Kentucky Derby 2017: Race Schedule and Predictions for Top Contenders

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2017

ARCADIA, CA- NOVEMBER 5: Classic Empire with Julien Leparoux up wins the Breeders' Cup Juvenile  during day two of the 2016 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park on November 5, 2016 in Arcadia, California. (Photo by Horsephotos/Getty Images)
Horsephotos/Getty Images

Todd Pletcher's Always Dreaming, along with Gunnevera, rode by Javier Castellano, are among the leading contenders for the 143rd Kentucky Derby at Louisville's Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 6.

They will be joined by quality horses such as Girvin, Classic Empire and Irish War Cry. Classic Empire is a precocious talent, but the field is loaded for this leg of the triple crown in 2017.

Here are the schedule details for the race:

Date: Saturday, May 6

Time: 6:34 p.m. ET

TV Info: NBC

Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra

More Problems in Kentucky for Castellano

Expect more misery at Churchill Downs for Castellano, despite his talent and the pedigree of Gunnevera. The latter is a race-tested and battle-hardened Colt who runs with the varied pace to surprise a few in this Derby.

Few jockeys know how to guide a horse with the same subtlety and smarts Castellano displays in the saddle. However, the 39-year-old has not had the best experiences in Kentucky, according to Keith Sargeant of NJ.com: "Castellano has ridden in the Kentucky Derby 10 times. He's 0 for 10 in those starts. Not just 0 for 10, mind you, but he's never finished second, never even finished third."

It's a lot to expect Castellano to erase such a rough history in an event filled with riders and horses entering this race in better form.

Always Dreaming for Third

Among those in peak form, is the Pletcher-trained Always Dreaming. This horse recently won the Florida Derby with room to spare.

Always Dreaming dominated the field in Florida.
Always Dreaming dominated the field in Florida.Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images

In fact, Horse Racing Nation editor Brian Zipse dubbed the performance in Florida the "most impressive prep race for any horse that will be running on the first Saturday in May."

On its own, winning in Florida wouldn't necessarily endorse a horse's credentials as a potential winner. However, there is a historic link between Florida winners and subsequent success in Louisville.

Pletcher's influence will also be key, since no trainer has won more often in Florida. He will naturally be confident about the son of Bodemeister's chances.

However, three-year-old Always Dreaming won't set the fastest pace in the Run for the Roses, where he is likely to struggle with the one-and-a-quarter-mile distance. Instead, he will have to settle for a place at the foot of the top three.

Classic Empire Wins

Always Dreaming will miss out because Classic Empire will finally make good after overcoming injury to earn his chance at Chruchill Downs the hard way. Winning at the 2017 Arkansas Derby put the two-year old in this race and also proved the horse is over any lingering problems with a foot abscess that had many doubting his chances.

Classic Empire is healthy enough to win in Louisville.
Classic Empire is healthy enough to win in Louisville.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Actually, assistant trainer Norm Casse is confident Classic Empire is in good shape for Churchill Downs, per Jason Frakes of USA Today: "I think we’re going to bring over a fresh, healthy horse."

A fully able Classic Empire has the youth and stamina to outlast the pack and finish strong on May 6.

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