Welcome back for Derby 143 horse racing fans and friends! Unlike the last few years where the standout Derby prospects as two year-olds were consistent up to and throughout the Triple Crown series (California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist/Exaggerator), we've had some interesting results on Derby Trail 2017. However, 2YO champion Classic Empire rebounded from health issues and a sub-par early prep to likely establish his favoritism on the first Saturday in May with his late rally score in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby under Julian Leparoux. Being a self-proclaimed "homer" of Oaklawn Park (which has served me well over the last decade in TC races), I will be using more than one Oaklawn based sophomore from this spring in my bets, although I don't believe the Ark Derby or Rebel is the key race angle horse players seek. More on that later in week.
Rather than the big one or two leading into the final days of preparations at Churchill Downs, it's shaping up as a crap-shoot from 5 of the top 6 major prep winners -- Always Dreaming (FL Derby), Irish War Cry (Wood Memorial), Classic Empire (AR Derby), Girvin (LA Derby) and Gormley (SA Derby). Irap's maiden breaking victory in the Blue Grass Stakes was generally considered a loose horse on the lead winning with dawdling fractions. Thus, he will likely not be a top betting interest.
Others expected to draw a lot of Derby day action at the parimutuel windows include a pair of third place finishers, yet late running threats Gunnavera (FL Derby) and McCraken (Blue Grass). The former is one of the best human interest stories of this year's Derby being just a sixteen grand yearling purchase by a legendary Venezuela trainer who defected to the States after being abducted for ransom money, not once but twice! The latter is also getting buzz as a "horse for the course" with all his 2YO victories under the Twin Spires. McCraken is also trained by a man who worked as assistant to Carl Nafzger when both Unbridled and Street Sense claimed the roses.
Regardless of who goes off as favorite this Saturday, the odds should be more dispersed than in recent years. A handful of horses could go off as the post-time favorite, which means lowest odds could be in the 5-1 or 6-1 price range. A couple more days to the post position draw, then let the final handicapping occur. Enjoy Derby week 143!