In less than a month, the Kentucky Derby will be upon us. Though, historically, favorites have struggled in the Run for the Roses, the chalk has won the race four years running. With five of the six major preps for May’s showdown in Louisville complete (only the Arkansas Derby remains), you might think we’d have a clear-ish picture of who this year’s favorite will be. But it is still anybody’s guess who’s going to leave the starting gate as the chalk.
Let’s take a closer look at the horses that should be in the mix, nonetheless.
The Florida Derby-winner has won each of his three starts this year. The son of Derby-runner up Bodemeister, Always Dreaming needed three chances to break his maiden. After doing so in January at Tampa Bay Downs, he easily won a cheap optional claiming race as an enormous favorite in early March. He romped as the second choice in the Florida Derby, easily passing horses in the stretch to win by five lengths.
He’s four for five in his career after winning Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. After winning twice to begin his career in Maryland, he impressively beat Classic Empire and Gunnevera in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He also went three wide on both turns to reign in Battalion Runner as the 7/2 third choice in the Wood. However, as the even money favorite in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream in March, he finished seventh.
The Breeders Cup Juvenile champ has raced just once this year. Classic Empire finished third as the favorite in early February’s Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He looked washed out before that race and was well beaten. But he has four wins in six career races, and is two for two at Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is run. He’ll race on Saturday in the Arkansas Derby, and an impressive effort may make him the favorite at the Derby.
One of the more experienced Derby contenders in recent years, Gunnevera has run nine times and has four wins. His first three and last three races were all at Gulfstream Park. He was third in the Florida Derby after winning the Fountain of Youth and finishing second in the Holy Bull. He impressively scored at 9/1 in a field of five in August’s Saratoga Special.
He suffered his first career loss Saturday at Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes. His third-place finish as the favorite stings a bit more than usual because the winner was 31/1 maiden Irap. Three for three at Churchill Downs, McCraken won the Jockey Club Stakes in November, and made his season debut with a come-from-behind win over Tapwrit in February’s Tampa Bay Derby.
The winner of Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby has done all of his racing on the west coast. He was seventh in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, debuted strongly this year winning the Sham Stakes, and was a well-beaten fourth a month ago at the San Felipe Stakes. Reason for optimism: jockey Victor Espinoza has won the Derby in two of the last three years.
All four of his races have come at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, including his score in the Louisiana Derby. He won two races in February, including the Risen Star Stakes at 8/1. Girvin’s level of competition will be questioned, but he is three for four, and trainer Joe Sharp can consult his wife, former jockey Rosie Napravnik, on his preparations for Louisville. She won the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs twice.
Photo credit: By Jlvsclrk [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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