Churchill Downs once again commands the attention of the sporting world this week.
Basketball has its bracket and playoffs and football has its people walking to the podium to say names, but no sport has anything close to the excitement of the 2017 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
There, the usual suspects will trot out their best with a $2 million purse up for grabs. Names like jockey Jose L. Espinoza and trainer Todd Pletcher lead some of the favorites a year removed from Nyquist taking down the event as the favorite.
Below, let's look at the names still vying for positioning and how Las Vegas oddsmakers approach the early field.
2017 Kentucky Derby
|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|
Top Horses to Know
Jerry and Ann Moss' Gormley isn't one to overlook simply because Las Vegas shoved the colt into the middle of the pack when it comes to odds.
Steered by the aforementioned Espinoza and trained by John A. Shirreffs, Gormley enters Churchill Downs off a triumph in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, breezing past Kentucky Derby hopefuls such as Battle Of Midway in the process.
Strong performances against top competition aren't anything new. Gormley took the Grade 3 Sham Stakes in January and before that claimed first in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes back in October.
Thus far, Gormley's strong form continued in practice, as noted by BloodHorse's Jeremy Balan:
It's probable Gormley won't ever assume the top slot on the odds leaderboard, not with bigger names making splashes and commanding headlines.
Those bettors seeking value, though, have a nice option here with a horse riding a nice streak of momentum and understanding how to set the pace in the mud against some of the best in the field.
Feel free to call this Pletcher's Kentucky Derby.
The legendary trainer might boast six starters in this year's field, a staggering number even for him. Leading the way with ease, though, is a colt by the name of Always Dreaming, owned by Brooklyn Boyz Stables.
It's hard to hate anything about Always Dreaming's chances. Entering Churchill Downs off two wins in a row, including an impressive showing at the Grade 1 Florida Derby in April, it's telling to say the most notable feat about the colt's chances is the fact John R. Velazquez will act as jockey up top.
Velazquez is a legend in his own right, a Hall of Famer with a win in the Kentucky Derby back in 2011, two wins at the Belmont Stakes and countless other achievements.
The duo continue to make strides after arriving at Churchill Downs, as captured by Daily Racing Form's Mike Welsch:
It's telling Pletcher and Velazquez surround a horse like Always Dreaming.
Were it not for these names, Always Dreaming would look like a hopeful long shot after only competing in one Grade 1 event before this weekend's event.
With both on board, bettors have a serious option to consider.
It's best to get to know Classic Empire like the rest of the recent greats at the Kentucky Derby.
The Mark E. Casse-trained horse seems like the opposite of Always Dreaming in the experience department. Classic Empire boasts five wins over seven recent outings, including notable first-place slots at the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity Stakes in October, Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November and, most impressively, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in April.
That last race was the progress Casse wanted to see in order to bring Classic Empire to the Kentucky Derby, according to USA Today's Dan Wolken:
"My thought was, if he didn't run well enough, he didn't deserve to be in the Kentucky Derby. I was OK with that. But I was a little worried because he got in some trouble and as they're coming down the lane, I'm thinking, 'If he doesn't get in the Kentucky Derby because of a bad trip that would be disheartening.' We were lucky it went well," Casse said.
Classic Empire enters Churchill Downs with jockey Julien R. Leparoux up top, boasting the momentum and experience necessary to have oddsmakers tab the duo as the favorite.
It's hard to complain, though this year's event doesn't have the feel of one with a runaway favorite. Classic Empire is a great value, though the progress of the duo throughout the week will be something to watch, as will any potential line shifts.
For now, Classic Empire doesn't show any signs of slowing and has the pace and temperament necessary to fend off a late charge by the upstart Always Dreaming.
Prediction: 1. Classic Empire 2. Always Dreaming 3. Gormley