Updated 2017 Kentucky Derby Contender Rankings

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 16th 2017 – Updated April 24th 2017

After a wild Derby prep season that was marred by inconsistency and top contenders getting taken off the Derby Trail due to injury, below are my Top Five Kentucky Derby contenders and projected morning line odds. I feel that these six horses have the best chance of finishing in the money.  This can change based upon scratches as I like at least one horse who is on the outside looking in as far as Derby points. But Always Dreaming is my #1. The Kentucky Derby is most often won by the horse who gets to the 1 1/8th mile mark first and a closer or two often sneak into the superfecta. 

However, this has been kind of a weird year and I expect that the 2017 Kentucky Derby will be wide-open and exciting. I kind of get the sense that the year’s Derby could be one like we had in 2008 when 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird won.

Update: I was really high on Conquest Mo Money but his ownership has decided not to pay the $200,000 fee to enter the Kentucky Derby and focus on preparing for the Preakness Stakes. Cloud Computing is another eligible Derby runner who will skip the Run for the Roses.

At any rate, here are my top five and I will have a Top 10 out by tomorrow (Sunday April 23rd).

Top Five Kentucky Derby Contenders

1) Always Dreaming (3/1)  Always Dreaming is #1 in my rankings because he is the fastest horse in this Kentucky Derby field. His 1:47.47 in the Florida Derby is the best 9 furlong time in this class. The son of Bodemeister has a stalking race style and late speed that will bode well in the Kentucky Derby. I wrote a Derby profile on Always Dreaming for US Racing which can be accessed by clicking HERE.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>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 1/8th Mile Time:  1:47.472017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 972017 Florida Derby

2) Classic Empire (7/2) – The 2-year-old Male Champion proved he is back with his brilliant run in the Arkansas Derby (94 Beyer Speed Figure). He ran a great race and showed me something I hadn’t seen from him before dealing with traffic. For a brief moment, I didn’t think he was going to win. Somewhere between the 1/2 mile and 3/4th mile mark, he got boxed into group of horses. However, he managed to get clear, and when he did, he started making his move and then mowed down the field in the stretch. Classic Empire is American Pharoah’s half-brother. I was very high on the Pioneerof the Nile colt and first wrote about him back in July (SEE).  He will try to join Street Sense and Nyquist as Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champions who went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Career: 7 Starts 5-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Last 3 starts: 1st–>3rd—>1st
Sire: Pioneerof the Nile (Finished 2nd in the 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.93 – 2017 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile 

3) Gunnevera (12/1) – The 2016 Delta Downs Jackpot and 2017 Fountain of Youth Stakes winner. 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. His closer style of racing, late speed and the additional furlong he’ll get in the Kentucky Derby should make him more of a factor at the end than he was in the Florida Derby. Having finished third in the Florida Derby should keep him a bit under the radar on Derby Day. I would recommend putting a closer or two in your Superfecta bets and Gunnevera has the most upside of any of the closers in this class.

Career: 7 Starts 3-1-1-1   
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Dialed In (Finished 8th in 2011 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Antonio Sano
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.51 (estimated) – 2017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 972017 Fountain of Youth Stakes

4) Hence (15/1) – If you read my blog last week on Kentucky Derby sleepers, you will understand why I like this Steve Asmussen-trained colt. His 9 furlong time, speed figures and final 3 furlong fraction time in his last race put him squarely in the top 5 of this class. He probably won’t get this same respect from bettors or other national handicappers. But if you are looking for a Derby Day sleeper in what has been a chaotic and unpredictable Derby trail season thus far, Hence and Gunnevera are probably your two best choices. With the way that Conquest Mo Money ran in the Arkansas Derby, Hence’s 3 3/4th length win over Conquest Mo Money in the Sunland Derby looks better and better.

Career: 6 Starts 2-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts:  1st–>7th–>1st
Sire:  Street Boss
Trainer: Steve Asmussen 
Jockey: Alfredo Juarez 
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.10 – 2017 Sunland Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 932017 Sunland Derby

5) Girvin (10/1) – The Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby 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 huge threat to win the Kentucky Derby winner but he should be one to consider in your Derby Day exotic bets. 

Career: 4 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd>1st–>1st
Sire: Tale of Ekati (Finished 4th in the 2008 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Joe Sharp
Jockey: Mike Smith (2005 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.77 – 2017 Louisiana Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  93 – 2017 Risen Star Stakes

Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Girvin (150), Classic Empire (132), 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), Battle of Midway (40), Patch (40), Battalion Runner (40) and Untrapped (34).

Lookin At Lee (32), Sonneteer (30) are on outside looking in and hoping for defections or scratches.  

Projected Kentucky Derby Odds 

Below are my early projected Kentucky Derby morning line odds that Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battaglia will set.  Battaglia has gone on record stating that he saw enough from Classic Empire to make him the favorite.

Classic Empire (3/1), Always Dreaming (4/1), Irish War Cry (10/1), Girvin (10/1), Irap (12/1), Gunnevera (12/1), Gormley (12/1), McCraken (15/1), Hence (15/1), Patch (15/1), Malagacy (20/1), State of Honor (20/1), Thunder Snow (20/1), Practical Joke (20/1), Battalion Runner (20/1), Battle of Midway (30/1), Tapwrit (30/1), J Boys Echo (30/1), Cloud Computing (50/1) and Fast and Accurate (50/1).

On the docket…

My next blog will provide a more in-depth look at the projected Kentucky Derby field. I will have this out Sunday evening April 23rd.



  1. Peter Setiawan · April 17, 2017

    Good morning I am waiting for your final kd pick

    Best PS


    • Michael J. Cox · April 20, 2017

      I will wait for post-positions to be drawn and the projected weather report. I think Claasic Empire will have a tough time beating Always Dreaming if CE gets a far outside post. And if it rains it always adversely affects speed horses.


  2. Anonymous · April 27, 2017

    do you think classic empire will bounce off his effort in the Ark. Derby it was his first race in 2.5 months


    • Michael J. Cox · April 27, 2017

      It is hard to say. Classic Empire supposedly gained some weight during the off time and trainer Mark Casse was a little concerned about his conditioning entering the Arkansas Derby. But I liked how he ran in the Arkansas Derby, dealt with some traffic and mowed down the field in the stretch.


  3. Mechele · May 3, 2017

    Now that you have seen the post positions and chance of a muddy track what is your option now of derby horse top four. Respond soon please


    • Michael J. Cox · May 3, 2017

      I think hitting a Superfecta will be a tough task this year. I like win bets on Classic Empire and Always Dreaming. Trifecta: Classic Empire over Always Dreaming and Gunnevera.


      • Mechele · May 4, 2017

        Thanks Mike was my top three anyways!!! Looking at Girvin for my super Good Luck!


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