The post draw for the 2017 Kentucky Derby won't take place until May 3, but it's never too early to take a look at some of the betting favourites and dark horses ahead of the first leg of this year's Triple Crown.
Two main contenders have emerged over the last few months, with Classic Empire (4-1) and Always Dreaming (5-1) seen as a step above the field, per Oddsshark.com.
The second tier of contenders is large, however, featuring the likes of Irish War Cry (8-1), Gunnevera (10-1) and McCraken (10-1). If the post draws plays out unfavourably for one―or both―of the favourites, oddsmakers will have their work cut out for them.
Here's a look at the two top contenders, as well a sleeper pick to keep an eye on.
Classic Empire (4-1)
Classic Empire is the most decorated horse of the bunch, with wins at the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity and Breeders' Cup Juvenile races last year and Arkansas Derby in 2017.
He stands out for his superb closing speed in the final stretch, something he showed during the Arkansas Derby, as you can see in the highlights below:
While most oddsmakers back the colt to win, there are some red flags. He already lost to contenders Irish War Cry and Gunnevera in the Grade 2 Holy Bull earlier this year, and there are questions regarding his consistency and stamina.
His preparation at Churchill Downs has been solid so far, but it hasn't been spectacular. Trainer Mark Casse was satisfied with his work, however, per Alicia Wincze Hughes of Blood Horse:
Alicia Wincze Hughes @BH_AHughes
Mark Casse on Classic Empire's move "Perfect. I don't think he can go much better than that."2017-4-28 10:13:41
Classic Empire will need a good draw and an excellent start to avoid getting drowned out. If he's still near the lead entering the final stretch, the colt should have enough of a burst to grab a win.
Always Dreaming (5-1)
Always Dreaming became a top favourite thanks to his lopsided win at the Florida Derby, where he battered the field into submission. Here's a look at the highlights:
The colt dominated the likes of State of Honor and Gunnevera in that race, which is a good sign ahead of the Derby.
The horse seems to have more long speed and stamina than Classic Empire and has stolen the headlines during preparation so far at Churchill Downs, via Blood Horse's Steve Haskin:
Steve Haskin @SteveHaskin
Always Dreaming headstrong early, settled in stride, very strong in stretch by himself, with no urging at all, monster gallop out.Super work2017-4-28 13:01:18
Depending on the draw, Always Dreaming could enter the race as the favourite ahead of Classic Empire if he keeps up this work. His preference to attack early could come back to haunt him against a field as deep as the Derby's, however.
Consistency has been a major issue for Gormley over the last two years, but the Santa Anita Derby winner came out with a new running style in Arcadia and impressed tremendously. The win also means he now has multiple Group 1 wins over the course of his career―it's remarkable how little attention he's getting ahead of the Derby.
At Churchill Downs, Gormley will be ridden by none other than Victor Espinoza, who already has three Derby wins on his resume and guided American Pharoah to the Triple Crown in 2015.
Espinoza could be the key to an unlikely victory―the experienced jockey recognised Gormley's closing speed at the Santa Anita Derby and won through patience, and he could use a similar tactic against the top contenders in Kentucky.