2017 Arkansas Derby Preview – Classic Empire vs Malagacy

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April 14th 2017 – Updated April 15th 2017

On Saturday, we get the final piece of the Kentucky Derby trail’s puzzle in the Arkansas Derby. A great matchup between the undefeated Rebel Stakes winner Malagacy and the 2-year-old Eclipse Male Champion Classic Empire.

Aside from its $1 million dollar purse and the 170 Kentucky Derby points that are up for grabs, this race race deserves your full attention as the Arkansas Derby has served as an important springboard for racing greatness in recent years.  Since 2004, in nine out of the last thirteen runnings, the Arkansas Derby produced either a winner of a Triple Crown race or the Breeders Cup Classic:

2016 – Creater finished 1st – Won the Belmont Stakes
2015 – American Pharoah finished 1st – Won all three Triple Crown races plus Breeders’ Cup Classic
2014 – Bayern finished 3rd – Won the Breeders’ Cup Classic
2013 – Oxbow finished 5th – Won the Preakness Stakes
2010 – Super Saver finished 2nd – Won the Kentucky Derby
2009 – Summer Bird finished 3rd – Won the Belmont Stakes
2007 – Curlin finished 1st – Won the Preakness Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic
2005- Afleet Alex finished 1st – Won the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes
2004- Smarty Jones finished 1st – Won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes

In this same time frame, the Arkansas Derby has also produced five 3-Year-Old American Male Champions: American Pharoah (2015), Summer Bird (2009), Curlin (2007), Afleet Alex (2005) and Smarty Jones (2004).  Plus two International Horses of the Year in American Pharaoh in 2015 and Curlin in 2008.  And a Triple Crown winner and the very first Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing in American Pharoah.

Derby Scenario

As far as Derby points, the only horse in the year’s field who is assured a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby is Malagacy who has 50 points. Untrapped has 34 points and Classic Empire 32. Both will need a fourth place finish or better to assure themselves a shot in the 143rd Run for the Roses. The rest of the field will need a first or second place finish.

Below are the entries, post-position, jockeys and morning line odds for the 81st running of the Arkansas Derby.

The Arkansas Derby  – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #11 at Oaklawn Park – Post-Time: 6:18 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/Horse/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Rockin Rudy – Gutierrez/O’Neill – 12/1
2. Classic Empire – Leparoux/Casse – 8/5
3. Silver Dust – Lanerie/Morse – 20/1
4. Petrov – Santana Jr/Moquett – 12/1
5. Grandpa’s Dream – Canchari/Hartman – 30/1
6. Lookin At Lee – Contreras/Asmussen – 15/1
7. Sonneteer – Desormeaux/Desormeaux – 15/1
8. Rowdy The Warrior – Quinonez/Von Hemel – 30/1
9. Untrapped – Smith/Asmussen – 6/1
10. One Dreamy Dude – Franco/Van Berg – 50/1
11. Conquest Mo Money –  Carreno/Hernandez – 15/1
12. Malagacy – Castellano/Pletcher – 2/1

Race Commentary: In preparation for this race, I created my own expected morning line odds and they turned out fairly close to the track handicapper’s version. I had Classic Empire at 7/5, Malagacy at 9/5, Sonneteer at 12/1 and Lookin At Lee at 20/1. However, one morning line odd that totally surprised me was Rockin Rudy at 12/1.

I had the Doug O’Neill-trained Rockin Rudy at 30/1 and have a hard time understanding the shorter odds for a horse that has primarily raced turf sprints. Especially one who also drew the dreaded rail. This is coming from someone who remembers 41-1 Danza winning the 2014 Arkansas Derby from the #1 post. Rockin Rudy has nice speed numbers in his last two starts on turf but he finished 2nd both times. He will also be stretching out from 6 1/2 furlongs for the very first time. I think he will probably be the early speed in this race much like Uncontested was in the Southwest and Rebel Stakes. 

I rewatched the Rebel Stakes (shown below) several times, with the current post-positions in mind, to envision how this race might play out.

Classic Empire is starting from the #2 post–the winningest post this year at Oaklawn for distance races. Todd Pletcher’s Malagacy had the #6 post in the Rebel Stakes but this time gets the far outside post #12. I think this hurts his chances but he does have the speed to overcome a bad post-position. However, he will need to get off to a good start. In the Rebel Stakes, Malagacy did not get out of the gate well and he will have a further trip and have to deal with more traffic from the far outside post. 

