Classic Empire is the favourite for Saturday's Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in what looks to be an open field.
While the Run for the Roses has held a reputation for being unpredictable in its previous 142 runnings, in recent years horses at the top of the market have thrived in the race meeting's marquee event. Classic Empire, narrowly shorter than Always Dreaming in the betting, will be well fancied as a result.
Although the post positions can make a significant difference to the odds, here are the latest lines ahead of the big race and a closer look at some of the horses expected to be in contention.
|Kentucky Derby 2017: Odds|
|Irish War Cry||+800|
|Conquest Mo Money||+2500|
|J Boys Echo||+2800|
|Lookin At Lee||+5000|
|State of Honor||+5000|
|Battle of Midway||+5000|
|Fast and Accurate||+6600|
Numbers are from sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark. Odds are accurate as of 12 p.m. (ET) on Monday, May 1.
Classic Empire the Early Favourite
As noted by Ben Roberts of the Herald Leader, the last four winners of the Kentucky Derby—Nyquist, American Pharoah, California Chrome and Orb—have been the pre-race favourites; over the last 10 years, six favourites have crossed the line first, too.
It means that while the Derby is dubbed the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sport, surprises have been in short supply lately. It's why plenty will be looking at the likes of Classic Empire when filling out their betting slips.
Mark E. Casse's colt was the juvenile champion in 2016 and, after a difficult start to the year, returned to form with a strong win at the Arkansas Derby. Here's a reminder of that excellent performance:
There are some lingering doubts about the favourite, though. Classic Empire has been a little erratic at times and didn't show his best at Holy Bull, when he was beaten by Irish War Cry, who will also line up for the Derby. He has also been suffering with a foot abscess.
Those with concerns about his temperament may turn to Always Dreaming, who could easily usurp the favourite at the top of the betting if he were to pick up a favourable draw.
A brilliant win at the Florida Derby made plenty take note of this Todd Pletcher-trained horse. There was a sense he had more in the tank, too, and according to James Scully of Brisnet, in early preparations the second favourite went "fast and easy…with a remarkable gallop-out."
However, according to Nicole Russo of Daily Racing Form, that initial composure and pace hasn't been consistent through the preparations:
Nicole Russo @DRFRusso
Always Dreaming wrestled with the draw reins every step I saw on the backstretch - even bucked a couple times. #KyDerby2017-5-1 10:27:20
Away from the two standout competitors, other horses possess the pedigree needed to challenge here.
Irish War Cry, as aforementioned, enjoyed a brilliant outing at Holy Bull and has won in all but one of his races so far. A disappointing performance at the Fountain of Youth will put some off, although Graham Motion's horse has the raw speed to stay in contention with the two big names aforementioned.
As relayed by Joe Clancy, he's showcasing that pace ahead of the big day, too:
Joe Clancy @joeclancy65
Irish War Cry works 6 furlongs in 1:13.20 for Rajiv Maragh. Out in 1:27. "Beautiful," says Motion.2017-4-30 13:17:02
McCraken, a Kentucky local, would be a popular winner with the punters and has won on all three occasions when he's raced at Churchill Downs; that familiarity may prove key. Still, he's had some injury problems and didn't look at full throttle in last month's Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes.
All in all, Classic Empire is tough to look beyond at this stage. Every horse in the field has weaknesses that can be pointed to, but Caase's horse has bounced back strongly from his only poor performance. Post permitting, he's going to be tough to keep pace with on May 6.
Prediction: 1. Classic Empire, 2. Irish War Cry, 3. Always Dreaming