Wednesday, May 3, 2017

143rd Kentucky Derby In-Depth Horse by Horse Analysis and Selections


The 143rd Running of the Kentucky Derby 
Churchill Downs 
Post Time 6:46 PM ET
TV: NBC 2:30-7:20 PM ET 
May 6th, 2017

This year’s Kentucky Derby is a competitive race with plenty of intrigue. There are many stories; from Gunnevera’s courageous trainer Antonio Sano, to the one eyed Patch, and the return of jockey Rajiv Maragh from a horrific injury. The favorite will likely be Classic Empire, the two-year-old champion who comes off of a win in the GI Arkansas, but that came after an interrupted and eventful preparation.  The weather is another story line as rain is in the forecast for Saturday in Louisville, but how significant it will be remains a question.

For the second year in a row, I was honored to be asked to do a Kentucky Derby preview podcast with Fort Thomas Matters’ Mark Collier. The link is below. If you listen on Itunes and like what you hear please like and subscribe to Fort Thomas Matters!

or listen to it on Itunes at “Fort Thomas Matters”

Below is my horse-by-horse analysis of the 2017 running of the Kentucky Derby in post position order as well as my picks. Enjoy and good luck!

1. Lookin at Lee   Trainer: Steve Asmussen   Jockey: Corey Lanerie   Odds: 20-1

Lookin at Lee enters the Kentucky Derby off a tough trip to finish third in the GI Arkansas Derby. This horse comes from way off the pace and may find himself at the very back of the field early on in the race. He’ll hope to come running late, but will need a clean trip and an ideal pace scenario up front. Lookin at Lee likely won’t be good enough to win the Derby, but if everything falls his way he has an outside chance to get up for third or fourth.

2. Thunder Snow (Ire) Trainer: Saeed Bin Suroor Jockey: Christophe Soumillion Odds: 20-1

Thunder Snow comes to the Kentucky Derby off of a win in the GII UAE Derby on the dirt surface at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. In the UAE Derby Thunder Snow was impressive; he was involved in the pace early and then was very game to run down the Japanese contender Epicharis in the final strides. Thunder Snow began his career in Europe where he became a GI winner on turf. This horse possesses quality and the ability to be successful on dirt. The questions regarding Thunder Snow are the quality of the horses he was defeating in Dubai and the amount of travel he has endured to come here. Thunder Snow deserves respect, but the combination of the step up in class, the quicker pace, and the amount of travel may prove to be too much.

3. Fast and Accurate   Trainer: Michael Maker   Jockey: Channing Hill  Odds: 50-1

Fast and Accurate comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a win in the GIII Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on their synthetic surface. This horse is miles behind the top horses in the Derby on form and will be the longest shot in the field. In his one career start on conventional dirt in a maiden race at Parx in Philadelphia he finished fifth beaten eleven lengths. Fast and Accurate will need to take a gigantic step up to be a contender on Saturday.

4. Untrapped Trainer: Steve Asmussen Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr. Odds: 30-1

Untrapped comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a sixth place finish in the GI Arkansas Derby behind morning line favorite, Classic Empire. He earned his points to qualify for the Derby by running third in the GII Rebel, second in the GII Risen Star Stakes, and second in the GIII Lecomte Stakes. Untrapped has not shown the talent to win any of his prep races, and will likely have trouble handling Saturday’s 10 furlong distance.

5. Always Dreaming Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: John Velazquez Odds: 5-1

Always Dreaming comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a dominating score in the GI Florida Derby where he sat just off the lead before taking over and powering away to a decisive victory. In three starts this year, Always Dreaming has progressed from a maiden win to a Grade 1 win in his most recent start. Always Dreaming has been training extremely forward since his arrival at Churchill Downs and seems primed for a big effort. The biggest concern with him is that he will pull too hard in the race. Ten furlongs is a demanding distance and if he is too keen early and fighting too hard with John Velazquez it has the potential to sap his energy late in the race. Although Always Dreaming typically has not pulled in his races, he has been quite headstrong in the mornings at Churchill, and it remains to be seen how this will translate into his afternoon performance. Always Dreaming is maybe the most talented runner in the race, and if he behaves himself on race day he is one of the horses to beat.

