The Kentucky Derby is having an unusual year. There is no strong favorite after the injury to Mastery in March. His fractured leg also leaves four-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert without a horse in this year’s Run for the Roses. Also, Wednesday’s post position draw did not hamper any of the realistic candidates to win the race. (Being on the extreme inside is particularly bad, and way outside isn’t ideal either.) Practical Joke (gate 19) can be downgraded slightly because of his spot. But all in all, the race is just as unpredictable post-post positions.
Let’s try to find some clarity, nonetheless, in a cloudy year.
Classic Empire (4/1) – Last year he was the best two year old in the country, going four for five, and winning the Breeders Cup Juvenile. However, his lead up to the Kentucky Derby got thrown off by health and behavior problems, and he has run just twice this year. After a clunker in the Holy Bull Stakes in early February, Classic Empire won the Arkansas Derby in April. While he might have the best overall resume of anyone in this race, from a speed figure standpoint, only his Beyer rating of 102 in the Breeder’s Cup is good enough to win the Derby. In other words, his four other victories likely are not fast enough to win on Saturday.
Always Dreaming (5/1 opening odds) – After going off as the favorite in each of his first two races last year, and finishing third then second, this year has been excellent for top trainer Todd Pletcher. Always Dreaming won a maiden race at Tampa Bay Downs by 11 lengths in January, crushed an optional claiming group at Gulfstream Park, and impressively ran away from the Florida Derby posting a career high 97 Beyer figure on April 1. He appears to be improving, and seems to like extra distance, which is required in the Kentucky Derby.
Irish War Cry (6/1) – The winner of the Wood Memorial, it is unclear what happened to him in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. Irish War Cry debuted with two wins over mediocre competition in Maryland, before a very impressive win at the Holy Bull Stakes in February. He returned a month later and finished seventh in the Fountain of Youth, but rebounded to coast home in the Wood. His last two wins have featured Beyers of 101.
McCraken (5/1) – He was four for four before finishing third as the favorite in the Blue Grass Stakes last month. Only his victory in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, in February at Tampa Bay Downs is anywhere close to strong enough to wear roses on Saturday night. He earned a 95 Beyer for that performance where he beat Tapwrit and State of Honor.
Gunnevera (15/1) – Javier Castellano has been the best jockey in the United States for several years, but has never hit the board at the Kentucky Derby. While Gunnevera is only four for nine in his life, with Castellano riding, he’s three for five. His only exceptional win came in the Fountain of Youth where he posted a 97 Beyer rating. He was second in the Holly Bull Stakes behind Irish War Cry, but had to steady in that event, and was six wide when not putting together his best performance, finishing third in the Florida Derby.
Practical Joke (20/1) – His number 19 post position isn’t ideal, and he has never run better than a 92 Beyer, which he earned when finishing second at the Blue Grass Stakes. However, he started his career three for three, has hit the board in all six of his starts, and has run competitively against most of the top candidates in this race.
Though favorites have traditionally not fared well at the Kentucky Derby, the chalk has scored in four straight events. Mastery would have been a deserving favorite, and in theory had a real chance at the Triple Crown. Without him, the race is wide open. Taking a short price is not advisable. If the pace is hot, which it very well could be with a few horses that prefer to be near the front, things could set up for someone off the pace. Gunnevera fits with this group, and will be at least 10/1, and maybe 15 or 20/1 at post time. He’s the pick on the first Saturday in May.
Photo Credit: Craiglduncan [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
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