The first leg of the Triple Crown figures to be a wide-open affair this year. The 20-horse field is part of the rationale for that, and so is the Kentucky Derby's history of long shots coming through to win the event.
Throw in a questionable weather forecast that could result in less-than-optimum conditions, and it could result in surprise contenders hitting the board with boxcar numbers.
While California Chrome, American Pharoah and Nyquist—the three most recent winners—came through at short prices, Animal Kingdom triumphed at 20-1 in 2011 and I'll Have Another won as a 15-1 long shot the following year. Mine That Bird won as a 50-1 shot in 2009.
Always Dreaming is the favorite in this year's event with odds of 4-1, according to OddsShark. (The gambling website lists the odds at +400, which translates to the standard odds used previously).
The Kentucky Derby will be held Saturday at Churchill Downs, and post time for the event is 6:34 p.m. ET. The race will be televised by NBC.
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
|2017 Kentucky Derby|
|1||Lookin At Lee||Corey Lanerie||Steve Asmussen||28-1|
|2||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||16-1|
|3||Fast and Accurate||Channing Hill||Mike Maker||66-1|
|4||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||50-1|
|5||Always Dreaming||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||4-1|
|6||State of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark Casse||40-1|
|7||Girvin||Mike Smith||Joe Sharp||16-1|
|8||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steve Asmussen||22-1|
|9||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||25-1|
|10||Gunnevera||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||12-1|
|11||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||28-1|
|12||Sonneteer||Kent Desormeaux||Keith Desormeaux||33-1|
|13||J Boys Echo||Luis Saez||Dale Romans||33-1|
|14||Classic Empire||Julien Leparoux||Mark Casse||19-4|
|15||McCraken||Brian Hernandez Jr.||Ian Wilkes||13-2|
|16||Tapwrit||Jose Ortiz||Todd Pletcher||25-1|
|17||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||Graham Motion||13-2|
|18||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John Shirreffs||16-1|
|19||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad Brown||16-1|
|20||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd Pletcher||33-1|
Always Dreaming drew the No. 5 post Wednesday, and while that's close to the inside, jockey John Velazquez should be able to avoid the trouble that the extreme inside (No. 1 and 2 slots) often have in this race.
Always Dreaming comes into the Kentucky Derby having won his last three races, including the Florida Derby on April 1. He has shown his versatility by winning on both fast and slow tracks, and he is usually at his best as he is approaching the wire.
If Velazquez doesn't get hemmed in by the traffic, which is always a possibility in the Run for the Roses, he should have plenty of horse when he reaches the stretch. That's when the jockey will ask his mount to run full out, and he should have an excellent chance of accomplishing his goal.
Always Dreaming has been overly aggressive since arriving at Churchill Downs, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.
"For whatever reason, he's been more aggressive since we've been here at Churchill," Pletcher said, per Dan Wolken of USA Today. "The gallop on Saturday was good and (Sunday's) was too strong, so we had to make a change."
Classic Empire is the second favorite just days before the race, and jockey Julien Leparoux has a horse with excellent credentials.
Classic Empire has won five of his six races, including all four as a two-year old. However, he was slowed earlier this year with a foot abscess and ran third in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February.
While he was clearly laboring in that race, he bounced back with a win in the Arkansas Derby in April. Classic Empire has drawn the No. 14 post, and a decent start will allow him to run his race without getting shuffled back too far in the pack.
Girvin represents some excellent value at odds of 16-1. He is ridden by jockey Mike Smith and will start out of the No. 7 hole.
Girvin has done well in winning three of four races in his career, but all of his racing has been done at Louisiana Downs. His victory in the Louisiana Derby April 1 was impressive, but now he will meet horses that have been running in Florida, California and New York, and the upgrade in competition could be an issue when the gate opens up.
Gunnevera is another horse that should have a chance to produce a big payoff to his backers if he can be successful. Gunnevera will take off from the No. 10 post, and he is listed as a 12-1 shot at this point.
Gunnevera is trained by Antonio Sano and ridden by Javier Castellano, and he comes into the Derby after a third-place finish in the Florida Derby. That may be an indication that he might fall just a bit short in this race, but he won the Fountain of Youth Stakes in his previous race.
If he can run back to that form, Sano could have a strong contender with his first Kentucky Derby runner.
This should be a tremendous race, and the results may have more to do with tactics than flat-out speed or talent.
We will look for Always Dreaming to get a decent break and stay somewhere in the middle of the pack. He will turn it on around the far turn, and when he hits mid-stretch, he will find his fastest gear.
That surge should be enough to get him the victory in the Run for the Roses, with Gunnevera second and Girvin finishing third.