Classic Empire is the early favourite to win the 2017 Kentucky Derby, with the big race set to go off at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 6.
The Run for the Roses is always one of the most anticipated chases in the racing world, with 20 horses and jockeys seeking to etch their name into history. Ahead of the post draws, it's Mark E. Casse's colt that leads the betting, ahead of Always Dreaming and Irish War Cry.
But one of the most endearing features of the Kentucky Derby is it's potential to surprise in the 143 times it's been run. Here's a look at the early odds and some focus on the horses in with a shout to win in Louisville.
|Kentucky Derby 2017: Odds|
|Irish War Cry||+800|
Figures are from sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark and are accurate as of 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Friday, April 28.
Classic Empire Tipped for Kentucky Triumph
Having been crowned as the two-year-old champion in 2016, Classic Empire knows how to come through in important races. However, there have been some minor doubts about his form at the start of the current season.
Most pertinently, in the Grade 2 race at Holy Bull, he came home in third position, with Irish War Cry winning and Gunnevera second.
Given both of those horses are set to line up in the Derby field, some punters will be hesitant to back Classic Empire. Although those who like to lump on the favourite will point to a return to his best at the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby earlier this month.
As noted by Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form, he has been looking in decent fettle in the buildup to the big race:
Always Dreaming will surely be well supported in the market, as he's been involved in some excellent displays this year.
At the Florida Derby on April 1, he was the victor in a dominant performance, while he also clinched a win at Tampa Bay Downs in January. Trained by the legendary Todd Pletcher, there's every reason to believe he has a fantastic chance of being crowned champion in Kentucky.
Per Horse Racing Nation, Pletcher revealed the horse has been in buoyant mood ahead of the big race. "Always Dreaming was full of himself this morning," he revealed. "He had an early ship yesterday, so he missed a day of training. He should be more settled tomorrow. I thought he got over the ground great."
Horse racing broadcaster Steve Byk captured Always Dreaming looking particularly quick in the buildup to the big race:
After beating Classic Empire at Holy Bull, many will look at Irish War Cry as a potential winner of this one. Although he slumped to a disappointing seventh place in the Fountain of Youth Grade 2 race in March, he's won on every other occasion in his short career so far, including a win at the Grade 2 Wood Memorial earlier this month.
One horse that will certainly be supported is McCraken, a Kentucky local that has already won around this iconic circuit. An injury hampered him at the Blue Grass Stakes, but if he's recovered, he has the pace to push the favourites.
According to Marcus Hersh of Daily Racing Form, the horse looks as though he's over the niggle:
Still, it's difficult to look beyond the top three in the betting, with Classic Empire showing excellent pedigree in the buildup to the race.
Granted, much depends on the post draw, and the favourite did flounder at Holy Bull. Still, the manner in which Classic Empire responded in Arkansas suggests that afternoon was merely a blip. Expect him to show emphatically that was the case with a big win in Louisville.
Prediction: 1. Classic Empire, 2. Irish War Cry, 3. Always Dreaming