Untrapped finished 2nd in the Risen Star and 3rd in the Rebel Stakes with Blinkers off. For this race, he will race with Blinkers On.  I think this equipment change is a bit of a risk. Blinkers On didn’t work well for any horse in the Rebel Stakes. 

Overall, I will say that this race sets up well for Classic Empire if run on a dry, fast track. However, he is a bit of a risk due to unpredictable demeanor. This field has six runners from the Rebel Stakes. Many criticized the quality of the Rebel field when 112-1 Sonneteer finished 2nd. But Sonneteer used a closer strategy in the Rebel and he ran a very good race. Whether that was a good one-off performance remains to be seen. Sonneteer should get the pace he needs and will have an additional 1/2 furlong to work with. 

I feel that Petrov is a pretty consistent horse who has shown a willingness to battle. I like his chances of finishing in the superfecta whether it is wet or dry. Steve Asmussen’s Lookin At Lee finished 3rd in the Southwest Stakes and 6th in the Rebel. He is a closer, who if pressed up to mid-pack sooner, could surprise. He was 11th and dead last in the Rebel Stakes at the 3/4th mile mark but finished 6th and within 4 lengths of race winner Malagacy.

Conquest Mo Money is coming off a second place finish in the Sunland Derby. Grandpa’s Dream is coming off a maiden win at Oaklawn Park in his last start. Trainer Randy Morse’s Silver Dust is a Tapit colt who finished 4th in the Southwest Stakes and 5th in the Rebel Stakes. He is a horse who may benefit from the added distance.

Donnie Von Hemel’s Rowdy the Warrior finished 9th in the Southwest Stakes and is coming off a third place finish in his last start–a one mile race at Oaklawn Park. Jack Van Berg’s One Dreamy Dude is winless in six career starts. He is coming off a sixth place finish at Oaklawn and is a very deserving of his 50-1 morning line odds.

My Prediction: Rain doesn’t appear like it will be a factor. So in a field of twelve horses, I narrowed half of the field down to the ones that I think has a chance of finishing in the Superfecta. Drum roll, these six horses are: 2) Classic Empire, 4) Petrov, 6) Lookin At Lee, 7) Sonneteer, 9) Untrapped and 12) Malagacy.

There are many questions here: 1) Will this be just like the Rebel Stakes except with Classic Empire added to field and just a reshuffling of the deck of cards? 2) According to trainer Mark Casse, Classic Empire has gained some weight but supposedly acting happy again. Is he fat and happy…fit enough physically and mentally to bounce back in form?

If we get a mature, well-conditioned Classic Empire who is ready to rumble, there is little doubt that he is the fastest horse in this field and perhaps the most talented colt in this entire class.

I would watch the lives odds. Usually three of the top four favorites with bettors in the Arkansas Derby finish in the Superfecta. Also pay attention to how Classic Empire looks and acts in pre-race.  If he acts up or doesn’t seem relaxed, this is Malagacy race to lose. That being said, I like 2, 12 over 2, 7, 12, over 2, 4, 7, 9 over 4, 6, 7, 9. A 10 cent Superfecta of this type would cost $2.90, a $1 bet would cost $29. Don’t spend more than $50 on this one, too many mysteries and uncertainties. Save your Benjamins for another day. This year’s 3-year-old races have been as unpredictable as 2-year-old races.

But if you really like longshots, Sonneteer is a closer who should get the early speed to do his thing. Last year, a closer won the Arkansas Derby in Creator. The difference this year is that there this is a faster field than last year. Last year, Creator’s winning time in the Arkansas Derby was 1:50.14. I expect this year’s winning race time will be in the 1:49 range.


On the docket…

My next blog will recap the Arkansas Derby and I will provide my updated Kentucky Derby contender rankings. I will have this out by Sunday evening.

–Michael

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.

–Michael

Always Dreaming absolutely brilliant in the Florida Derby. Updated 2017 Kentucky Derby Contender Rankings


2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 2nd 2017

Just when you think that Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has pulled his last surprise Derby contender seemingly out of nowhere from his barn, he does it once again in the Florida Derby with Always Dreaming. Let’s just say, a lot of respected handicappers didn’t think this 3-year-old son of Bodemeister was a serious threat to upset Gunnevera. But as we have seen several times the past six weeks, the race favorite has gotten beat by a Todd Pletcher-trained colt: One Liner in the Southwest Stakes, Malagacy in the Rebel Stakes and now Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby (shown below).

