2017 Kentucky Derby Contenders – Final 2 year old rankings

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

December 22nd 2016

As we head into the new year, below is my Top 10 2017 Kentucky Derby contenders. This my final ranking of the 2 year-old class of 2016. A snapshot in time of where I think the 2017 Kentucky Derby class is currently. As history suggests, things can change. Horses who had spotty success as 2 year-olds can mature and elevate into greatness as 3 year-olds. Even if they have a mediocre pedigree. Just review California Chrome’s career as one shining example. Nothing California Chrome did as a 2 year-old suggested the greatness that would follow. So you just never know, predicting future Kentucky Derby winners by their 2 year-old career is not an exact science.

Back in my September 8th blog titled2017 Kentucky Derby Watch List–Klimt leads the pack,I listed ten 2 year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls to watch. Towards the end of the blog, I wrote the following: “Especially keep an eye on any 2 year-old that jockey Mike Smith chooses to ride. A Hall of Fame jockey, Mike magically seems to find his way on some of the best horses.”

I am not Nostradamus but POOF, the Bob Baffert-trained, Mike Smith-ridden Mastery became the 2nd favorite behind Classic Empire in the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool in November after winning the Bob Hope Stakes. Then Mastery laid down a very impressive time of 1:41.56 in the 2016 Los Alamitos Futurity (shown below) a couple of weeks ago. This is the best 8 1/2 furlong (1 1/16 mile) time of any 2 year-old in this class. 

I still believe rather strongly that Not This Time would have been the 2017 Kentucky Derby winner had his career not been cut short by injury. That being said, I have been very high on Classic Empire and now I am very impressed with Mastery who appears to be his chief rival. In fact, I think this is your very early 2017 Kentucky Derby Exacta Box provided they both stay healthy. It will be hard to bet against Bob Baffert and Mike Smith with Mastery. 

Even though Mastery’s time through 8 1/2 furlongs is a full second faster than Classic Empire has run to date, I will add that Classic Empire’s run at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was more taxing due to the warm weather they had in the LA area that day. And given another month and cooler temperatures, I am confident that Classic Empire would be able to cut down his time.

And also note that Dortmund produced a time of 1:40.86 in the 2014 Los Alamitos Futurity and he finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. Had Mastery eclipsed Dortmun’s time, I would have ranked him #1.

So without further adieu, here is my final 2017 Kentucky Derby rankings for the 2 year-old class:

2017 Kentucky Derby Contenders

1) Classic Empire – My early 2017 Kentucky Derby favorite due to the unexpected retirement of Not This Time. He is American Pharoah’s half-brother. I have been very high on the Pioneerof the Nile colt and wrote about him back in July (SEE). Note that very few Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners go on to win the Kentucky Derby. But it can be done. Street Sense and Nyquist accomplished this rare feat. 

Career: 5 Starts 4-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Last 3 starts: DNF–>1st–>1st
Sire: Pioneerof the Nile  (Finished 2nd in 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.60 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

2) Mastery   Mastery received a 93 Beyer Speed Figure in his very first start, the best Beyer Speed Figure for a first-time starter in this 2 year old class. He followed this impressive maiden victory with wins in the Bob Hope Stakes (87 Beyer Speed Figure) and the Los Alamitos Futurity (91 Beyer Speed Figure). His 8 1/2 furlong time of 1:41.56 is the best so far from this class. Bob Baffert is very high on this colt. 

Career:3 Starts 3-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts:1st–>1st–>1st
Sire:  Candy Ride
Trainer: Bob Baffert (1997, 1998, 2002, 2015 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Mike Smith (2005 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:41.562016 Los Alamitos Futurity
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 93 – Santa Anita Park MSW – 10/22/16

3) Practical Joke The Chad Brown-trainee has two Grade 1 stakes wins. Practical Joke is the son of Into Mischief. I have some pedigree concerns and especially beyond 9 furlongs. But for now, he is really the most proven 2 year-old after Classic Empire.

Career: 4 Starts 3-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Into Mischief
Trainer: Chad Brown
Jockey: Joel Rosario (2013 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.84 (calculated) – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 90 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

4) Gormley He comes from the same owner/trainer combination that produced Zenyatta. He earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure with his win in the 2nd start of his career–the FrontRunner Stakes (shown below)–beating the race favorite Klimt. He followed this effort with a disappointing 7th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Since this was only his 3rd start, he deserves a mulligan because we know he can do better.

