Twenty horses will step to the gates Saturday at Churchill Downs to take a shot at history before kicking off a likely Triple Crown frenzy.
Call the 2017 Kentucky Derby the Todd Pletcher show, with the legendary trainer sporting three entries in the deep field. It's the perfect storyline to highlight surrounding a sport continuing to garner more public attention by the year thanks to recent major names such as California Chrome.
This year superstar candidates include Pletcher's Always Dreaming, Classic Empire and more, which oddmakers out of Las Vegas have agreed with after dishing out post-draw lines.
Below, let's look at everything surrounding the event as it inches closer.
2017 Kentucky Derby Details
Where: Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky
Post Time: Saturday, May 6, at 6:34 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live
Kentucky Derby Entries
|1||Lookin At Lee||Corey Lanerie||Steve Asmussen||28-1|
|2||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||16-1|
|3||Fast and Accurate||Channing Hill||Mike Maker||66-1|
|4||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||50-1|
|5||Always Dreaming||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||4-1|
|6||State of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark Casse||40-1|
|7||Girvin||Mike Smith||Joe Sharp||16-1|
|8||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steve Asmussen||22-1|
|9||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||25-1|
|10||Gunnevera||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||12-1|
|11||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||28-1|
|12||Sonneteer||Kent Desormeaux||Keith Desormeaux||33-1|
|13||J Boys Echo||Luis Saez||Dale Romans||33-1|
|14||Classic Empire||Julien Leparoux||Mark Casse||19-4|
|15||McCraken||Brian Hernandez Jr.||Ian Wilkes||13-2|
|16||Tapwrit||Jose Ortiz||Todd Pletcher||25-1|
|17||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||Graham Motion||13-2|
|18||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John Shirreffs||16-1|
|19||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad Brown||16-1|
|20||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd Pletcher||33-1|
Brooklyn Boyz Stables' Always Dreaming is one of three Pletcher horses to make the field out of what looked like a possible six.
The colt is also likely Pletcher's best shot at a win.
Always Dreaming boasts two wins in a row going into Churchill Downs, the most notable a victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Recent performance aside, slotting in the fifth gate is a big win, as jockey John R. Velazquez and the talented colt can work the pace and avoid getting pushed up against the rail.
Pair strong performances with a strong trainer and jockey and it's not hard to see why oddsmakers circled Always Dreaming in red ink as a favorite even before the post-positions draw. Three wins in five starts, including one at the all-important Florida Derby, tends to do that—and bettors should keep these factors in mind when it comes time to make a play.
Classic Empire is a favorite, though of the comeback variety.
The Mark E. Casse-trained colt has five wins in seven tries, with wins at the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity Stakes in October and Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile sending whispers across the sport in regard to Classic Empire's chances at Churchill Downs and beyond.
After a slight injury hurt Classic Empire's chances at other events, the colt bounced back to take the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in April.
From a betting outlook, history, at least in a way, shines on the race's favorite, as ESPN Stats & Info captured:
Health permitting, Classic Empire certainly has the pace and late closing power to win, especially out of a strong 14th slot.
A strong Triple Crown candidate, bettors won't find much in the way of payouts with Classic Empire, as it should be.
Dark Horses to Know
Gunnevera might be the most interesting contestant at Churchill Downs this week.
The Antonio Sano-trained colt has won four of its last seven starts, most recently taking the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth before coming in third behind Always Dreaming at the Florida Derby.
But there are a couple of things at play here. For one, Sano has an incredible story as the survivor of two kidnappings in Venezuela, a story documented well by Marcus Hersh of Daily Racing Form (via ESPN.com). Two, Sano purchased Gunnevera for all of $16,000. Sano himself said he knew right away a win wouldn't be in the cards for the duo in Florida thanks to an outside post.
"When my horse for the Florida Derby drew post 11, I said right away, 'No chance. Two things: The post position no good, and on the day, the track was very fast. I lost a lot of lengths, and it was impossible with the track so fast for the closers to run. For me, I'm very happy with the race," Sano said, according to Hersh.
Going into Churchill Downs, Gunnevera is inside at the 10th gate and can close out in the way all involved prefer. That could spell trouble for the rest of the field, especially with a jockey as talented as Javier Castellano up top.
Of the three Pletcher horses involved in Saturday's affair, Tapwrit might be the underdog worth considering.
Tapwrit doesn't just have Pletcher running the show, but experienced jockey Jose L. Ortiz up top. The resume isn't overly impressive—not with the most recent win coming in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and none in a Grade 1 event.
But the positives aren't so simple. Using advanced metrics analyzing pedigree, Daily Racing Form's Joe Nevills argued Tapwrit is the best suited of any horse to run the distance of the derby.
President of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners Aron Wellman agreed, per Nevills: “With his scope and his pedigree and the efficiency of his stride, we certainly have more and more believed that the classic distance was going to suit him especially well.”
Wellman went on to suggest Tapwrit's flashes of form, especially in Tampa Bay, mesh well with the notion Tapwrit might turn a few heads at Churchill Downs.
This is the sort of analysis and deep dive bettors on the hunt for a profitable underdog should seek. Tapwrit, on paper, has the tools to run with the favorites this Saturday.