What was Always Dreaming’s winning time? 1:47.47–the 6th fastest Florida Derby time since it was inaugurated in 1952. Ponder that time for a minute: 1:47.47. That’s the fastest 9 furlong final prep race time of any of the past eighteen Kentucky Derby winners. The fastest since Real Quiet’s 2nd place finish to Indian Charlie in the 1998 Santa Anita Derby. Faster than two prominent Florida Derby winners who went on to win the Kentucky Derby: Spectacular Bid (1979) – 1:48.80 and Big Brown (2008) – 1:48.16.

Surprisingly, Always Dreaming only received a 97 Beyer Speed Figure for this performance. I expect this might be adjusted upward later. Always Dreaming’s TimeformUS speed rating for the Florida Derby was 123, which is tied for the 4th best rating in this season’s Derby prep races behind Mastery’s 127 in the San Felipe Stakes, Classic Empire’s 125 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and One Liner’s 124 in the Southwest Stakes. Not This Time had a 123 rating for his 2nd place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. (Source)

This Kentucky Derby prep season has been a wild one with injuries taking two early Derby favorites off the trail (Not This Time and Mastery) and inconsistency from horses like Classic Empire, Irish War Cry, Royal Mo, Gunnevera and El Areeb. So it seems prime for a horse to come out of nowhere and win the Kentucky Derby this year. Always Dreaming appears best to fit that description to date. However, we still have four big Derby prep races left (Blue Grass Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial and the Arkansas Derby). So expect the unexpected and watch how this all plays out.

Below are my Top Six 2017 Kentucky Derby contenders and Trainer Todd Pletcher has four out of the top six. He’s been living right as they say.

Top Six 2017 Kentucky Derby Contenders

1) Always Dreaming  I have tentatively elevated Always Dreaming to #1 in my rankings due to the simple fact that, to date, 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) One Liner – The undefeated son of Into Mischief. His win in the Southwest Stakes earned him a triple digit 102 Beyer Speed Figure, tied for 2nd 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. And he will need a second place finish in his next start to be assured a spot in the Kentucky Derby field. Next Start: The  Arkansas Derby on April 15th.

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: 1:41.85 2017 Southwest Stakes
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2017 Southwest Stakes

3) 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 two straight bullet works: 1:01.40 in 5F on March 22nd and 59.30 in 5F on March 28th. 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

4) 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. Latest report from Ian Wilkes is that he has filled out and getting stronger, uh oh! 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
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 95 – 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes 

5) 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: 94 – Gulfstream Park 2/12/17

6) Tapwrit – The Tampa Bay Derby winner. He finished 2nd to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis Stakes back in February. His pedigree suggests that he will like added distance. And he has a greater trainer in Todd Pletcher behind him. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd>1st
Sire:  Tapit (Finished 9th in the 2004 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.36 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 96 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby

On my radar:  J Boys Echo, Practical Joke, Iliad and Battalion Runner


Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Girvin (150), Always Dreaming (100), Thundersnow (100), Gunnevera (84), State of Honor (62), Tapwrit (54),  J Boys Echo (53), Malagacy (50), Hence (50), Fast and Accurate (50), Patch (40), Practical Joke (34), Untrapped (34) and Classic Empire (32). All have enough Derby points historically to earn a starting spot in the Run for the Roses.

Two horses who are on the bubble: Local Hero (30) and Gormley (25).  25 or more Derby points got a horse into the starting field all other years except last year since the creation of the points system.


On the Docket….

Previews of the three big prep races this coming Saturday (Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby.

My next contribution to the Cyberworld is going to be a food, wine and cooking blog. I am a big fan of Anthony Bourdain and my travels to Italy left me with a desire to recreate the same awesome dishes I had there but can’t get here in the US in Italian restaurants. Stay tuned!

–Michael

Final 2017 Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

March 30th 2017Updated April 2nd 2017 5:20 PM EST

Below are the morning line odds for the final 2017 Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) Pool #4 which can be found HERE. The Future Wager Pool will run from Friday March 31st 12 PM EST to Sunday April 2nd 6 PM EST. Be sure to see my live odds commentary towards the bottom of this article as I will update this section with my thoughts over the weekend. 

I have included each horse’s Brisnet Speed Figure and finish in their last start, which is usually their 2nd to last before the Kentucky Derby. 

