The first Saturday in May marks the start horse racing’s Triple Crown racing season. Kicking things off is the running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, as the crown jewel of this historic racing series.
Horse racing’s biggest betting event of the year could boast one of the most competitive fields in recent memory. While this can make things extremely challenging for even the best horse racing handicappers, it will also add some high drama to what has become known over the years as “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports”. The following three horses would be my “best bet” for a trifecta play in Saturday’s main event at Churchill.
2017 Kentucky Derby- Churchill Downs
The Kentucky Derby is a Grade 1 stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbreds and it will be contested on the dirt track at Churchill Downs over a distance of 1 ¼ miles. The total price purse for this year’s event has been set at $2 million
Always Dreaming and Classic Empire should open as the top two favorites on the morning line odds once the actual post positions for this race have been set, but I still like trainer Graham Motion’s Irish War Cry as my top choice to win. I have been touting this New Jersey-bred colt as a legitimate Derby contender ever since he closed out his juvenile campaign with a victory in the ungraded Marylander Stakes at Laurel Park on New Year’s Eve. He really came into the spotlight by running past both Gunnevera and Classic Empire to win the Grade 2 Holly Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4 at a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
The son of Curlin cemented his status as a top three-year-old with last month’s victory in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct at 1 1/8 miles with jockey Rajiv Maragh getting the ride. The lone blemish on an otherwise perfect resume was a slip to seventh in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on March 4, but his performance his last time out eased any concerns.
I would have to go with Classic Empire as my second choice given everything this Kentucky-bred colt has been able to accomplish in his short racing career. He was named the champion two-year old following victories in both the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park at the end of last year. The slip to third in the Holy Bull did raise some eyebrows, but trainer Mark Casse got him healthy and strong for his first-place run in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 15. He posted a running time of 1:48.93 over the 1 1/8 miles to best Conquest Mo Money and Lookin At Lee.
Horse racing nation has this pedigree of Pioneerof the Nile ranked 23rd with a rating of 8.35. Look for Casse to once again turn to jockey Julien Leparoux to get the most out Classic Empire’s natural strength and speed.
If you go to the current Kentucky Derby Leaderboard when it comes to qualifying points for this year’s race, you would find trainer Joe Sharp’s Girvin at the top of the list with 150 points. This Kentucky-bred three-year old is rising up the ranks with a bullet following his recent victory in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on April 1 at a distance of 1 1/8 miles. While the highlight of his juvenile campaign was a victory in Maiden Special Weight race at Fairgrounds in mid-December, he quickly made a name for himself this year by winning the Grade 2 Risen Star at that same track over Untrapped and Local Hero at a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
Girvin is still well down the list of Kentucky Derby entries when it comes to his HRN rank (No. 215) and rating (7.55). However, this son of Tale of Ekati is a proven winner with a proven jockey aboard in Mike Smith that puts him in excellent position to finish in the money on Saturday.What is your pick for this year's Kentucky Derby? Join The Conversation In SBR's Forum!