By Ron Correll
(Editor’s Note: Ron along with feature columnist Bob Hill, will be breaking down the 143rd Kentucky Derby live on radio station WFMB 1450 AM Saturday May 6th AT 9:20 AM)
This year my question of “Why is this horse in the Kentucky Derby?” applies to more than the usual number. I guess at some point in everyone’s life they all want to say they had a horse in the Kentucky Derby. There are just more of them in 2017.
OK, I’ve gotten that out of the way.
I’m going to talk about the horses that I think have a realistic chance of winning. These horses are McCracken, Classic Empire, Always Dreaming, Thunder Snow and Gunnevera.
I was a lot higher on Girvin (post 7, 15-1) before he missed a work; had a quarter-crack and may wear bar shoes in the race. I’ll still use Girvin on tickets, but I may not key on him.
Other horses I’ll use will be Irish War Cry, Practical Joke and J Boys Echo. I think Practical Joke could be a very sneaky horse.
Let’s look at the contenders and see what we have.
Always Dreaming (post 5, 5-1) won the Florida Derby, and yes I know it was the fastest time since Alydar won in 1978. But remember his sire, Bodemeister, ran one of the fastest mile-and-an-eighths in the Kentucky Derby, only problem was he got run down in the final eighth of a mile. I think the same could happen here. I’ve heard he’s been a handful in the mornings at Churchill and trainer Todd Pletcher is using “draw reins” on him for more control. Also, check out the ownership group on this one. A lot of people think he’s good.
Classic Empire (post 14, 4-1 morning-line favorite) came back off a more than two-month layoff to win a hard-fought Arkansas Derby. Some may wonder how much that took out of him. He worked four furlongs in 49.20 on April 28 at Churchill Downs and got good reviews for it.
The 2-year-old used to be a head case but trainer Mark Casse says the colt has mellowed. I hope that’s the case because the Derby is run before 150,000 people and it can be a circus on that day.
Gunnevera (post 10, 15-1) won the Fountain of Youth and then was third behind Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby. His running style (he’s a closer) could hurt him in the Derby. Finding his way through a 20-horse field could be difficult. Most years the Derby is a large pinball game. His last work at Churchill on April 28 was a pedestrian 1:03.60 for five furlongs.
McCraken (post 15, 5-1) was another colt that went through a period dealing with nagging injuries. He came back off a two-month layoff and ran a good third in the Blue Grass at Lexington. Trainer Ian Wilkes said he needed that race. He’s had a couple nice works at Churchill Downs. The last workout was five-furlongs in 1:00.60 on April 30. He’s also won a couple of races over the Churchill surface. He’s by Ghostzapper and out of a Seeking the Gold mare so distance shouldn’t be a problem.
I am really intrigued by UAE Derby winner Thunder Snow (post 2, 20-1). He’s already run farther than any of the other colts and the win in Dubai was very determined.
Godolphin has been trying for years to win the Derby and with the quality of most of the Americans, this could be the year. I wish they would have brought him over earlier, but they are the ones training him, not me.
About the other horses:
I know that Irish War Cry (post 17, 6-1) had the best speed figure from the Wood Memorial but I’ve always been leery of winter racing in New York. If I’m wrong on this horse, I’m just wrong and that has happened before.
I think Practical Joke (post 19, 30-1) can be an up-setter, but trainer Chad Brown may experiment with blinkers in the Derby. Do you think that would be the right time to play around with something like that?
J Boys Echo post 13, 20-1) will take a lot of money on race day because he’s trained by local boy Dale Romans. He’s another that I don’t think is fast enough.
After you get by the top two horses on your tickets you’re just going to have to load up in the third and fourth spots. That is where you can make a lot of money on Derby day.
Here are some thoughts on some of the other horses for what they are worth.
Battle of Midway (post 11, 30-1) was third in the Santa Anita Derby, but that was a terrible race.
Fast and Accurate (post 3, 50-1) won the Spiral but he is no Animal Kingdom. And if his owner thought he was any good why didn’t he pay the $600 Triple Crown fee instead of now having to cough up $200,000 as a late nominee. Fools and their money ….
Gormley (post 18, 15-1) won the Santa Anita Derby but like I said it was a bad race. I like John Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss and was all over Giacomo is 2005, but I can’t endorse this one.
Hence (post 15, 15-1) won the Sunland Derby and Steven Asmussen can be dangerous but I think this guy has to go underneath. I wouldn’t blame people for using him on the win ticket.
Irap (post 9, 20-1) won the Blue Grass but I don’t have a clue since Hence beat him and it took eight tries for him to break his maiden and that was in the Blue Grass.
Lookin At Lee (post 1, 20-1) is another Asmussen and the best thing he has going is the pedigree, but he got the kiss of death with post 1.
Patch (post 20, 30-1) is a one-eyed colt that got a late start but he’s by Union Rags so have fun using him underneath.
Sonneteer (post 12, 50-1) is a maiden.
State of Honor (post 6, 30-1) is Casse’s other horse.
Tapwrit (post 16, 20-1) ran second to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis and won the Tampa Bay Derby but he ran up the track in the Blue Grass and we haven’t heard from him since.
Untrapped (post 4, 30-1) is the third Asmussen and that’s all I know.
The two also-eligibles are Royal Mo (20-1) and Master Plan (50-1).
My top pick for the Derby is McCraken. I think he is coming into good form again just at the right time and he’s a proven winner at Churchill Downs. Weather could be an issue but you never know how any of them will run in the slop.
If you’re building tickets for tri’s and supers (and also Pick 4’s) you have to go at least four deep in the top spot. I’ll be narrowing my ticket down from these horses: Classic Empire, Gunnevera, Always Dreaming, Thunder Snow, although I’m not thrilled with his post draw, and maybe Hence. For your second, third and fourth spots you have to do what your wallet will allow.
Cover Photo: McCraken; Coady Photography