Classic Empire, Always Dreaming, McCraken and Irish War Cry headline a highly competitive field for the 2017 Kentucky Derby. A total of 20 horses are slated to take part in the first leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday evening.
Coverage of the undercard races at Churchill Downs will begin at 12 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network. The television availability will switch to NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET and continue through the day's main event, which is scheduled for just after 6:30 p.m. ET.
Let's check out all of the important details for the 143rd Run for the Roses. That's followed by a look at the complete race field and a breakdown of some horses to keep an eye on.
Where: Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky
Post Time: Saturday, May 6 at 6:34 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live
2017 Kentucky Derby Field
|2017 Kentucky Derby: Horses, Jockeys, Trainers and Odds|
|Post||Horse||Jockey||Trainer||ML Odds||Vegas Odds|
|1||Lookin At Lee||Corey Lanerie||Steve Asmussen||20-1||+3300|
|2||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||20-1||+1800|
|3||Fast and Accurate||Channing Hill||Mike Maker||50-1||+6600|
|4||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||30-1||+5000|
|5||Always Dreaming||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||5-1||+450|
|6||State of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark Casse||30-1||+3300|
|7||Girvin||Mike Smith||Joe Sharp||15-1||+1600|
|8||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steve Asmussen||15-1||+1600|
|9||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||20-1||+1800|
|10||Gunnevera||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||15-1||+1200|
|11||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||30-1||+2000|
|12||Sonneteer||Kent Desormeaux||Keith Desormeaux||50-1||+4000|
|13||J Boys Echo||Luis Saez||Dale Romans||20-1||+2800|
|14||Classic Empire||Julien Leparoux||Mark Casse||4-1||+425|
|15||McCraken||Brian Hernandez Jr.||Ian Wilkes||5-1||+600|
|16||Tapwrit||Jose Ortiz||Todd Pletcher||20-1||+2800|
|17||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||Graham Motion||6-1||+600|
|18||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John Shirreffs||15-1||+1800|
|19||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad Brown||20-1||+2500|
|20||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd Pletcher||30-1||+3300|
|AE||Royal Mo||Gary Stevens||John Shirreffs||20-1||n/a|
|AE||Master Plan||TBA||Todd Pletcher||50-1||n/a|
|Morning-Line Odds via KentuckyDerby.com; Vegas Odds via OddsShark|
Horses To Watch
Morning-Line Favorite: Classic Empire
Classic Empire being listed as the favorite, while not a major surprise, exemplifies the wide-open nature of this year's Derby. Just two races ago he was beaten by both Irish War Cry and Gunnevera, two of his foes once again Saturday, in the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes.
You're not going to find an American Pharoah or California Chrome in this group. At least not in terms of three-year-old racing ability. That's not necessarily a bad thing from an entertainment perspective, though. It should make for a close Derby with a thrilling finish.
While there's little doubt Classic Empire has the talent to win the Triple Crown opener, his lack of consistency is a concern ahead of his biggest race to date. His trainer, Mark Casse, told John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader he's hopeful his horse can put it all together at the perfect time.
"I've always said good horses win when everything goes their way; great horses win when nothing goes their way," Casse said. "And I think he's a great horse. But I guess we'll determine that (Saturday)."
Yes, he's the morning-line favorite and his triumph in the Arkansas Derby last month provided hope he might be peaking at the perfect time. But the lingering question marks make him a beatable favorite, especially with such a deep field set to take him on.
Biggest Threat: Always Dreaming
The post draw couldn't have gone much better for Always Dreaming. Along with landing in an ideal spot with the No. 5 stall—not too far inside, but still close to the rail—all of the other top contenders are bunched closely together on the outside.
That should allow jockey John Velazquez to control everything about the Florida Derby winner's trip. He can attack the rail quickly, keep tabs on the likes of Classic Empire, McCraken and Irish War Cry and decide when to make a serious push for the lead.
The only question is whether Velazquez will be able to control the colt's energy. He's been aggressive in workout sessions leading up to the Derby, and the one thing he can't afford is to break too fast and tire out before what's likely to become a crowded stretch run.
Emerald Downs track announcer Matt Dinerman discussed that boom-or-bust potential:
Matt Dinerman @3coltshandicap
Always Dreaming: he'll either run big or finish 14th. That's OK. I'm going for the gold: he's my pick to win The Derby!2017-5-3 23:25:49
Where Always Dreaming stands as they start the backstretch will say a lot. If he's leading or caught in an early speed battle way ahead of the pack, he's in trouble. If he's routinely stalking the lead while riding the rail, he should be the horse to beat when they turn for home.
Long Shot: State of Honor
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Typically, a horse whose only victory came in a Maiden Special Weight race almost seven months ago isn't even on the Derby radar. Yet State of Honor's resume is far more impressive when you consider every start rather than any single outing.
He hasn't finished worse than third in any of his last six starts. That run of strong showings includes second-place finishes to Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby and Tapwrit in the Tampa Bay Derby. He also placed third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes to McCraken and Tapwrit.
In other words, State of Honor is close. He's proved he can battle right alongside some of the top horses in the Derby field, he just hasn't been able to outrace them in the end. He'll have a chance in the often chaotic dash to the finish Saturday.
Amy Nesse of Past The Wire noted his workouts since arriving to Churchill Downs also suggest he could produce something special:
Amy Nesse @HorseGirlAmy
Coming in under the radar is State of Honor who has consistently been one of the most impressive horses at Churchill during Derby training.2017-5-4 19:22:14
Ultimately, State Of Honor is a long shot for a reason. He's still trying to show he can beat high-end competition. But there are enough positive signs to believe he can provide immense value. If nothing else, he's worth considering for exotic wagers as the place or show finisher.