# Horse – M/L Odds – Brisnet Speed Figure in Last Start
1. Always Dreaming – 50-1  (84)  – 1st in an Allowance race at Gulfstream Park
2. Battalion Runner – 30-1 (96) – 1st in an Allowance race at Gulfstream Park
3. Battle of Midway – 50-1 (92) – 1st in an Allowance race at Santa Anita Park
4. Classic Empire – 12-1 (92) – 3rd Place in the Holy Bull Stakes
5. Cloud Computing – 15-1 (100) – 2nd in the Gotham Stakes
6. El Areeb – 30-1 (91) – 3rd in the Gotham Stakes  Scratched
7. Girvin – 30-1 (98) – 1st in the Risen Star Stakes
8. Gormley – 20-1 (91) – 4th in the San Felipe Stakes
9. Guest Suite – 50-1 (93) – 4th in the Risen Star Stakes
10. Gunnevera 6-1 (102) – 1st in the Fountain of Youth Stakes
11. Iliad – 15-1 (94) – 2nd in the San Felipe Stakes
12. Irish War Cry 15-1 (76) – 7th in the Fountain of Youth Stakes
13. J Boys Echo – 10-1 (104) – 1st in the Gotham Stakes
14. Malagacy – 30-1 (95) – 1st in the Rebel Stakes
15. McCraken – 6-1 (99) – 1st in the Sam F. Davis Stakes
16. Mo Town – 50-1 (86) – 4th in the Risen Star Stakes
17. One Liner – 10-1 (101) – 1st in the Southwest Stakes
18. Practical Joke – 12-1 (95) – 2nd in the Fountain of Youth Stakes
19. Reach the World – 50-1 (91) – 2nd in an Allowance race at Santa Anita Park
20. State of Honor – 50-1 (96) – 2nd in the Tampa Bay Derby
21. Tapwrit – 10-1 (101) – 1st in the Tampa Bay Derby
22. Thunder Snow (Ire) – 15-1 (Unknown) – 1st in the UAE Derby
23. Untrapped – 50-1 (93) – 2nd in the Rebel Stakes
24. Mutuel Field/All Others 10-1

Below are the last 15 Kentucky Derby winners and their Brisnet Speed Figure in their 2nd to last start before the Kentucky Derby (which is where we are at today). Compare the horses above to the previous winners below. 

2016: Nyquist (103) – 1st in San Vicente Stakes 
2015: American Pharoah (99) – 1st in Rebel Stakes
2014: California Chrome (102) – 1st in San Felipe Stakes
2013: Orb (102) – 1st in Fountain of Youth Stakes
2012: I’ll Have Another (102) – 1st in Robert B. Lewis Stakes
2011: Animal Kingdom (96) – 2nd place finish in an Allowance race at Gulfstream Park
2010: Super Saver (99) – 3rd in Tampa Bay Derby
2009: Mine That Bird (87) – 2nd in the Borderland Derby
2008: Big Brown (102) – 1st in an Allowance race at Gulfstream Park
2007: Street Sense (105) – 1st in the Tampa Bay Derby
2006: Barbaro (104) – 1st in the Holy Bull Stakes
2005: Giacomo (96) – 2nd in the San Felipe Stakes
2004: Smarty Jones (109) – 1st in the Rebel Stakes
2003: War Emblem (105) – 1st in an Allowance race at Sportsman Park
2002: Monarchos (108) – 1st in the Florida Derby

The common denominator is a 3rd place finish or better in their 2nd to last Derby prep and a Brisnet speed figure of 87 or higher. With this information, the following pool horses who didn’t satisfy both requirements:

# Horse – M/L Odds – Brisnet Speed Figure in Last Start
1. Always Dreaming – 50-1  (84)  – 1st in an Allowance race at Gulfstream Park
8. Gormley – 20-1 (91) – 4th in the San Felipe Stakes
9. Guest Suite – 50-1 (93) – 4th in the Risen Star Stakes
12. Irish War Cry 15-1 (76) – 7th in the Fountain of Youth Stakes
16. Mo Town – 50-1 (86) – 4th in the Risen Star Stakes

This has been a wide-open year on the Kentucky Derby trail with injuries and inconsistency. Based upon historical trends, the horses below are the only ones who I would plunk money down on in a Future Wager. I have Bold-Fonted the most serious Kentucky Derby contenders. You should wait to see how Girvin and Gunnevera perform this Saturday before making any future wagers on them.

# Horse – M/L Odds – Brisnet Speed Figure in Last Start
1. Always Dreaming – 50-1  (84)  – 1st in an Allowance race at Gulfstream Park
2. Battalion Runner – 30-1 (96) – 1st in an Allowance race at Gulfstream Park
4. Classic Empire – 12-1 (92) – 3rd Place in the Holy Bull Stakes
13. J Boys Echo – 10-1 (104) – 1st in the Gotham Stakes
14. Malagacy – 30-1 (95) – 1st in the Rebel Stakes
15. McCraken – 6-1 (99) – 1st in the Sam F. Davis Stakes
17. One Liner – 10-1 (101) – 1st in the Southwest Stakes
21. Tapwrit – 10-1 (101) – 1st in the Tampa Bay Derby

8 1/2 Furlong Times – 1:43 and Under

The most common distance that the Kentucky Derby class has run thus far is 8 1/2 furlongs (1 1/16th mile). Four out of the last five Kentucky Derby winners all had a winning time below 1:43 in an 8 1/2 furlong race during their prep season. 

