After the dust has settled on a huge Derby Trail weekend, Always Dreaming still my #1

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 9th 2017 – Updated April 10th 2017 (One Liner to miss Kentucky Derby)

The 2017 Kentucky Derby trail has been a wild and unpredictable one. The big Derby prep races yesterday (Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby) were no exception as not one single race favorite won. The big surprise was 31-1 longshot Irap winning the Blue Grass Stakes. Irap, a maiden winner, beat the previously undefeated McCraken yet he was badly beaten by over 8 lengths by Hence in the Sunland Derby two weeks ago. Go figure.

This is the kind of Derby trail season that has made every national handicapper look foolish or look for a part-time job. It has been marred by injuries to Mastery and Not This Time and inconsistency every step of the way it seems.  Now One Liner will miss the Kentucky Derby and undergo tests since he wasn’t acting right in his last workout.

I will state up front that, although I enjoyed all three Derby prep races yesterday, I am not high any of the winners. At least as Kentucky Derby potential-winning horses and I really wanted to be. In a final prep before the Kentucky Derby, I like to see winning times under 1:50 and final 3 furlong fraction times below 38 seconds. No horse achieved both of those standards yesterday. And the Santa Anita Derby was molasses-slow historically on a notoriously fast track. I was happy for trainer John Shireffs but Gormley‘s winning time of 1:51.16 was the fifth-slowest Santa Anita Derby at the 9 furlong distance.

Irish War Cry‘s 1:50.91 was the 11th slowest Wood Memorial Stakes since it was run at the 9 furlong distance starting in 1951. Folks, these races were run on dry, fast tracks and I’m sure some of these other slower times in the past were run in sloppy, off-track conditions if I had time to check.

That being said, after all three races had concluded, the NBC crew were pretty unanimous that Todd Pletcher’s Always Dreaming is now the Kentucky Derby favorite. Always Dreaming was my tentative Derby favorite entering this big Derby prep race weekend as you can see in my last Derby contender rankings. I thought so highly of Always Dreaming that I had submitted a Derby profile on him to US Racing last Tuesday evening that had to be shelved by my editor due to all the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep races going on this weekend. Needless to say, the timing of this profile probably got a lot better in the wait. Click HERE to read the profile.

Below are my Top Three Kentucky Derby Contenders. I have narrowed this down from six to three as I am keying on who can possibly be the favorite entering the Kentucky Derby. The Arkansas Derby next Saturday will be the final Derby prep race. After its completion, I will produce a top ten ranking list to aid in superfecta betting. And just because a horse doesn’t hit the board in their final prep race or in the Kentucky Derby, with additional training and maturity, a few horses go on to have outstanding careers.

Looking at how these final Derby prep race fields were shaking out a few weeks back, I really felt that the Arkansas Derby had the most top-end talent of any of the final Derby prep races. That includes the Florida Derby so get ready for a huge race at Oaklawn next Saturday.

Top Three 2017 Kentucky Derby Contenders

1) Always Dreaming  Always Dreaming is #1 in my rankings because he is the fastest horse that is guaranteed a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Bodemeister has a stalking race style and late speed that will bode well in the Kentucky Derby. His final 3 furlong fraction time was 36.6–an average speed of 36.9 mph. He coasted home in the last 1/2 furlong, winning by 5 lengths. So it appears that he had much more left in the tank and will be able to handle one more furlong just fine. Next Start:  The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6th.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Bodemeister (Finished 2nd in the 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time:  N/A (estimated 1:41.2 from his Florida Derby performance)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time:  1:47.472017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  97 – 2017 Florida Derby

2) 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).  Classic Empire has had issues in workouts with refusing to run at his Palm Meadows training center. So he was moved to Winding Oaks Farm in Ocala, Florida and has produced three straight bullet works: 1:01.40 in 5F on March 22nd, 59.30 in 5F on March 28th and 59.60 on April 3rd. Judging from his previous workout history, these times are as good if not better than what he produced before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race last fall. Next Start: The Arkansas Derby on April 15th. 

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 the 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.60 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

3) Malagacy – Another undefeated Pletcher colt in three starts. There were questions regarding how he would take to added distance but Todd Pletcher believed from training that he would handle the step up in distance well and he proved him right by winning the Rebel Stakes. See my Kentucky Derby profile of Malagacy on US Racing’s website by clicking HERENext Start: The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 15th.

Career: 3 Starts 3-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Shackleford (Finished 4th in the 2011 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey:  Javier Castellano 
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.00 – 2017 Rebel Stakes
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 97 – Gulfstream Park 2/12/17

Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Girvin (150), Gormley (125), Irap (113), Irish War Cry (110), Always Dreaming (100), Thunder Snow (100), Gunnevera (84), Practical Joke (74), J Boys Echo (63), State of Honor (62), Tapwrit (54), Malagacy (50), Hence (50), Fast and Accurate (50), McCraken (40), Patch (40), Battle of Midway (40), Battalion Runner (40) and Cloud Computing (40).  All have enough Derby points historically to earn a starting spot in the Run for the Roses.

Horses who are on the bubble or needing points in the Arkansas Derby (bold-fonted): Untrapped (34), Classic Empire (32), Royal Mo (30), Sonneteer (20), Petrov (13) and Silver Dust (1). There are always a few qualified horses that don’t run in the Kentucky Derby so 30 to 32 points may be good enough to get in this year as it has in the past. However, a poor performance by Malagacy in the Arkansas Derby could propel new horses into the mix and put a horse with 40 points on Derby Day scratch standby. 

I think it is going to take 40 points this year given the recent rumblings that the Irish-bred, UAE Derby winner Thunder Snow is coming over to race in the Kentucky Derby instead of the English 2000 Guineas.

On the docket…

My next blog will preview the Arkansas Derby which is scheduled for Saturday April 15th.