It still seems odd to say—Saturday at Churchill Downs, 20 colts will look to become the next American Pharoah.
Up until two years ago, the above sentence swapped out the impressive Bob Baffert-trained colt for Affirmed, the only Triple Crown winner dating back to 1978.
But American Pharoah pulled off the feat in 2015 after a tease at the accomplishment put on the year prior by California Chrome. Now the sporting world seeks another colt capable of pulling off one of the most difficult accomplishments ever, perhaps more so now that they've had a recent taste compared to the complacency of the lengthy drought.
Can this year's field supply the globe another sought-after winner? Hard to say, but Saturday's event features some interesting favorites ready to make a run at history.
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
Prize Money: $2 million purse, with $1.24 million going to the winner, according to Sporting News.
Kentucky Derby Entries
|Post Position||Horse||Jockey||Trainer||Odds||Predicted Finish|
|1||Lookin At Lee||Corey Lanerie||Steve Asmussen||33-1||16|
|2||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||18-1||13|
|3||Fast and Accurate||Channing Hill||Mike Maker||66-1||17|
|4||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||50-1||12|
|5||Always Dreaming||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||9-2||2|
|6||State of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark Casse||33-1||11|
|7||Girvin||Mike Smith||Joe Sharp||16-1||10|
|8||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steve Asmussen||16-1||14|
|9||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||18-1||15|
|10||Gunnevera||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||12-1||5|
|11||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||20-1||19|
|12||Sonneteer||Kent Desormeaux||Keith Desormeaux||40-1||20|
|13||J Boys Echo||Luis Saez||Dale Romans||28-1||9|
|14||Classic Empire||Julien Leparoux||Mark Casse||19-4||1|
|15||McCraken||Brian Hernandez Jr.||Ian Wilkes||6-1||6|
|16||Tapwrit||Jose Ortiz||Todd Pletcher||28-1||7|
|17||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||Graham Motion||6-1||4|
|18||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John Shirreffs||18-1||3|
|19||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad Brown||25-1||8|
|20||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd Pletcher||33-1||18|
Based on the odds above, readers can see two favorites have pulled away from the field.
It's not hard to see why.
Classic Empire, trained by Mark Casse, looks like the most dominant colt in the proceedings. No other tandem boasts a resume capable of matching Classic Empire's Grade 1 triumphs. The proverbial icing on the cake was bouncing back from injury to take the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
The other big shot on Saturday is Todd Pletcher's Always Dreaming. Analysis could end there given the name of the trainer, but it's important to point out the colt took down the Grade 1 Florida Derby—usually a good indicator of success at Churchill Downs—and runs out of the fifth post, which has produced 13 winners.
As one could come to expect based on the above, Classic Empire and Always Dreaming headline the pre-Derby Triple Crown odds.
Here is a look at the full list ahead of the Kentucky Derby, according to Chris White of the Courier-Journal:
|Lookin At Lee||60-1|
|Fast and Accurate||400-1|
|State of Honor||250-1|
|Battle of Midway||100-1|
|J Boys Echo||60-1|
|Irish War Cry||20-1|
Favorites aside, there are other interesting options to keep an eye on ahead of the sprint.
Gormley is a good example. The colt has a decent payout in Saturday's event and a notable one for the Triple Crown outlook—and ignoring it would be unwise. After all, three-time Kentucky Derby winner Victor Espinoza will sit up top. Remember, he's the guy who directed both California Chrome and American Pharoah, and he sounds rather confident going into Saturday.
"If I can get him in a good position, he can do what I know he can do," Espinoza said, according to Steve Andersen of Daily Racing Form (via ESPN.com). "I want to put him in the right direction. I like the way he's going. He's a happy horse."
Speaking of top jockeys, don't ignore Javier Castellano, arguably the best in the sport right now. His colt, Gunnevera, has surprisingly strong odds Saturday out of the 10th post, which has produced as many winners, and his Triple Crown odds aren't too shabby either.
Perhaps most notable is the fact Castellano made a point to hand pick Gunnevera this year.
"He told me that he wanted to ride this horse," Gunnevera's trainer Antonio Sano said, according to the Associated Press' Tim Reynolds (via Ohio.com). "He called me and said that. That meant very much."
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Triple Crown talk will pick up in a big way starting Saturday afternoon as soon as the event spits out a winner. It always seems a little premature, especially in a day and age where owners and trainers hold out horses until the second or third leg of the Triple Crown in an effort to win those events specifically.
The Triple Crown, as a result, is harder to accomplish than ever. But oddsmakers out of Las Vegas clearly haven't shied away from some of the top names this year, nor do some other notable payout lines look impossible.
Generally speaking, favorites have ruled the day over the past few years, hence the projections in the table above. But given the parity and spread of trainer, jockey and sheer colt talent throughout the table, it's clear Saturday will be entertaining no matter who takes the win, setting off a frenzy in the process.