The Super Bowl of thoroughbred racing, the Kentucky Derby, is Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville. It’s the 143 rd Run for the Roses, otherwise known as the “fastest two minutes in sports.” The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, and is followed by the Preakness Stakes on May 20 and the Belmont Stakes on June 10.
The 1 1/4-mile race runs on a dirt track and has a 20-horse field, the biggest you will see. Secretariat, arguably the best thoroughbred horse of all-time, still holds the Kentucky Derby record at 1:59.40, set in 1973. Here’s a look at the three betting favorites for the race, although the Kentucky Derby odds will change after Wednesday’s post position draw.
2017 Kentucky Derby Betting Favorites
Classic Empire (+400)
The Kentucky-bred colt has five wins in seven career races, including a victory at the Arkansas Derby on Apr. 15 and at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race in November of last year. The colt is second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, with 132 points, and has strong bloodlines in Pioneerof the Nile, which finished second at the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Bred by Steven and Brandi Nicholson, Classic Empire was a $475,000 buy at the 2015 Keeneland Yearling Sale for owner John C. Oxley. He usually races close to the speed. His racing style suggests the 1-1/4 miles Derby trip could be a challenge. Classic Empire has drifted in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools, and was at 12-1 at the end of Pool 4.
Always Dreaming (+500)
Winless in two summer juvenile starts, Always Dreaming returned to racing as a 3-year- old with an 11-1/2 length maiden victory at Tampa Bay Downs Jan. 25. With that and a March 4 Gulfstream Park allowance victory behind the horse, trainer Todd Pletcher decided to send him to the Florida Derby April 1. He won that race, which saw fellow Kentucky Derby hopeful Gunnevera finish third. Always Dreaming has little in the way of high -stakes racing experience. Always Dreaming is from the first crop of Bodemeister, runner-up to I’ll Have Another in the 2012 Kentucky Derby. Always Dreaming has generally raced on or near the speed. He galloped to the line very solidly in the 1-1/8 mile Florida Derby.
Irish War Cry (+900)
The colt put in his final work for the Kentucky Derby April 30 at Fair Hill Training Center near Elkton, Md., clocking six furlongs in 1:13 1/5 on trainer Graham Motion’s watch. The Curlin colt, winner of the April 8 Wood Memorial, worked under jockey Rajiv Maragh in company with maiden Providence Road, a full brother to Motion’s 2011 Wood Memorial winner Toby’s Corner. Isabelle de Tomaso’s New Jersey homebred won his first three races, including the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park, leading from gate to wire in defeating Gunnevera and champion juvenile Classic Empire, looking like a great Derby chance while doing so. Unfortunately, he produced a shocker in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) March 4 back at Gulfstream Park, fading badly to finish seventh, 21 lengths behind Gunnevera. Motion called the effort a “real head-scratcher” but suggested he possibly raced the colt too quickly after the Holy Bull Stakes. Irish War Cry was a 7-1 shot when Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager closed Feb. 26 but drifted to 21-1 when Pool 4 closed.