Nyquist  – 1:43.79 – 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
American Pharoah  – 1:41.95 – 2014 FrontRunner Stakes
California Chrome – 1:40.59 – 2014 San Felipe Stakes
Orb – 1:42.24 – 2013 Fountain of Youth Stakes
I’ll Have Another – 1:40.84 – 2012 Robert Lewis Stakes

What KDFW Pool #4 horses satisfy this rule?

One Liner – 1:41.85 – 2017 Southwest Stakes
Tapwrit – 1:42.36 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby
McCraken – 1:42.45 – 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes
Irish War Cry – 1:42.52 – 2017 Holy Bull Stakes
Classic Empire – 1:42.60 – 2016 Breedes’ Cup Juvenile

Note that McCraken beat Tapwrit in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and Irish War Cry beat Classic Empire in the Holy Bull Stakes. However, Irish War Cry pooped out in his last start with a 7th place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes.  And Always Dreaming has never raced at the 8 1/2 furlong distance but already has at the 9 furlong distance twice.

Overall, the fastest two horses in this class by their top speed figure are:  One Liner (102 Beyer, 101 Brisnet and 117 E-Speed) in the 2017 Southwest Stakes and  Classic Empire (102 Beyer, 108 Brisnet and 108 E-Speed) in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Classic Empire is a bit of a gamble. He has had his prep race after the Holy Bull Stakes pushed back several times by a foot abscess problem and refusing to workout on several occasions at his Palm Meadows training center. However, he is back in training at a different facility. The best value horse based upon their morning line odds is Malagacy at 30-1. However, he didn’t race as a 2-year-old, something that every Kentucky Derby winner has done since 1998. 

My Advice for KDFW Pool #4

Bet on the three horses below. 

#1 Always Dreaming, #7 One Liner and #15 McCraken

Note that if McCraken and One Liner don’t finish third or better in their final prep, they may be on the outside looking in as far as to getting into the Kentucky Derby. McCraken has 20 points, One Liner has 10. They will likely need 30 to 35 points to be assured of a Kentucky Derby starting spot. Last year it took 32 points to get a starting spot in the Derby. At this time last year, Nyquist had 30 points and Exaggerator 26. Nyquist won the Florida Derby, Exaggerator won the Santa Anita Derby. Nyquist and Exaggerator finished 1-2 in the Kentucky Derby.

UPDATED ODDS – April 1st 5:20 PM EST

Below are the top live odds horses in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool. What you should strive to achieve is 3X greater odds than what you would get on Kentucky Derby day because of unknown post-position draws and unexpected injuries and performances along the way:

Gunnevera – 8/1  <— Not impressive in the Florida Derby, don’t waste your money
McCraken – 5/1 <—A serious contender but I like him at 9-1 or higher.
Always Dreaming – 6/1 <–Impressive Florida Derby performance.
Classic Empire – 9/1 <— Odds way too low based upon his temperamental past.
Tapwrit – 10/1 <—He’s assured a spot in the Derby but he’s not Pletcher’s best colt

Value picks:  Malagacy – 16-1 and One Liner – 18/1 

What horses are assured a Kentucky Derby starting spot? Thundersnow (100)Gunnevera (64), Tapwrit (54), Malagacy (50), J Boys Echo (53), Girvin (50), Hence (50), Fast and Accurate (50), Practical Joke (34), Untrapped (34) and Classic Empire (32).


On the docket…

My next blog will include updated Kentucky Derby contender rankings which I will post by Monday evening.

–Michael

Oaklawn Park ‘Deja Vu All Over Again’ – Malagacy! Updated 2017 Kentucky Derby Contender Rankings

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Malagacy wins the Rebel Stakes

March 20th 2017

Just like it was with One Liner at Oaklawn Park in the Southwest Stakes last month, a lightly-raced Todd Pletcher-trained colt making the first two-turn start of his career, Malagacy, won the Rebel Stakes. Todd Pletcher now has three very promising Kentucky Derby contenders.

