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|
|1||Lookin At Lee||Steven Asmussen||Corey Lanerie||20-1|
|2||Thunder Snow||Saeed bin Suroor||Christophe Soumillon||20-1|
|3||Fast and Accurate||Michael Maker||Channing Hill||50-1|
|4||Untrapped||Steven Asmussen||Ricardo Santana Jr.||30-1|
|5||Always Dreaming||Todd Pletcher||John Velazquez||5-1|
|6||State of Honor||Mark Casse||Jose Lezcano||30-1|
|7||Girvin||Joe Sharp||Mike Smith||15-1|
|8||Hence||Steven Asmussen||Florent Geroux||15-1|
|9||Irap||Doug O'Neil||Mario Gutierrez||20-1|
|10||Gunnevera||Antonio Sano||Javier Castellano||15-1|
|11||Battle of Midway||Jerry Hollander||Flavien Prat||30-1|
|12||Sonneteer||Keith Desormeaux||Kent Desormeaux||50-1|
|13||J Boys Echo||Dale Romans||Luis Saez||20-1|
|14||Classic Empire||Mark Casse||Julien Leparoux||4-1|
|15||McCraken||Ian Wilkes||Brian Hernandez Jr.||5-1|
|16||Tapwrit||Todd Pletcher||Jose Ortiz||20-1|
|17||Irish War Cry||Graham Motion||Rajiv Maragh||6-1|
|18||Gormley||John Shirreffs||Victor Espinoza||15-1|
|19||Practical Joke||Chad Brown||Joel Rosario||20-1|
|20||Patch||Todd Pletcher||Tyler Gaffalione||30-1|
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:
.@racehorsereport: Classic Empire is the best horse in this crop. There's no question. He's the best horse since he was a 2 year old.2017-4-22 13:57:43
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.
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.
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
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.