Classic Empire remains top of the betting on the eve of the 2017 Kentucky Derby, as anticipation ahead of the big race at Churchill Downs begins to heighten.
The Mark E. Casse-trained favourite was handed an ideal post position in Wednesday's draw—he'll go off from Gate 14—cementing his status as the horse to beat. Anticipated to be his nearest rival is Always Dreaming, who will need to move quickly out of Post 5 to stay in touch with the leaders.
Here's the lineup in full for the 143rd edition of the Run for the Roses, including the Vegas betting odds for each of the 20 horses involved.
|Kentucky Derby 2017: Lineup and Odds|
|1||Lookin At Lee||Corey Lanerie||Steve Asmussen||+2800|
|2||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||+1600|
|3||Fast and Accurate||Channing Hill||Mike Maker||+6600|
|4||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||+5000|
|5||Always Dreaming||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||+400|
|6||State of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark Casse||+4000|
|7||Girvin||Mike Smith||Joe Sharp||+1600|
|8||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steve Asmussen||+2200|
|9||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||+2500|
|10||Gunnevera||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||+1200|
|11||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||+2800|
|12||Sonneteer||Kent Desormeaux||Keith Desormeaux||+3300|
|13||J Boys Echo||Luis Saez||Dale Romans||+3300|
|14||Classic Empire||Julien Leparoux||Mark Casse||+425|
|15||McCraken||Brian Hernandez Jr.||Ian Wilkes||+650|
|16||Tapwrit||Jose Ortiz||Todd Pletcher||+2500|
|17||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||Graham Motion||+650|
|18||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John Shirreffs||+1600|
|19||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad Brown||+1600|
|20||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd Pletcher||+3300|
Odds are courtesy of books monitored by OddsShark. Figures accurate as of 5:30 a.m. (ET) on Friday, May 5.
Here's a breakdown of the facts and figures behind some of the most fancied horses going into Saturday's race:
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Every owner, trainer and jockey would have been holding their breath ahead of Wednesday's post draw, with the dreaded spots on the extreme inside enough to rock the hopes of even the strongest competitors.
For those who bravely backed Classic Empire with his post position unknown, a sigh of relief would have been let out when he was allotted the 14th trap.
It means there's a strong chance of another favourite winning the Derby, as has been the case in recent additions, with triumphs for California Chrome, American Pharoah and Nyquist.
Alicia Wincze Hughes of Blood Horse got a look at the market leader in the buildup to the race:
Alicia Wincze Hughes @BH_AHughes
Classic Empire galloping https://t.co/vUa47mUteU2017-5-3 12:46:33
Despite his status as the favourite, there have been some doubts about Classic Empire's pedigree in recent weeks, as he came home an in an unconvincing third position at Holy Bull in February.
However, his jockey Julian Leparoux believes he's over the foot abscess that hampered the 2016 juvenile champion on that day.
"It was a tough winter, I am not going to lie," he said to Newsday's Ed McNamara (h/t Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post). “Come January, we expected so much from him, and after the Holy Bull, he just went downhill from there. But [Casse] and his team did an awesome job. Hopefully, now there's no more hiccups, and we go to the Derby on a clear path. I think we can win it."
Always Dreaming is breathing down Classic Empire's neck in the betting and won't be too disappointed with Post 5 on Saturday.
His trainer, the legendary Todd Pletcher, revealed in the buildup to the race that Always Dreaming had been overly "aggressive" during his preparations for the race.
According to David Grening of Daily Racing Form, Always Dreaming seems to be getting more at ease with his surroundings:
David Grening @DRFGrening
Always Dreaming much better today galloping in draw reins. Maybe got antsy for two strides during 1 1-4-mile gallop. Otherwise perfect.2017-5-2 09:57:55
Although a spot on the inside would be daunting for a lot of horses and riders, Always Dreaming has shown in the past he has the pace to deal with the pressure that'll inevitably come from his right side; he was dominant in a recent win in the Florida Derby. If he can get out the gate well, he has a tremendous chance.
Plenty in the field will feel that's the case in what is a wide open race. As noted by sports betting website Covers, the weather should be relatively favourable:
Kentucky Derby Weather Update: Race day will be cloudy and cool. Showers late morning early afternoon. Sun may poke through by post time. https://t.co/Mda0l9HUS02017-5-5 00:44:00
It means punters may be tempted to look a little further down the betting than they may have done in recent years.
There are undoubtedly horses with some value, too. Gunnevera may have been left trailing by Always Dreaming at the Florida Derby, but he showed great form to win the Fountain of Youth Stakes in March. Irish War Cry, meanwhile, beat both Gunnevera and Classic Empire to win Holy Bull.