Overall, the Rebel Stakes (shown below) was sort of a weird race, the kind you usually get in a wet race but this happened on a dry, fast track. The race favorite, the Bob Baffert-trained American Anthem, finished 10th. And the 4th race favorite, Royal Mo, finished ahead of him in 9th place. Bob Baffert had won six out of the last seven Rebel Stakes races. 

And now the really weird part, the Keith Desormeaux-trained colt, Sonneteer at 112-1 odds, finished 2nd. Sonneteer has yet to break his maiden in 10 starts and he had never eclipsed the 80 Beyer Speed Figure mark in 9 previous starts. But he did in this one however. Of course, this surprise finish killed everyone’s exotic bets, right down to the Exacta. I feel your pain in Hot Springs (inside joke). And consequently, a 50 cent Trifecta paid out $943 and a 10 cent Superfecta paid out $1,138.28. Oaklawn didn’t publish $1 Superfecta winnings, which would have been over 11 grand, because nobody was stupid enough to make that bet.

At any rate, there’s really no clear-cut Derby favorite at this point. This Kentucky Derby class is very deep in talent but lacking consistency. If I were Unique Bella’s owner, I would give strong consideration for entering the filly in the Kentucky Derby instead of the Kentucky Oaks if she runs well in her next start.

Below are my updated Kentucky Derby contender rankings and I am writing them in pencil:

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, tied for 2nd 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:  Unknown but probably the Florida Derby on April 1st or the Wood Memorial on April 8th

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: 1:41.85 2017 Southwest Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2017 Southwest Stakes

2) 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. Latest report from Ian Wilkes is that he has filled out and getting stronger, uh oh! 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 

3) 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 had a minor issue in a previous workout and refused to run. However, he ran 4 furlongs in 48.95 on March 12th at his Palm Meadows training center but refused to workout yesterday at Palm Meadows on March 19th. However, it gets more interesting. Today on March 20th, he breezed at an alternative Ocala Training Center. If Classic Empire is 100% physically and mentally healthy, he’s probably the most talented colt in this class. But I am dropping this “bad boy” back down a notch due to his most recent workout issue. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th. 

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
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

4) 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. I will have a Kentucky Derby profile of Malagacy on US Racing’s website in the next few days. Next 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
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94 – Gulfstream Park 2/12/17

5) Tapwrit – The Tampa Bay Derby winner. He finished 2nd to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis Stakes back in February. His pedigree suggests that he will like added distance. And he has a greater trainer in Todd Pletcher behind him. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd>1st
Sire:  Tapit (Finished 9th in the 2004 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.36 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 96 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby

6) 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 (Finished 4th in the 2008 Kentucky Derby)
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

On my radar:  J Boys Echo, Gunnevera, Practical Joke, Irish War Cry, Iliad, El Areeb and Unique Bella although I haven’t heard anything to suggest she will skip the Kentucky Oaks in favor of the Derby. 


Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Gunnevera (64), Tapwrit (54), Malagacy (50), J Boys Echo (53), Girvin (50), Practical Joke (34), Untrapped (34) and Classic Empire (32). All have enough Derby points historically to earn a starting spot in the Run for the Roses. 

–Michael

 

2017 Rebel Stakes Preview

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

March 17th 2017

Coming up tomorrow (Saturday March 18th) is another big race on the 2017 Kentucky Derby trail at Oaklawn Park. The Rebel Stakes offers 85 Derby points and a purse of $900,000. At this stage of the 2017 Kentucky Derby trail prep races, this is the 3rd highest paying purse to date and the largest since the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes on November 19th. The Rebel Stakes always attracts some of the top young thoroughbreds in the sport. Notable winners of the Rebel Stakes since 2004 include:

  • American Pharoah (2015) – The 13th Triple Crown champion and the first Grand Slam Champion of thoroughbred racing.
  • Curlin (2007) – 2007 Preakness Stakes and Breeders Cup Classic winner who went on to win the 2007 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award, the 2008 Eclipse Older Dirt Male Champion award and Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008.
  • Smarty Jones (2004) – who went on to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the 2004 Eclipse Male 3 Year Old Champion award
  • Lookin At Lucky (2010) – 2010 Preakness Stakes winner who went on to win the 2010 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award
  • Lawyer Ron (2006) – who won the 2007 Eclipse Older Dirt Male award
  • Will Take Charge (2013) – 2013 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion

Other notable Rebel Stakes runners: Afleet Alex who finished 6th in 2005 Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and the 2005 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award. Oxbow finished 2nd in the 2013 Rebel Stakes and went on to win the Preakness Stakes that year. Creator finished 3rd in last year’s Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2016 Belmont Stakes.

