It is (almost) every Kentuckian’s favorite time of year once agian, it’s Derby week! In three days, twenty of the best three-year-old colts will battle it out in the most famous horse race in the world. Of course there is the fashion and the drinks and everyone faking their way through “My Old Kentucky Home,” but it all comes down to the most exciting two minutes in sports. This year feels a lot more of a wide open race compared to the past two years, a lot of handicappers are poised for an upset. I’m going to give you my top picks for the big race, but I don’t have the best track record so do with this info what you will.
15 – McCraken
My top pick to win the roses is McCraken. This Ghostzapper colt won all of his juvenile starts at Churchill Downs. He then returned this year to take the Sam F. Davis Stakes before a layoff due to injury. He came off the layoff and ran 3rd in the Blue Grass Stakes, his only defeat. His sire, Ghostzapper won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so he has the pedigree to win the race. He also has an ideal running style for the Kentucky Derby, he can come off the pace. He won’t lead the pack but he isn’t going to be too far back to make a move. He is trained by Ian Wilkes who also trained Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned. Brian Hernandez Jr. will be riding McCraken, he had the choice between him and Girvin and he chose McCraken. The sticking point for me on this horse is his experience at Churchill Downs. He excels at this track, he’s never lost on it and has plenty of experience on it. Many trainers think the track can be tricky, so if you have a horse that does well on it, you are ahead of the game. Ian and Brian are also very familiar with Churchill. They both consistantly train and ride there during every meet. And it is important to note that Brian picked him over Girvin, who is the leading points earner going into the Derby, he has faith in this horse. McCraken’s only loss was after a layoff, he still hit the board and Ian said he wasn’t 100% that day but he is now, and his works prove it.
17-Irish War Cry
I’m kind of in love with Irish War Cry. He is absolutley gorgeous and I am a huge fan of trainer Graham Motion. He is out of classic winner and two-time horse of the year Curlin, so he should do well at this distance. He has a lot of experience for his age. He has won three stakes, two of them graded, from five starts. He has been tested agianst his competition. He has beat Gunnevera and Classic Empire, two powerhouses in this field. He lost the Fountain of Youth but bounced back nicely in the Wood Memorial. Motion has an interesting work schedule for him, but says he got the “perfect work” he is looking for going into the race. I think he is maturing very well and I think he’ll put in a new performance. Even if he doesn’t pull out a win, I think we will see big things from him this year.
This colt can’t be ignored. Classic Empire is the 4-1 Morning Line favorite, and if this year shakes out like 2016 or 2015 – he will be the next Derby winner. He was the juvenile champion last year with wins the Breeders’ Futurity and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. You know who else took home juvenile champion honors? American Pharoah and Nyquist. He shares the same sire as Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah, PioneeroftheNile. He is owned by industry staple John Oxley and he is trained by Mark Casse with Julien Leparoux aboard. He began 2017 by dissapointing in the Fountain of Youth stakes, but it was discovered that he was injured. He returned in the Arkansas Derby and won impressively. Who else came out of the Arkansas Derby to win the Kentucky Derby? American Pharoah. He also has a win over the Churchill surface. See why he is the favorite? There is just one problem. His attitude. Classic Empire acts his age and it isn’t a good thing. He is known for prerace antics and has dropped his jockey. He also has refused to work in the mornings on occasion. The crowds can get him amped up, and unfortunatley he is about to face the biggest and wildest crowd in racing. If he can overcome his jitters, he should take this race no problem.
Honorable mention to Girvin, the points leader. This colt has won the Risen Star and Louisana Derby. He lost his jockey to McCraken but he picks up the pro, Mike Smith. But he is suffering from a quarter crack. His trainer insists he is all good, but any issue this close to Derby is cause for concern. And honorable mention to Always Dreaming. He is running for the famed Todd Pletcher who always fills the KY Derby field with an arsenal of horses, but he only has one Derby win. This colt ran an impressive Florida Derby, the fastest time since Alydar in 1978. He is 3 for 3 this year but the Florida Derby was his first race in stakes company so I am hesistant due to lack of experience.
Good Luck and Pick a Winner!