Kentucky Derby Field 2017: Pinpointing Contenders from All Horses and Jockeys

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2017

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 03: Classic Empire, owned by John Oxley and trained by Mark E. Casse, exercises in preparation for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jon Durr/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images)
Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images

The 2017 Kentucky Derby is upon us, and 20 different horses are looking to take the first step toward winning the Triple Crown.

American Pharoah reminded us two years ago that the Triple Crown is achievable, although the 2016 series showed it still isn't easy. Nyquist took first place at Churchill Downs but couldn't keep it going at the Preakness Stakes.

While we are a long way from anyone in this year's group sealing the biggest feat in the sport, it also has to start at the Kentucky Derby. With that in mind, here is a look at the top contenders at the Run for the Roses.

2017 Kentucky Derby Field
1Lookin At LeeSteven AsmussenCorey Lanerie20-1
2Thunder SnowSaeed bin SuroorChristophe Soumillon20-1
3Fast and AccurateMichael MakerChanning Hill50-1
4UntrappedSteven AsmussenRicardo Santana Jr.30-1
5Always DreamingTodd PletcherJohn Velazquez5-1
6State of HonorMark CasseJose Lezcano30-1
7GirvinJoe SharpMike Smith15-1
8HenceSteven AsmussenFlorent Geroux15-1
9IrapDoug O'NeilMario Gutierrez20-1
10GunneveraAntonio SanoJavier Castellano15-1
11Battle of MidwayJerry HollanderFlavien Prat30-1
12SonneteerKeith DesormeauxKent Desormeaux50-1
13J Boys EchoDale RomansLuis Saez20-1
14Classic EmpireMark CasseJulien Leparoux4-1
15McCrakenIan WilkesBrian Hernandez Jr.5-1
16TapwritTodd PletcherJose Ortiz20-1
17Irish War CryGraham MotionRajiv Maragh6-1
18GormleyJohn ShirreffsVictor Espinoza15-1
19Practical JokeChad BrownJoel Rosario20-1
20PatchTodd PletcherTyler Gaffalione30-1


Top Contenders

Classic Empire

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03:  Classic Empire runs on the track during the morning training for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Classic Empire is the top contender thanks to an impressive resume heading into the weekend.

The horse already has five wins in six starts, including three victories in Grade I races. The first-place showing at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile put him on the map last November, but it was the win at the Arkansas Derby that helped him move into favorite status for the Kentucky Derby.

Jude Feld of Horse Racing Radio Network had high praise for the horse:

The consistency within the team should also be helpful. Jockey Julien R. Leparoux has been with Classic Empire since his first race last May, a win in Churchill Downs.

Between the pure talent on the horse, a team that has been successful in the past and a solid starting position at No. 14, Classic Empire has what it takes to reach expectations with a win.



LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03:  McCraken runs on the track during the morning training for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Experience isn't a strong suit for McCraken, which has made just five starts and zero rated as Grade 1 events. Still, he has performed well when given a chance.

McCraken has four wins in five races, including the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in Churchill Downs. This was one of three victories on the track he will run on this weekend.

The only disappointment in his career to this point was a third-place showing at the Blue Grass Stakes, but that came after an ankle injury kept him off the track for two months.

Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr. has been with the horse every step of the way as the jockey with veteran trainer Ian Wilkes taking care of business on the other end. Although this duo has limited experience in Triple Crown events, the horse has the talent to do a lot of the work.

If McCraken is healthy, this could be one of the top upset contenders.


Always Dreaming

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - APRIL 01:  Always Dreaming #4 (FL) with jockey John Velazquez on board, wins the Xpressbet Florida Derby (Grade I) at Gulfstream Park on April 01, 2017 in Hallandale Beach, Florida. (Photo by Liz Lamont/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Imag
Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images

A win at the Florida Derby propelled Always Dreaming to status as a top contender in the Kentucky Derby.

The horse also has one of the top teams in the sport with trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John R. Velazquez, both of whom have won this event in the past.

Velazquez could especially be a difference-maker thanks to his consistency throughout his career. The Hall of Famer has finished no worse than sixth on the earnings list in any of the last 16 years, per Equibase. He currently sits fourth on the list in 2017.

Although he has struggled at Churchill Downs in recent years, his experience should be a big help going forward.

Always Dreaming had a slow start to his career, but with three wins in three starts in 2017, he should be a threat on Saturday.


Irish War Cry

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03: Irish War Cry, owned by Isabelle de Tomaso and trained by H. Graham Motion, exercises in preparation for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 03, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty
Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images

With such a big field, every starting position has its positives and negatives. Most want to avoid the rail, but otherwise different people have different opinions.

However, Irish War Cry appears to be in a good spot at No. 17.

"Being in the auxiliary gate keeps you in the clear, keeps you away from the craziness," trainer Graham Motion said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). "You don't have to stand in the gate that long."

Motion helped Animal Kingdom win the 2011 Kentucky Derby, and although jockey Rajiv Maragh is less experienced than some of the others in the field, he knows how to help his horse win.

Irish War Cry has victories at the Wood Memorial and the Holy Bull Stakes, the latter coming over Classic Empire in the favorite's only career loss. With a pedigree that includes former Breeders' Cup Classic winner Curlin, this could be a horse to watch.