Below are the entries, jockeys and morning line odds:

The Rebel Stakes  – 1 1/16th Mile – Race #10 at Oaklawn Park – Post-Time: 6:06 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Silver Bullion (115) – Vazquez/Lukas – 30/1
2. Uncontested (122) – Hill/Catalano – 10/1
3. Sonneteer (115) – Eramia/Desormeaux – 301
4. Petrov (115) –  Ortiz/Moquett – 9/2
5. Untrapped (115) – Santana Jr./Asmussen – 8/1
6. Malagacy (115) – Castellano/Pletcher – 4/1
7. American Anthem (115) – Smith/Baffert – 2/1
8. Silver Dust (115) – Lanerie/Morse – 15/1
9. Appalachian Gem (115) – Stevens/Van Berg – 30/1
10. Royal Mo (122) – Espinoza/Shirreffs – 9/2 
11. Lookin At Lee (117) – Santana Jr./Asmussen – 15/1

Race Commentary: Trainer Bob Baffert has won six out of the last seven Rebel Stakes. He brings American Anthem, the morning line favorite, from California to be ridden by jockey Mike Smith. American Anthem will be stretching out from 8 furlongs to 8 1/2 furlongs for the first time of his career. Trainer Todd Pletcher shipped in Malagacy who will be making the first two-turn start of his career. He is stretching out from 6 1/2 furlongs to 8 1/2. Normally I don’t like horses making two-turn debuts but it worked out wonderfully for Pletcher’s One Liner in the Southwest Stakes. Oaklawn Park stablemates Uncontested and Petrov hope to stave off the shipped-in competition.

Uncontested starts in the #2 post which has been the winningest post for distance races this year at Oaklawn Park. Uncontested impressed in the muddy 1-Mile Smarty Jones Stakes but has faded down the stretch in both of his starts at 8 1/2 furlongs. He will have no excuses this time. This race may determine if he is a legitimate Derby prospect or better suited for sprint races and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He likes to get out into the early lead. If he has gained stamina since his Southwest Stakes start, he could win this race especially if he gets an off track like he did in the Smarty Jones Stakes.

Petrov has finished 2nd in the last two Oaklawn preps to Uncontested in the Smarty Jones and One Liner in the Southwest. Petrov has the fastest estimated time through 8 1/2 furlongs in this field. He will battle to the end. Just like Steve Asmussen’s Untrapped did in his 2nd place finish to Girvin in the Risen Star Stakes. Then there Asmussen’s super consistent Lookin at Lee who finished 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 3rd in his first start back for his 3 year-old campaign in the Southwest Stakes.

Finally among the serious threats to win the Rebel, there is the Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Royal Mo, same owner (Jerry and Ann Moss) and trainer (John Shirreffs) combination as Zenyatta, 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and this year’s Derby hopeful Gormley.

Overall, this is most talented field for 2017 Kentucky Derby hopefuls that we have seen since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race last fall. With so much talent it will be hard to hit exotic bets. Silver Dust is a Tapit-colt who can’t be overlooked because he finished 4th in the Southwest Stakes and will get the early speed he needs. I like Royal Mo but I think he is hurt a bit by his starting gate position. Malagacy seems to be a more accomplished Pletcher colt than One Liner was entering the Southwest Stakes. But this is a deeper, more talented field. It is hard to go against a Baffert colt with his success in the Rebel so I like American Anthem for the win. The rest of the finishing order is anybody’s guess but I generally like Petrov finishing somewhere in the Superfecta. If his odds go south, Petrov could be a nice option for those looking for a sleeper pick for the win because his #4 starting gate position has been the 2nd most winningest gate position for distance races at Oaklawn Park this season.

At any rate, this is must-see-TV and a real star will emerge in this year’s Rebel Stakes. And don’t give up on any of the other top finishers as history suggests. Below are the top Beyer Speed Figures for horses in the Rebel Stakes field: 

Petrov –  96 BSF in 8.5F Southwest Stakes 2nd place finish
Uncontested – 96 BSF in 8F Smarty Jones Stakes win
Malagacy – 95 BSF at 6.5F Gulfstream Park win
Untrapped – 94 BSF in 6F James F. Lewis win
Royal Mo –  94 BSF in 8.5F Robert B. Lewis Stakes win
American Anthem – 94 8F BSF in Sham Stakes 2nd place finish

–Michael


Mastery brilliant in the San Felipe but off the Derby trail. Updated 2017 Kentucky Derby contender rankings

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

March 13th 2017

Mastery performed brilliantly Saturday in the San Felipe Stakes (shown below) with an excellent time of 1:42.28 and 105 Beyer Speed Figure. However, he suffered a condylar fracture to his left front leg and will have surgery today. These are repairable and a horse can usually come back racing depending upon the severity. If not, they will have to be retired to stud. At any rate, Mastery is off the Derby trail and if all goes well, we could see him back racing in the 2nd half of the season.

