The starting grid for the 2017 Kentucky Derby has been set with Wednesday's reveal of the post positions.
With a full field of 20 horses and two alternates converging on Churchill Downs for the most exciting two minutes in sports, the field is truly more wide open this year than it has been going into the Kentucky Derby in recent years.
Here's a look at the post positions and odds for the first leg of this year's Triple Crown, followed by a look at the top contenders to keep an eye on.
|2017 Kentucky Derby Post Positions|
|1||Lookin At Lee||Corey Lanerie||Steve Asmussen||20-1|
|2||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||20-1|
|3||Fast and Accurate||Channing Hill||Mike Maker||50-1|
|4||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||30-1|
|5||Always Dreaming||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||5-1|
|6||State of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark Casse||30-1|
|7||Girvin||Mike Smith||Joe Sharp||15-1|
|8||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steve Asmussen||15-1|
|9||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||20-1|
|10||Gunnevera||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||15-1|
|11||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||30-1|
|12||Sonneteer||Kent Desormeaux||Keith Desormeaux||50-1|
|13||J Boys Echo||Luis Saez||Dale Romans||20-1|
|14||Classic Empire||Julien Leparoux||Mark Casse||4-1|
|15||McCraken||Brian Hernandez Jr.||Ian Wilkes||5-1|
|16||Tapwrit||Jose Ortiz||Todd Pletcher||20-1|
|17||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||Graham Motion||6-1|
|18||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John Shirreffs||15-1|
|19||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad Brown||20-1|
|20||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd Pletcher||30-1|
|AE||Royal Mo||Gary Stevens||John Shirreffs||20-1|
|AE||Master Plan||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||50-1|
|Source: Kentucky Derby on Facebook|
Favorite: Classic Empire
Classic Empire earned his status as the Kentucky Derby favorite due in large part to winning the Arkansas Derby two weeks ago, a much-needed rebound after a disappointing third-place showing at the Holy Bull in February.
His Holy Bull finish was explained by a foot abscess that impacted his running ability and never made him a significant factor in the race.
It wasn't a dominant victory for Classic Empire in Arkansas, though it was impressive for the way he was able to show off his speed coming down the final stretch to edge past Conquest Mo Money.
Classic Empire will start the Kentucky Derby from the 14th post position. History has not been particularly kind to that starting gate, as America's Best Racing noted the last winner from the position was Carry Back in 1961 and just two winners ever.
To counteract that bit of long-term history, ESPN Stats & Info offered this nugget about recent history pointing to a good Saturday for Classic Empire:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
The favorite has won the Kentucky Derby the previous 4 years. There has never been a stretch of 5 straight years that the favorite has won.2017-5-3 16:41:40
Aside from Classic Empire's injury-related slip-up at the Holy Bull, he's had a terrific career that has been building up to this moment on the greatest spotlight horse racing has to offer. He has won five of his seven career races.
Rising Star: Always Dreaming
Unlike Classic Empire, who has been earmarked for the Kentucky Derby basically from the moment he was born three years ago, Always Dreaming has had a slow rise to being the No. 2 betting favorite on Saturday.
Always Dreaming has just one stakes race on his resume. It was a big one at the Florida Derby, when he defeated other Kentucky Derby contenders State of Honor and Gunnevera.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has three contenders in the field at Churchill Downs, told Horse Racing Nation prior to the Florida Derby he's had success with less-experienced horses in the past.
"Materiality and Constitution come to mind," Pletcher said. "We're really, really pleased with how [Always Dreaming] is doing and having won at a mile and an eighth over the track is also encouraging. We're excited about the way he's doing and the way he's training and coming up to the race."
Materiality and Constitution didn't light up the Kentucky Derby after winning in Florida. Constitution was forced to withdraw due to injury and Materiality finished sixth in the 2015 race, though that was also the year of American Pharoah, so it would have been difficult for any horse to stand out.
Looking at Always Dreaming's post position, it couldn't have worked out better. The No. 5 gate is tied for the most wins (nine) at the Kentucky Derby and has the second-best winning percentage (10.3), per America's Best Racing.
The resume may not be extensive, but Always Dreaming has made a fast leap into the sport and has earned his spot as the top challenger to Classic Empire at the Kentucky Derby.
Kentucky Derby Champion: Gunnevera
Gunnevera's owners at Peacock Racing Stables, LLC have put their three-year-old horse to the test. He's one of the most experienced runners at this year's Kentucky Derby with nine races under his belt since June 2016.
The Florida Derby was a disappointment for Gunnevera, as he finished in third place. Brian Zipse of Horse Racing Nation did try to spin the result as a positive looking ahead to the Kentucky Derby:
"While it's true he failed in his most recent race, when third in the Florida Derby, as preps for the Kentucky Derby go, I thought it was perfect.
"Saddled with a far outside post position at a track where that is near impossible to win, he did not get the kind of early pace that could have helped him overcome the bad post. Still, he kept coming, as he always does, to get up for third, albeit well behind the winner, Always Dreaming.
"In his previous race, the Fountain of Youth, he proved what he could do with a stronger pace up front, blowing by the field in impressive style."
The pace at Churchill Downs is going to be worth keeping a close eye on because weather does not look favorable in Louisville virtually all week. Weather.com notes rain is in the forecast for each of the next three days, including 50 percent on Saturday.
If the track is going to be muddy and sloppy, jockeys will have to navigate a slower track to earn a victory. Gunnevera has shown impressive speed in the past, including winning the Fountain of Youth by 5 3/4 lengths.
Gunnevera also has arguably the best jockey in the world on his back. Javier Castellano has won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey each of the last four years, though his resume doesn't include a Kentucky Derby title.
Castellano will be able to figure out how to unleash his horse based on the weather when the race begins. Gunnevera has a terrific starting gate, with the No. 10 spot matching No. 5 for most wins ever.
This is the race Gunnevera has been trained his whole life to race. He's physically prepared to handle the grind with the right team around him to make it a successful trip.