The Kentucky Derby is not just a horse race, it is a touchstone of American culture.
Not so much the culture of the 21st century, but to an earlier and seemingly more innocent time when horse racing, along with baseball and boxing, were the three sports that registered most with the American public.
Admittedly, that was a long time ago, perhaps going back to the first half of the 20th century. Since then, horse racing and boxing have dwindled in popularity and overall interest, but both sports still have their moments.
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, Predictions|
|Post Position||Horse||Jockey||Trainer||Odds||Predicted Finish|
|1||Lookin At Lee||Corey Lanerie||Steve Asmussen||33-1||20th place|
|2||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||18-1||15th place|
|3||Fast and Accurate||Channing Hill||Mike Maker||66-1||19th place|
|4||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||50-1||18th place|
|5||Always Dreaming||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||9-2||3rd place|
|6||State of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark Casse||33-1||9th place|
|7||Girvin||Mike Smith||Joe Sharp||16-1||7th place|
|8||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steve Asmussen||16-1||12th place|
|9||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||18-1||10th place|
|10||Gunnevera||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||12-1||2nd place|
|11||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||20-1||14th place|
|12||Sonneteer||Kent Desormeaux||Keith Desormeaux||40-1||17th place|
|13||J Boys Echo||Luis Saez||Dale Romans||28-1||6th place|
|14||Classic Empire||Julien Leparoux||Mark Casse||19-4||Winner|
|15||McCraken||Brian Hernandez Jr.||Ian Wilkes||6-1||8th place|
|16||Tapwrit||Jose Ortiz||Todd Pletcher||28-1||11th place|
|17||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||Graham Motion||6-1||5th place|
|18||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John Shirreffs||18-1||4th place|
|19||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad Brown||25-1||16th place|
|20||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd Pletcher||33-1||13th place|
|OddsShark; Silverman predictions|
Horse racing's moment comes Saturday, which happens to be the first Saturday in May. That day is reserved for the Kentucky Derby.
Not reserved exclusively, as there will be playoff games in the NBA and NHL, and Major League Baseball has a full slate of games.
But most sports fans know and will have an internal clock ticking throughout the day because post time for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby is at 6:34 p.m.
Those that are at Churchill Downs in Louisiville, Kentucky, and the millions that watch on television should have an entertaining and competitive race on their hands.
Classic Empire has settled in as the slight favorite over Always Dreaming, and those two could battle it out head-to-head once the field reaches the top of the stretch. However, in a crowded 20-horse field that requires the use of two starting gates, anything could happen, and the best horses don't always win.
Classic Empire comes into the race as a plus-425 favorite, according to OddsShark. That's nearly the equivalent of 5-1 in standard horse racing odds (19-4, to be precise), and that's a fairly robust figure for a favorite.
Always Dreaming is right behind at 9-2, and both horses have performed well to this point in their careers.
Classic Empire is trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Julien Leparoux. He has won five of six races lifetime, including a winning performance in the Arkansas Derby last month.
That win came after a third-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes, which was run at Gulfstream Park in February. Classic Empire had a foot abscess that was bothering him earlier in the year, and that problem had much to do with his non-winning performance in the Holy Bull.
However, Casse's horse was able to recover nicely, and his performance in the Arkansas Derby indicates that he should be healthy for the Derby.
"It’s been a crazy road, but we’re right where we want to be," Casse said, per Beth Harris of the Associated Press (h/t the Boston Globe).
Always Dreaming is trained by Todd Pletcher, and he has won his last three races. The most recent of those efforts came in New York's Wood Memorial, and that win should allow his handlers to be quite confident about their chances.
The horse tends to run near the front of the pack, and that's a good strategy to avoid getting caught in traffic in the 20-horse field. However, if the pace is too fast, jockey John R. Velazquez may have to slow him down to preserve his stretch-running talent.
Gunnevera is one of the top long shots in the field at odds of 12-1. He is trained by Antonio Sano and ridden by Javier Castellano, and he has hit the board in all three of his races this year.
His best performance was a victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in March, but he could only finish third in the Florida Derby.
Gunnevera has the type of pedigree that should allow him to finish well in the 1¼-mile Kentucky Derby. If he can avoid traffic in the first part of the race, he could be a major factor.
Despite the fact that the Kentucky Derby has been won by several long shots over the years, we like Classic Empire to come out with a strong effort.
He has been quite consistent over his career, and he has recovered from his foot ailment. Classic Empire should be the first horse under the wire.
Upset-minded Gunnevera will perform well and take second, while Always Dreaming will take third place.
Horse racing information is from KentuckyDerby.com unless otherwise indicated.