The 2017 Kentucky Derby field is one of the most competitive in recent memory. The lack of a dominant favorite—a rare occurrence over the past handful of years—and a high number of horses with a realistic chance Saturday should make for a memorable Run for the Roses.
Classic Empire is the morning-line top choice following Wednesday's draw of starting positions, but the title of favorite could change hands before post time. Always Dreaming, McCraken and Irish War Cry are all contenders to break from the gate as the favorite in the 143rd running of the storied race.
Let's check out the entire group of horses for the first leg of the 2017 Triple Crown. That's followed by a look at how each post position has fared over the years and a breakdown of two Derby hopefuls who were most directly impacted by their placement for Saturday's showcase.
2017 Kentucky Derby Field
|2017 Kentucky Derby: Horses, Jockeys, Trainers and Odds|
|Post||Horse||Jockey||Trainer||ML Odds||Vegas Odds|
|1||Lookin At Lee||Corey Lanerie||Steve Asmussen||20-1||+2800|
|2||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||20-1||+1600|
|3||Fast and Accurate||Channing Hill||Mike Maker||50-1||+6600|
|4||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||30-1||+5000|
|5||Always Dreaming||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||5-1||+400|
|6||State of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark Casse||30-1||+4000|
|7||Girvin||Mike Smith||Joe Sharp||15-1||+1600|
|8||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steve Asmussen||15-1||+2200|
|9||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||20-1||+2500|
|10||Gunnevera||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||15-1||+1200|
|11||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||30-1||+2800|
|12||Sonneteer||Kent J. Desormeaux||J. Keith Desormeaux||50-1||+3300|
|13||J Boys Echo||Luis Saez||Dale Romans||20-1||+3300|
|14||Classic Empire||Julien Leparoux||Mark Casse||4-1||+425|
|15||McCraken||Brian Hernandez Jr.||Ian Wilkes||5-1||+650|
|16||Tapwrit||Jose Ortiz||Todd Pletcher||20-1||+2500|
|17||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||Graham Motion||6-1||+650|
|18||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John Shirreffs||15-1||+1600|
|19||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad Brown||20-1||+1600|
|20||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd Pletcher||30-1||+3300|
|AE||Royal Mo||Gary Stevens||John Shirreffs||20-1||n/a|
|AE||Master Plan||N/A||Todd Pletcher||50-1||n/a|
|ML Odds via KentuckyDerby.com; Vegas Odds via OddsShark|
Historical Wins By Post Position
|Kentucky Derby Wins By Starting Position Since 1900|
|Post||# of Victories|
Post Draw Takeaways
Biggest Winner: Always Dreaming
Always Dreaming is an example of a horse peaking at the right time. He debuted last summer and, while he displayed some serious potential, he failed to win his first two races. He's looked far more prepared for the Triple Crown schedule so far in 2017.
After breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park in March, the Todd Pletcher trainee won the Grade 1 Florida Derby last month against a field that included Kentucky Derby foes State Of Honor and Gunnevera. That performance secured his place among the top choices at Churchill Downs.
Drawing the No. 5 post further bolstered his chances. Not only is that the most successful starting spot dating back to 1900 with 13 victories, but the horses starting on each side of him are long shots. So jockey John Velazquez should have no trouble setting the pace he wants for his talented colt.
There were concerns earlier in the week about Always Dreaming perhaps being a little too aggressive during his workouts ahead of the race. Alicia Wincze Hughes of The Blood-Horse noted Pletcher downplayed those issues after witnessing progress Tuesday.
"The horse is moving fantastic. We want to be able to control that energy and I think we've made big strides in doing that overnight," he said. "I would much rather be in this position than to come in with a horse not feeling good or hanging his head."
All told, the race sets up perfectly for Always Dreaming. Velazquez will be able to keep close tabs on the other top contenders, who are all grouped closely on the outside, and can work down toward the rail quickly to cut down the amount of distance his horse needs to travel to get the win.
Biggest Loser: Patch
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Patch will be the sentimental favorite Saturday evening. He was forced to get his left eye removed last year after treatment on an ulcer under it didn't fix the problem. That didn't stop him from winning his second career start in February at Gulfstream Park.
He proceeded to finish second to Girvin in the Louisiana Derby last month to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Like Always Dreaming, he's trained by Pletcher, who told Jared Peck of the Lexington Herald-Leader the lack of experience is more of a concern than his lack of vision.
"It's a huge challenge for any horse to come in with only three races," Pletcher said. "Ideally, we'd love to have another start or two, but he also showed in only his third start and his first time around two turns that he was a strong-closing second in the Louisiana Derby.
"He's by a Belmont winner. He's out of an A.P. Indy mare. We think the (mile-and-a-quarter Derby) distance is ideal for him. If anything, the (mile-and-a-half) Belmont would be even a better distance for him."
Those comments are worth keeping in mind moving forward in the Triple Crown schedule. Assuming Patch doesn't win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, there's a good chance he'll skip the Preakness Stakes and could return for the Belmont Stakes as a well-rested threat.
In the short term, drawing the No. 20 post is terrible luck. Not only does the position rarely produce a winner, but the last horse to win from there was Big Brown in 2008. He was a colt with a unique blend of size and power that gave him the physical tools necessary to overcome the poor draw.
Patch isn't on the same level as Big Brown. He could have been a nice sleeper choice if he was placed somewhere in the middle of the field. But it's going to take a Herculean effort to win from the extreme outside, and that's a tough ask from a horse with so little experience.