6. State of Honor Trainer: Mark Casse Jockey: Jose Lezcano Odds: 30-1

State of Honor comes into the Kentucky Derby one of the most experienced horses in the field. He earned his way into the Kentucky Derby by running second in the GI Florida Derby, second in the GII Tampa Bay Derby and a third in the GIII Sam F. Davis. In his ten starts State of Honor has only one win. He should be part of the pace early, and may even be on the lead. It would be an absolute shock if State of Honor won the Kentucky Derby.

7. Girvin Trainer: Joe Sharp Jockey: Mike Smith   Odds: 15-1

Girvin enters the Kentucky Derby off of two straight wins in New Orleans at the Fair Grounds. He won both the GII Risen Star Stakes and last out took down the GII Louisiana Derby.  In both races Girvin sat off of the pace and closed nicely to win. This horse is an undefeated 3/3 on dirt with his only loss being a close second place finish on the turf. In the Derby he gets the riding services of Hall of Famer Mike Smith, which is a great addition. Girvin is consistent and tries hard but there are two knocks against him. The first problem is the quality of the fields he was beating at the Fair Grounds. The Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby were two of the weaker prep races, and although he was winning, it was not against the quality of three year olds he’ll have to face on Saturday. The second problem is that Girvin has had an interrupted preparation having missed time last week with a foot problem.  Girvin will likely find the waters much deeper on Saturday and will struggle to make an impact on the finish.

8.  Hence Trainer: Steve Asmussen Jockey: Florent Geroux  Odds: 15-1

Hence comes into the Kentucky Derby off of an impressive win in the GIII Sunland Derby in New Mexico. In the Sunland Derby Hence came from way off of the pace to inhale the field and win in very impressive fashion, drawing away from the rest of the field. The Sunland Derby is typically not the strongest prep race for the Kentucky Derby, but this year may be different. Hence beat what would become a very good field in the Sunland Derby. The problem with Hence is prior to his win, the rest of his form gives him very little chance in this race. He has also become a bit of a “wise guy horse” as the horses he defeated in the Sunland Derby continue to run well elsewhere. If Hence fails to duplicate his performance in the Sunland Derby and reverts back to his prior form, he likely won’t make an impact on Saturday.

9. Irap Trainer: Doug O’Neil Jockey: Mario Gutierrez  Odds: 20-1

Prior to winning the GII Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at 33-1 in his last start, Irap had never won a race of any kind. Hailing from the same barn as last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Irap is one of the most puzzling horses in the Kentucky Derby field. Any one of his seven prior career starts leading up to the Bluegrass would give him little to no chance in the Kentucky Derby.  The quandary is if Irap replicates the run at Keeneland he is a serious contender. If the Bluegrass was just an anomaly of a performance, Irap won’t be a factor on Saturday. However, Irap may be part of the early pace scenario, but probably will not be around at the wire.

10. Gunnevera Trainer: Antonio Sano Jockey: Javier Castellano  Odds: 15-1

Gunnevera enters the Kentucky Derby off a third place finish behind Always Dreaming in the GI Florida Derby. Gunnevera was the favorite that day following his winning performance in the GII Fountain of Youth. However, in the Florida Derby he never made a serious impact after breaking from a far outside post. He was dropped to the rail leaving the gate and was taken way off the pace. He did show late interest and closed ground very late to finish third. Most people will point to the GII Fountain of Youth when assessing Gunnevera’s chances on Saturday. Actually an advantageous pace scenario may have the more significant factor in Gunnevera’s victory. The stars aligned for this horse in        the Fountain of Youth with the combination of a hot pace and other horses having an off day including Irish War Cry. Gunnevera will be a fairly short price on Saturday, and because of a questionable last win, is not likely to hit the board on Saturday.