I am almost afraid to have a Kentucky Derby favorite. My early Kentucky Derby Not This Time had to be taken off the Derby trail and retired back in November due to a soft tissue injury to his right front leg. My next Derby favorite, Classic Empire, has had foot abscess and back issues. Now this unfortunate news for Mastery who I briefly had as my #1 after Classic Empire’s 3rd place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes and One Liner’s Southwest Stakes performance.

In the grand scheme of things, the 2017 Kentucky Derby is so wide open at this point that it might be best to draw names out of a hat. Injuries and inconsistency have kept every handicapper on their toes. This has been kind of a weird year and it appears that the best Derby contenders aren’t on the West Coast this year. We will have a better handle on who the Kentucky Derby favorite will be after the three major final prep races on April 8th. But for now, here are my Top Six Kentucky Derby contenders.

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, tied for 2nd 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. My guess is that it will be the Florida Derby on April 1st.

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: 1:41.85 2017 Southwest Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2017 Southwest Stakes

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 had a minor issue in a previous workout and refused to run. However, he ran 4 furlongs in 48.95 yesterday (March 12th) at his Palm Meadows training center. If Classic Empire is 100% healthy, he’s probably the most talented colt in this class. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th. 

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

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) Tapwrit – The Tampa Bay Derby winner. He finished 2nd to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis Stakes back in February. His pedigree suggests that he will like added distance. And he has a greater trainer in Todd Pletcher behind him. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd>1st
Sire:  Tapit
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.36 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 96 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby

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 and last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. 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: 94  – 2017 Robert B. Lewis Stakes

On my radar:  J Boys Echo, Gunnevera, Practical Joke, Petrov, American Anthem, Uncontested, Irish War Cry, Iliad, Untrapped, Malagacy, El Areeb and Unique Bella although I haven’t heard anything to suggest she will skip the Kentucky Oaks in favor of the Derby. 


Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park – March 18th

Coming up this Saturday at Oaklawn Park is another key race on the Derby trail that carries a $900,000 purse and 85 Derby points. The Rebel has historically spawned some great champions the past 15 years. Below are the rumored entries for the Rebel Stakes with notable Beyer Speed Figures (BSF). Royal Mo or American Anthem will probably be the early morning line favorite.

Royal Mo – Victor Espinoza/John Shirreffs  – 94 BSF in Robert B. Lewis Stakes win
American Anthem – Mike Smith/Bob Baffert  – 94 BSF in Sham Stakes 2nd place finish
Petrov –  Jose Ortiz/Ron Moquett  – 96 BSF in Southwest Stakes 2nd place finish
Malagacy – Javier Castellano/Todd Pletcher – 95 BSF at Gulfstream Park win
Uncontested – Channing Hill/Wayne Catalano  – 96 BSF in Smarty Jones Stakes win
Untrapped – Ricardo Santana Jr./Steve Asmussen  – 92 BSF in Withers Stakes win
Lookin At Lee – ?/Steve Asmussen – 83 BSF in Breeders Cup Juvenile 4th place finish
Silver Dust – Corey Lanerie/Randy Morse  
Silver Bullion – Ramon Vazquez/D. Wayne Lukas 

Notable winners of the Rebel Stakes since 2004

  • American Pharoah (2015) – The 13th Triple Crown champion and the first Grand Slam Champion of thoroughbred racing.
  • Curlin (2007) – 2007 Preakness Stakes and Breeders Cup Classic winner who went on to win the 2007 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award, 2008 Eclipse Older Dirt Male Champion award and Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008.
  • Smarty Jones (2004) – who went on to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the 2004 Eclipse Male 3 Year Old Champion award
  • Lookin At Lucky (2010) – 2010 Preakness Stakes winner who went on to win the 2010 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award
  • Lawyer Ron (2006) – who won the 2007 Eclipse Older Dirt Male Champion award
  • Will Take Charge (2013) – 2013 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion

Other notable Rebel Stakes runners: Afleet Alex who finished 6th in 2005 Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and the 2005 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award. Oxbow finished 2nd in the 2013 Rebel Stakes and went on to win the Preakness Stakes that year. Creator finished 3rd in last year’s Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2016 Belmont Stakes.


Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Gunnevera (64), Tapwrit (54), 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.

–Michael