An unpredictable buildup to the 2017 Kentucky Derby produced the most predictable result. Odds-on favorite Always Dreaming galloped away from the rest of the pack at Churchill Downs to win the 143rd running of the event in Louisville.
In a pack of inconsistent horses, it was no surprise that an up-and-down three-year-old came out on top. As ESPN Stats & Info noted, the winner of the biggest race of the year went winless as a two-year-old:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Always Dreaming wins #KentuckyDerby, becomes sixth straight horse to win with a perfect record as a 3-year-old. Was winless as 2-year-old.2017-5-6 22:58:02
Although the favorite ultimately won for the fifth year in a row, it was a race that had some strong performances from more than one long shot and a disappointment or two from horses who were pegged as contenders.
NBC Sports provided a look at the whole race:
Here are the final results for the whole field followed by a breakdown of some of the best performances, biggest letdowns and a look at the chances that Always Dreaming can keep the streak alive and take the Preakness.
|2017 Kentucky Derby Results|
|1||Always Dreaming||John R. Velazquez||Todd A. Pletcher||-|
|2||Lookin At Lee||Corey Lanerie||Steven M. Asmussen||2 3/4|
|3||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||7 3/4|
|4||Classic Empire||Julien R. Leparoux||Mark E. Casse||8 3/4|
|5||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad C. Brown||9 1/2|
|6||Tapwrit||Jose L. Ortiz||Todd A. Pletcher||10 1/4|
|7||Gunnevera||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||13 1/4|
|8||McCraken||Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr.||Ian R. Wilkes||13 1/4|
|9||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John A. Shirreffs||14 1/4|
|10||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||H. Graham Motion||16 1/2|
|11||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steven M. Asmussen||18 1/2|
|12||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steven M. Asmussen||19 1/4|
|13||Girvin||Mike E. Smith||Joe Sharp||19 1/4|
|14||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd A. Pletcher||20 3/4|
|15||J Boys Echo||Robby Albarado||Dale L. Romans||22 3/4|
|16||Sonneteer||J. Keith Desormeaux||Kent J. Desormeaux||26|
|17||Fast And Accurate||Channing Hill||Michael J. Maker||28 1/2|
|18||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug F. O'Neill||40 1/2|
|19||State Of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark E. Casse||45 1/2|
|20||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||DNF|
Impressive Performance: Lookin At Lee
Always Dreaming is the one in the headlines. He'll see if he has a date with Triple Crown destiny after winning the Derby, but the best performance relative to the odds might belong to Lookin At Lee.
The Steve Asmussen horse came up 2 3/4 lengths from pulling off a huge upset over the favorite but created five lengths of separation between himself and the third-place finisher, Battle of Midway.
That's a pretty good return on investment for a horse that started off the day 22-1, according to OddsShark.
The payout on the surprise horse was the best of the bunch for his bettors, too:
|Kentucky Derby Payout Information (Based on $2 Bet)|
|2||1||Lookin at Lee||$26.60||$15.20|
|3||11||Battle of Midway||$20.80|
|Source: Lee K. Howard of CBS|
Now it'll be interesting to see if his connections decide to run the horse at the Preakness. It is a two-week turnaround, but after his run in Louisville, he may be one of the few horses in the field with the ability to keep up with the derby champion.
If they do choose to trot him out in Baltimore, don't expect to get him at the same bargain price. He's already proved he's worth much better odds than a longshot after getting second from the first post position.
Biggest Disappointment: Irish War Cry
Picking the favorite to win might seem like an obvious move. The favorite has claimed victory at Churchill Downs in five straight years now.
But Irish War Cry showed that those with the highest odds don't always deliver. The horse came in with some of the best odds to win and a surge of backers on race day, but he finished a disappointing 10th in the 20-horse field.
Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form noted some trouble out of the gate:
Jay Privman @DRFPrivman
Irish War Cry veered into McCraken, who crashed into Classic Empire leaving gate. Classic Empire did best of that trio, finishing 4th2017-5-7 01:33:06
Rafjiv Maragh—Irish War Cry's rider for the race—didn't blame the trip, though. His horse simply ran out of gas.
"My trip was ideal, what I was hoping for. He broke well out of the gate and got a good position," Maragh said, per KentuckyDerby.com. "He relaxed beautifully off the pace. Going into the turn, I seemingly had a lot of horse. I was ready to engage the five horse (Always Dreaming), he just kind of quit running on me.”
Mike Watchmaker of Daily Racing Form agreed with the rider's assessment, expressing what a lot of his backers must have felt watching the race:
Mike Watchmaker @DRFWatchmaker
I liked Irish War Cry. He had a perfect trip. He wasn’t good enough.2017-5-6 22:56:22
With a first-place finish at the Wood Memorial last month, it's easy to see why the horse was favored heading into a race against a questionable field. Instead, he turned out to be the prototypical example of the unpredictable nature of this event.
Preakness Favorite: Always Dreaming
As usual, a Derby winner has captured the imagination of horse-racing fans. After impressively defeating the entire field on a wet track by a sound margin, the question about another Triple Crown winner looms large as Always Dreaming heads to Maryland.
The next stop on the Triple Crown hunt is the middle jewel and the shortest track of the three.
Fans can expect a much smaller field in the second leg of the prestigious trio. With just two weeks between now and the short race, many owners and trainers will choose to sit out the Preakness in favor of resting for the third and final leg, the Belmont.
That means Always Dreaming will have fewer obstacles that could mess up what people will be hoping is a clean trip. But it also means the horse will be tested against new challengers the horse hasn't seen yet.
Always Dreaming demonstrated the versatility needed to win the Triple Crown. He had the speed to set the pace early on and the endurance to outlast the competition. Jockey John Velazquez was quick to praise his horse after the race as well.
"This is the best horse Todd and I have ever come to the Kentucky Derby with," Velazquez said, per John Cherwa of the Los Angeles Times. "Nothing against all the others, but this was the best horse. I got a good position early and then he relaxed. When we hit the quarter pole, I asked him and he responded. He did it himself from there."
A win at the Preakness where track conditions are likely to be different and he'll face more competition from unimpeded horses will be a better test as to just how special this horse is, but his chances of winning the next leg are good if his run at the Derby is any indication.