Updated 2017 Kentucky Derby Contender Rankings for Early March


2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

March 6th 2017

The 2017 Kentucky Derby is WIDE OPEN. Usually by this stage of the Derby trail season, I have a couple of favorites and one usually goes on to win the Kentucky Derby. There is a ton of talent in this year’s crop of Derby hopefuls but many have proven to be inconsistent or hampered by injuries thus far. 

My surefire early Kentucky Derby favorite, Not This Time, had to be retired due a soft tissue injury to his right front leg back in November. My next favorite, Classic Empire, has been hampered by a foot abscess that explained his lackluster performance in the Holy Bull Stakes. Now he is bothered by back issues and refused to run in his last workout at his Palm Meadows training center. This will set his training schedule back a bit but there is still plenty of time to get him healthy and entered in one of the final Derby prep races.

With as inconsistent as many of the 3 year-olds have been in my previous Top 10 Kentucky Derby contender rankings, I decided to limit my new rankings to the Top Six Derby contenders. As you can tell, I wasn’t blown away with the performances in the Gotham and Fountain of Youth Stakes. J Boys Echo received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 102 for his Gotham Stakes win despite a very pedestrian time of 1:46.34 for 8 1/2 furlongs. The 2nd slowest Gotham Stakes ever? 102 Beyer? To borrow a phrase from the character Spicoli in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High: TOTALLY confusing Mr. Hand. Perhaps on an off track but it was a dry, fast track?

Then Gunnevera received a preliminary 97 Beyer Speed Figure for his Fountain of Youth Stakes win, the same Beyer Speed Figure as Irish War Cry received in the Holy Bull Stakes, despite Gunnevera running the same 8 1/2 furlong distance on the same Gulfstream Park track–1.73 seconds slower. You’ve got to be kidding me Andrew Beyer. Expect both of these speed figures to be adjusted downward.

And to make the 2017 Kentucky Derby even more up in the air, my new #1 Kentucky Derby Contender, One Liner, doesn’t have a pedigree that suggests that he should be ranked #1. But sometimes with pedigrees, there is a paralysis in overanalysis. We will see how this plays out over the next 5 weeks. However, I have been scrambling ever since Not This Time was retired and Classic Empire’s foot abscess issues.

Top Six 2017 Kentucky Derby Contenders

1) One Liner – The undefeated son of Into Mischief. His win in the Southwest Stakes earned him a triple digit 102 Beyer Speed Figure, the best of this class in their 3 year-old campaign. I wrote a Kentucky Derby profile on him for US Racing that you can read by clicking HERE. There are questions regarding how he will take to added distance but for now, he’s my #1 for now. Next Start:  Undecided at this point. Todd Pletcher may opt to run him in one more race before the Kentucky Derby. That is risky as he may not earn enough Derby points if he falters with a third place or worse finish.

Career: 3 Starts 3-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Into Mischief
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:41.852017 Southwest Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2017 Southwest Stakes

2) Mastery His 8 1/2 furlong time of 1:41.56 in the Los Alamitos Futurity 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) McCraken – The son of Ghostzapper is undefeated in 4 starts. One of his big wins was in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. So there are no concerns of how he will take to the track surface at Churchill Downs. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th.

Career: 4 Starts 4-0-0-0   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: 1:42.45 – 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 95 – 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes 

4) Classic Empire – The 2-year-old Eclipse champion disappointed in the Holy Bull Stakes with a third place finish. Later it was found that he was suffering from an undetected foot abscess. He is American Pharoah’s half-brother. I was very high on the Pioneerof the Nile colt and wrote about him back in July (SEE).  He is tied with One Liner for the highest Beyer Speed Figure (102) in this class for races greater than 8 furlongs. Next Start: Unknown due to his recent back issues. However, trainer Mark Casse is still hopeful of entering him in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 8th. If this doesn’t pan out, he still has the Arkansas Derby the following Saturday.

Career: 6 Starts 4-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>3rd
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

5) Girvin – The Risen Star Stakes winner. His sire, Tale of Ekati, won the 2008 Wood Memorial and finished 4th in the Kentucky Derby. He has excellent closing speed. His Risen Star stakes time of 1:43.08 was 0.86 seconds faster than what Gun Runner accomplished the previous year (1:43.94). And Gun Runner finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. Girvin is probably not a Kentucky Derby winner but one to keep an eye on and on your early radar for your Derby Day exotic bets. Next Start: The Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds on April 1st.

Career: 3 Starts 2-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd>1st
Sire: Tale of Ekati
Trainer: Joe Sharp
Jockey: Brian Hernandez
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.08 – 2017 Risen Star Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 93 – 2017 Risen Star Stakes

6Royal Mo  The winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. A son of Uncle Mo like his half-brother Mo Town. Same owner/trainer combination as Zenyatta (Moss/Shirreffs) and his Derby trail rival Gormley. Next Start: The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 18th. 

Career: 4 Starts 2-2-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>1st

Sire: Uncle Mo
Trainer: John Shirreffs (2005 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Victor Espinosa (2002, 2014 & 2015 Kentucky Derby Winner)

Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.48 – 2017 Robert B. Lewis Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 93  – 2017 Robert B. Lewis Stakes

Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Gunnevera (64), J Boys Echo (53), Girvin (50) and Practical Joke (34). All have enough Derby points historically to earn a starting spot in the Run for the Roses.