Updated 2017 Kentucky Derby Contender Rankings – Classic Empire still #1

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

January 31st 2017

The 2017 Kentucky Derby trail is in full swing with a new major contender added to the fray and Derby trail points leader, Classic Empire, set to race this coming Saturday in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. As I have said multiple times in my previous blogs, the 2017 Kentucky Derby class is a very talented and deep one despite the unexpected early retirement of Not This Time due to injury. So 2017 is going to be an exciting season for 3 year-olds and then we have two dynamic stars in Songbird and Arrogate in the older horse division. 

Below are my early favorites for the final Derby prep races. A lot can change over the next couple of months but these horses appear to be the front-runners right now. Note that Klimt, now under the training of Art Sherman, will not be pointed  towards the Kentucky Derby as he will be given time off :

Louisiana Derby – Lookin At Lee
Florida Derby – Classic Empire
Wood Memorial – Practical Joke
Santa Anita Derby – Mastery
Blue Grass Stakes – McCraken
Arkansas Derby – Uncontested

Below is my updated Top 10 Kentucky Derby Contender rankings. A few horses have moved up or down due to how they have been training:

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. Next Start: The Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 4th.

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.  Next Start: The San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park on March 11th

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) Gormley He comes from the same owner/trainer combination that produced Zenyatta. He earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure in the 2nd start of his career–the FrontRunner Stakes–beating the race favorite Klimt. He followed this effort with a disappointing 7th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He is a talented horse and bounced back like I thought he would with a nice win and 94 Beyer Speed Figure in the Sham Stakes on January 7th. Next Start: The San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park on March 11th

Career: 4 Starts 3-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>7th–>1st
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: 94 – 2017 Sham Stakes

4) Uncontested   My early Arkansas Derby favorite. The winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes produced a record-breaking time of 1:36.32 in sloppy conditions over this two-turn 1 Mile race at Oaklawn Park. He received a 96 Beyer Speed Figure. Add another half furlong of his prorated final fraction time of 12.84 and his time would have been 1:42.74 through 8 1/2 furlongs. For comparison, American Pharoah ran a 1:45.78 in the sloppy 8 1/2 furlong Rebel Stakes in 2015 at Oaklawn Park. Uncontested has a good pedigree. As a 2 year old, his sire Tiz Wonderful was undefeated in 3 starts and produced Beyer Speed Figures of 99 and 101 before taken off the Derby trail in January of his 3 year-old campaign due to injury. His grand sire Tiznow won two Breeders’ Cup Classics. His grandsire on his dam’s side, Lil E. Tee, won the 1992 Kentucky Derby. So he should like added distance and be one to watch closely going forward. I would rank him higher, just need a dry, fast track win for confirmation. Next Start: The Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on February 20th.

Career:3 Starts 2-0-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts:1st–>4th–>1st
Sire:  Tiz Wonderful
Trainer: Wayne Catalano 
Jockey: Channing Hill
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:44.97 (calculated) – 2016 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 96 – 2016 Smarty Jones Stakes

5) 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. Next Start: The Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on February 11th.

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

6) 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. Next Start: The Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on March 4th.

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

7) Three Rules – Surprisingly he was left off Mike Battaglia’s 2nd Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool. In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he ran 3rd in the early portion of the race and finished 6th after getting off to poor start out of the gate. 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. Next Start: Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 4th.

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

8) 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. Next Start: The Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 4th.

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

9) Lookin At Lee – Much like Steve Asmussen’s Gun Runner was last 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 and he is training well at the Fair Grounds. 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. Next Start: An educated guess, the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds on February 25th.

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

10) 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. Next Start: Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on March 4th.

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


 On the docket…

My next blog will preview the Holy Bull Stakes and the San Antonio Handicap. The Holy Bull Stakes is expected to include three of my top 10 Derby contenders in Classic Empire, Three Rules, Gunnevera. Expected entries in the San Antonio Handicap are Melatonin, Hoppertunity, Dalmore, Mor Spirit and Accelerate.

–Michael

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