Career: 3 Starts 2-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts:1st–>1st–>7th
Sire: Malibu Moon
Trainer: John Shirreffs (2005 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Victor Espinosa (2002, 2014 & 2015 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.57 – 2016 FrontRunner Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 93 – 2016 FrontRunner Stakes

5) Klimt  Owned by Kaleem Shah and trained by Bob Baffert–the same combination that produced Bayern and Dortmund. Klimt’s sire Quality Road won the Florida Derby, Met Mile, Donn Handicap, Woodward Stakes. Quality Road suffered two quarter cracks that prevented him from competing in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Like Gormley in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a disappointing effort with an 8th place finish. Concerning is the fact that he has finished behind Gormley two races in a row.

Career: 6 Starts 3-0-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>8th
Sire: Quality Road
Trainer: Bob Baffert (1997, 1998, 2002, 2015 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Rafael Bejarano
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:44.05 (calculated) – 2016 FrontRunner Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94 – 2016 Del Mar Futurity

6) Gunnevera – The 2016 Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes winner (shown below). His sire Dialed In won the 2011 Holy Bull Stakes, the 2011 Florida Derby and then finished 8th in the Kentucky Derby and 4th in the Preakness Stakes. Gunnevera’s winning time of 1:45.15 was the 4th fastest Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes in thirteen runnings at the 8 1/2 furlong distance. Exaggerator won last year’s Delta Downs Jackpot in sloppy track conditions with a time of 1:46.48.

Career: 6 Starts 3-1-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>5th–>1st
Sire: Dialed In
Trainer: Antonio Sano
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:44.51 (calculated) – 2016 Breeders’ Futurity
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  87 – Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes

7) McCraken –  Undefeated in 3 starts, the son of Ghostzapper stretched out to 8 1/2 furlongs for the first time in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and passed with flying colors. As long as he stays healthy, pencil him in for the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs.

Career:3 Starts 3-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire:  Ghostzapper
Trainer: Ian Wilkes
Jockey: Brian Hernandez
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:44.15 – 2016 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 86 – 2016 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes

8) Three Rules – He finished 6th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Previously, he was undefeated in five starts at Gulfstream Park. His sire Gone Astray never raced further than 9 furlongs and his biggest win was the 2009 Pennsylvania Derby. I believe he will be one of the early favorites for the Florida Derby.

Career: 6 Starts 5-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>6th
Sire: Gone Astray
Trainer: Jose Pinchin
Jockey: Cornelio Velasquez
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:44.63 – 2016 Florida In Reality Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94 – 2016 Florida Dr Fagar Stakes

9) Mo Town – The son of Uncle Mo, so that makes him Nyquist’s half-brother. The recent winner of the 9 furlong Remsen Stakes (shown below). His winning time of 1:51.58 was way off of what Mohaymen produced last year in this race at 1:50.69. However, he did display a decent closing speed of 36.09 mph in the final 3 furlongs. For comparison purposes, Classic Empire had a closing speed of 35.02 mph in the final 2 1/2 furlongs of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. So keep a close eye on this one as a 3 year-old.

Career: 3 Starts 2-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>1st

Sire: Uncle Mo
Trainer: Anthony Dutrow
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:45.23 (estimated) – 2016 Remsen Stakes
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:51.58 – 2016 Remsen Stakes

Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 86 – 2016 Remsen Stakes

10) Lookin At Lee – Much like Steve Asmussen’s Gun Runner was this year, a very consistent horse thus far. He finished 2nd behind Not This Time in the Iroquois Stakes, 2nd behind Classic Empire in the Breeders’ Futurity and then 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Perhaps he will improve as a 3 year-old. His sire Looking At Lucky, finished 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Then as a 3 year old, he won the Rebel Stakes, finished 3rd in the Santa Anita Derby, finished 6th in the Kentucky Derby, then won the Preakness Stakes, the Haskell Invitational, the Indiana Derby and finished 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Career: 6 Starts 2-2-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>2nd–>4th
Sire: Lookin At Lucky
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:44.52 (calculated) – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 83 – 2016 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity


On the docket…

What was the most exciting horse race in 2016? There were many great ones but in my next blog, I will unveil my vote for most exciting race in 2016 with corresponding unpublished photos and video that I captured of this race. Plus I’ll give my picks for the Eclipse Award winners.

After this, I will preview the 2017 San Pasqual Stakes scheduled for New Year’s Day that is expected to be a Pegasus World Cup tune-up for Arrogate. Stay tuned!

-Michael

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