11. Battle of Midway Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer Jockey: Flavien Prat  Odds: 30-1

Battle of Midway enters the Kentucky Derby off of a good second place finish in the GI Santa Anita Derby behind Gormley. Battle of Midway was right up on the pace before tiring in the last few strides. He is still lightly raced with four starts, two wins, a second, and a third. Battle of Midway should be right on the lead or close to the lead early on in the race, but whether he can hold on is another question. Battle of Midway is a talented horse, but just isn’t on the same level as some of the others in this field.

12. Sonneteer Trainer: Keith Desormeaux Jockey: Kent Desormeaux  Odds: 50-1

Sonneteer enters the Kentucky Derby still a maiden, which means he has never won a race. Sonneteer has had ten chances to get his nose down first but has yet to do so, and there is little chance that he will on Saturday. In his last start he was a closing fourth in the GI Arkansas Derby and prior to that he finished second in the GII Rebel. He is another horse who will be in the way back early on in the race and will need plenty of luck to pick through the field. It will take something close to a miracle for Sonneteer to win on Saturday.

13.  J Boys Echo Trainer: Dale Romans Jockey: Luis Saez  Odds: 20-1

J Boys Echo comes into the Derby off a lackluster performance in the GI Toyota Bluegrass Stakes. In the Bluegrass he sat off the pace prior to swinging out turning for home, but his kick was minimal as he ended up six lengths behind the winner Irap. Prior to his performance in the Bluegrass, J Boys Echo was an impressive winner of the GIII Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. If he can return to his best performance he is a horse at a price that can hit the board. He should be mid-pack or farther back and if the pace is quicker than expected he should be running late. He is slightly a cut below the best horses talent wise, but as the Derby has shown in the past that does not mean he cannot run on late for second or third.

14. Classic Empire Trainer: Mark Casse Jockey: Julien Leparoux  Odds: 4-1

Classic Empire is the likely favorite in the Kentucky Derby. He enters the race off of a professional win in the GI Arkansas Derby. Professional though, is not a word typically used to describe Classic Empire. His entire career has been a roller coaster. From wheeling at the start of the G1 Hopeful at Saratoga, to impressively winning the G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, and then this winter after being defeated as the heavy favorite in the G3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park he often refused to train. The Casse team training him was able to right the ship enough to bring him back in time for the Derby. Classic Empire probably deserves to be the favorite on Saturday given his entire body of work. He could win and it would not be shocking but he remains unpredictable.

15. McCracken Trainer: Ian Wilkes Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.   Odds: 5-1

McCracken enters the Kentucky Derby with three previous wins at Churchill Downs. In his last start in the G1 Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, McCracken was closer to the pace than normal. That may have dulled his kick a little but he ran well in the end to finish third behind Irap and Practical Joke. Prior to the Bluegrass, McCracken won the GIII Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in an impressive fashion. The plan for him was to follow up that win with a run in the GII Tampa Bay Derby, but he suffered a very minor injury prior to that race so trainer Ian Wilkes rerouted him straight to the Bluegrass. This could explain his first career defeat at Keeneland, it is possible that he was not at his best after the little layoff. McCracken should be at peak performance Saturday. Out of the twenty horses in the race, its most probable that McCracken will run in the top three. Combined with his love for Churchill Downs, and expected improvement off of his last race, McCracken will be a major factor in the Kentucky Derby.

16.  Tapwrit Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Jose Ortiz  Odds: 20-1

Tapwrit enters the Kentucky Derby off of a disappointing fifth place finish in the GI Toyota Bluegrass Stakes. In the Bluegrass, Tapwrit never picked up and finished well behind Irap, Practical Joke, McCracken, and J Boys Echo. A plausible excuse for his lackluster performance was that he did not take to the track and while the Bluegrass was an odd race, his lack of effort was disappointing. Prior to the Bluegrass Tapwrit won the GII Tampa Bay Derby with a decisive move on the far turn and extended in the stretch to win. The problem with the Tampa Bay Derby is the only other horse in the Kentucky Derby from the Tampa Bay Derby is State of Honor who is a big long shot. Over the winter Tapwrit really flourished on the surface at Tampa Bay and it moved him up. At Keeneland in the Bluegrass he found the competition much tougher, and will again find the competition too tough on Saturday.

