While long shots often have a better chance in the Kentucky Derby than most standard races, there's no reason to ignore the top contenders in this year's race.
Long shot players often know they have a great chance in the Run for the Roses because a 20-horse field makes for some unusual circumstances. Most races will see anywhere from six to 12 runners, and events with more than a dozen horses are quite unusual.
That's why a 20-horse field is so out of the ordinary and often dangerous for favorites. A trainer and a jockey may come to an agreement on the way the race should be attacked, but the sheer number of competitors may render a prescribed course of action as ineffective.
It's easy for horses on the outside to be shuffled far back in the race, while horses on the extreme inside or those who don't get away quickly can get boxed in against the rail and find it difficult to get out of those jams in this 1¼-mile race.
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|
Classic Empire is the favorite in the Kentucky Derby at plus-425, according to OddsShark. That translates to just a tick below 5-1 in standard horse-racing terminology (actually 19-4), and that's a robust figure for a favorite in any race.
Classic Empire is a powerful horse who has won five of his six career starts. Despite that impressive resume, his appearance in the Kentucky Derby looked questionable just a few months ago. He had a foot abscess that kept him out of action for three months, and he had a third-place finish when he did return.
Two more inactive months followed, but once Classic Empire returned to action again, he was healthy and in good form. He earned a victory in the Arkansas Derby in mid-April, and he appears prepared for a solid effort Saturday.
Classic Empire is trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Julien Leparoux, and he will start out of the No. 14 hole. While that post should allow him to avoid some traffic, it is not an easy spot to gain a victory. Carry Back won the 1961 Kentucky Derby from that slot, and he's the last horse to find the winners' circle from that position.
Casse believes his horse has done a lot and is in a position to do more on Saturday. "With the average horse, you couldn't do what we have done," Casse said, per Beth Harris of the Associated Press (h/t Boston Globe). "You need so many things to go right, and the good news with this horse is he's so talented he can overcome a lot."
Always Dreaming is the second choice at 9-2, and the Todd Pletcher-trained horse has won his last three races.
The most impressive of those wins was his performance in the Florida Derby April 1. That race always attracts a field of Derby hopefuls, and Always Dreaming was running extremely well at the finish line of this 1⅛-mile effort, and that should help him in the slightly longer Derby.
Always Dreaming is the son of Bodemeister, who was runner-up in the 2012 Kentucky Derby.
McCraken is the third choice in the race at 6-1 and will start one spot outside of Classic Empire in the No. 15 position.
McCraken started his career with four consecutive victories before settling for third place in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in April. The horse had turned an ankle in late February, and he may not have been at his best in that race.
Trainer Ian Wilkes said that injury was a minor one, but he did keep him out of action in March. He has been training regularly since the third-place finish, and he should be in a good position to run a strong race.
Irish War Cry is also a 6-1 shot, and that horse will start from the No. 17 hole. He will be ridden by Rajiv Maragh and is trained by Graham Motion.
While the trainer is not one of the most well-known names in the business, he successfully trained Animal Kingdom to a victory in the 2011 Kentucky Derby.
Irish War Cry has gone to the post three times this year, and he sandwiched victories in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct with a seventh-place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at the Florida track.
If Motion's horse can run to the form he showed in the Wood, he should be a classy competitor in Saturday's race.
Classic Empire is a strong, powerful and competitive horse, and while many handicappers like the idea of finding a long shot winner in the Derby, the belief here is that the favorite will do everything he has to do in order to gain the win.
Gunnevera, a 12-1 shot who will be starting out of the No. 10 hole, should come up with a big effort for trainer Antonio Sano and take second place.
Always Dreaming will fight hard, but Classic Empire will be too much for him down the stretch, and he will have to settle for the show position.
Horse racing information is from KentuckyDerby.com unless otherwise indicated.