, as always, excitement about the event is starting to build in the weeks leading up to the spectacle. That includes punters from across the globe making their picks for the big race.
With 20 horses in contention, the Derby has a reputation for being one of the most unpredictable chases in the horse-racing world.
Here's a look at the early odds for this prestigious event and a few of the favourites to take the first leg of the Triple Crown series.
|Kentucky Derby 2017: Odds|
|Irish War Cry||+800|
Figures are courtesy of sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark. Odds are accurate as of 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, April 27.
Classic Empire, Always Dreaming are Early Favourites
Trainer Mark E. Casse's Classic Empire tops the market ahead of the post drawings for this year's race—and with good reason.
The bay colt was impressive last year, winning both the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity and Breeders' Cup Juvenile races as a two-year-old. He didn't get off to the best start in 2017, coming home in third in Grade 2 Holy Bull.
However, at the Arkansas Derby earlier this month, a Grade 1 race, he edged out Conquest Mo Money to cement his status as the favourite for the Derby. Here's a reminder of that crucial win for the three-year-old:
Despite what was a strong performance, jockey Julien Leparoux insisted there is more to come from the colt.
"He wasn't 100 per cent today, so I was expecting him to be a little tired," he said, per Nicholas Godfrey of the Racing Post. "I think he's a special horse. Hopefully now there's no more hiccups and we go to the Derby and I think we can win it."
While Classic Empire was involved in something of a scrap in his last outing in Arkansas, Always Dreaming was a confident winner in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 1.
The brown colt, trained by the legendary Todd Pletcher, coasted to victory in that win, eventually coming home with a five-length margin to spare.
While the 1 ¼ miles distance in Louisville may not have traditionally suited Always Dreaming, the win in Florida has made plenty sit up and take notice of this horse.
However, according to Mike Welsch of Daily Racing Form, Always Dreaming hasn't looked completely comfortable in the buildup:
Mike Welsch @DRFWelsch
Practical Joke galloped in blinkers today, does not breeze or race in them. Always Dreaming fought his rider every step of the way this a.m.2017-4-26 12:47:03
An intriguing prospect for punters is the current third-favourite, Irish War Cry, who has been expected to perform well in Kentucky for a long time.
The H. Graham Motion-trained horse beat Classic Empire to win the Holy Bull Stakes, putting together a sequence of three wins in succession. But he was a long way short of his usual standards at the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes in March, ambling home in seventh.
Although he won the Grade 2 Wood Memorial earlier this month, his odds are illustrative of a horse with a big question mark hovering over him. Still, horse racing journalist Joe Clancy suggested Irish War Cry is looking in fine form as the big race looms:
Joe Clancy @joeclancy65
Irish War Cry galloped on Fair Hill Tapeta track (dirt kind of sloppy) this morning. Looked sharp and comfortable at same time. #KyDerby2017-4-25 13:24:33
It's difficult to see any contender from outside the three mentioned making their way to the front of the field, with the background of the trio making for impressive reading.
And you have to say, Classic Empire is a worthy favourite ahead of the posts being determined. Some may point to his display in the Holy Bull as a concern, although he was back in the groove again at Arkansas. Eventually, he'll have too much for Irish War Cry and Always Dreaming.
Prediction: 1. Classic Empire, 2. Irish War Cry, 3. Always Dreaming