17.  Irish War Cry Trainer: Graham Motion Jockey: Rajiv Maragh Odds: 6-1
Irish War Cry comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a very impressive win the GII Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct. In the Wood, Irish War Cry stalked the speed of the talented Battalion Runner before taking over in the stretch. The best part of the race was the last eighth of a mile where this horse really extended his stride and pulled away. Irish War Cry won his first two races at Laurel Park in Maryland prior to heading down to Gulfstream Park and winning the GIII Holy Bull Stakes over Gunnevera and Classic Empire. In his next start, the GII Fountain of Youth Stakes Irish War Cry was an even money favorite to win, but he disappointed finishing seventh. This race complicates Irish War Cry’s profile. Take out the Fountain of Youth and he is the favorite for this race, but it is hard to forgive that performance. Irish War Cry’s best performance makes him the horse to beat on Saturday.

18. Gormley Trainer: John Shirrefs Jockey: Victor Espinoza  Odds: 15-1

Gormley come into the Kentucky Derby off a win in one of the historically most important prep races the GI Santa Anita Derby. In the Santa Anita Derby Gormley was able to show a new dimension, rating off the pace prior to closing down the pacesetters to win. This horse ran really well to begin his 2017 campaign in the GIII Sham Stakes, but then was disappointing when finishing fourth in the GII San Felipe Stakes. It also must be mentioned that Gormley’s jockey Victor Espinoza has won the Kentucky Derby 3 times and is extremely experienced in big races. On paper Gormley looks solid but there are concerns. His last race came back very slow on the speed figures, and the quality of the race was abnormally weak. In addition, Gormley has never raced outside of California and five of his six career starts have come at Santa Anita, so this is a move outside of his comfort zone. Gormley will likely struggle to produce an effort satisfactory enough to compete.

19. Practical Joke Trainer: Chad Brown Jockey: Joel Rosario  Odds: 15-1

Practical Joke is one of the most consistent horses in the Kentucky Derby field. In six career starts he has three wins, two seconds, and a third. Practical Joke comes into the race off a strong second place finish in the GI Bluegrass Stakes. In the race he looked the winner turning for home, before not being able to run down the winner, Irap. Practical Joke has run around two turns three times, and each time he has made a winning move before getting tired and fading to either second or third. This indicates a distance problem. This is the longest race he has ever run in and the combination of his breeding and his race record show the longer distance in the Kentucky Derby could be a problem. Practical Joke will almost surely run his race on Saturday and probably will be in with a chance turning for home, but the ten furlong distance will end up being too much. Practical Joke is a key contender to finish third or fourth given his consistent nature, but a victory would be a surprise.

20. Patch Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione Odds: 30-1

Patch is the most inexperienced horse in the field, with only three career starts. What sets Patch apart from the field is that he has competed his entire career with only one eye. Patch comes into the race off of a second place finish behind Girvin in a weak renewal of the GII Louisiana Derby.  Patch will appreciate the extra distance in the Derby, and is probably one to keep an eye on in five weeks in the Belmont Stakes, but the Derby is going to be too tough.

Expected Pace Scenario

#3 Fast and Accurate
#6 State of Honor
#9 Irap
#11 Battle of Midway

#5 Always Dreaming
#14 Classic Empire
#17 Irish War Cry
#18 Gormley

Mid pack
#2 Thunder Snow
#4 Untrapped
#7 Girvin
#13 J Boys Echo
#15 McCracken
#16 Tapwrit
#19 Practical Joke

#1 Lookin at Lee
#8 Hence
#10 Gunnevera
#12 Sonneteer
#20 Patch

143RD Kentucky Derby Selections
1.    #17 Irish War Cry 5-1
2.    #15 McCracken 6-1
3.    #5 Always Dreaming 5-1
4.    #19 Practical Joke 15-1

Longshot- J Boy’s Echo 20-1