Charlotte - Based on current odds and all the potential contenders for this year's Run For The Roses, this race will go down as one of the most difficult to handicap in recent years.
Over the last four years the favorites have come in with Nyquist taking the coveted trophy in 2016, American Pharoah in 2015, California Chrome in 2014 and Orb in 2013. What everyone is now asking is, "Can a favorite do it again?" It's difficult not to make a case for Classic Empire who will be breaking from the fourteen post. He has won three of his four last races including the 1-1/8 mile Arkansas Derby on April 15th. His breeding is top notch as he is sired by Pioneer of the Nile. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is also sired by Pioneer of the Nile.
McCracken has been turning heads this week with good momentum behind him and a previous win on the Churchill track in the Kentucky Jockey Club last November.
Always Dreaming has been running on sunshine as well with a runaway win in the Florida Derby on April 1st. On 4/28 he had a bullet drill and galloped out strongly getting 7 furlongs in 1:25:60 and a mile in 1:40. He is sired by speedster Bodemeister, look for him to be on the early pace from the get go.
Irish War Cry was making a name for himself until he faded in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream in March with a disappointing 7th place finish. Trainer Graham Motion shipped him to New York for last month's Wood Memorial where he bounced back nicely and now has one of the highest speed ratings overall in this year's Derby.
Irap will be breaking from post 9 and is trained by Doug O"Neill. Trainer Doug O'Neill has won two of the last five Kentucky Derbys with Nyquist and I'll Have Another. Trainer Todd Pletcher won the Kentucky Derby in 2010 with Super Saver and will saddle Always Dreaming, Tapwrit and Patch for this year's Derby. Graham Motion enters with Irish War Cry and won the Kentucky Derby in 2011. Trainer John Sheriffs' is looking for another win with Gormley and hasn't won since 2005 with Giacomo.
Over the past decade trainers Bob Baffert and Doug O'Neill have been claiming the Kentucky Derby. Otherwise, it's been a new winning trainer which sets up nicely for Classic Empire's trainer Mark Casse and McCracken's trainer Ian Wilkes. Bob Baffert will not be saddling a horse in this year's Derby. He has an entry in Friday's Kentucky Oaks but will leave Louisville after the race.
Patrick Costello, the Managing Officer of Paramount Sales in Lexington, says two of this year's Derby contenders Untrapped and Gormley went through Paramount Sales consignment in a pin-hooking operation in last year's September sale. Patrick also had an interest in last year's Derby winner, Nyquist, which Patrick raised as a foal before being sold. He feels that Saturday's race will be difficult but is taking shape for McCracken and Classic Empire who will break from posts 14 and 15. Patrick stated that most of the early speed will go to Always Dreaming, State of Honor and Fast and Accurate.
Trainer Mark Casse was pleased with Classic Empire's 4/28 workout and feels he's a legitimate threat in this race. Trainer Ian Wilkes will saddle McCracken who galloped out strongly on 4/30. Both horses are breaking from outside post 12. Posts 12-20 have produced the most Kentucky Derby winners in recent years such as Nyquist, American Pharoah, Orb, I'll Have Another, Animal Kingdom and Big Brown.
It is also expected to rain on Saturday. If the track is wet McCracken has good breeding for wet surfaces and Gormley was able to get the job done on a sloppy track in the Sham G3 in January.