There’s No Standout Kentucky Derby Contender

Classic Empire. Photo: AP Photo/Garry Jones

Who Will Likely Be In The Winner Circle For The 2017 Kentucky Derby

The run for the roses is usually filled with a handful of talented, standout horses that have caught the eye of many fans. However, this year is a little different.

Since American Pharoah did the impossible and won the Triple Crown in 2015, there hasn’t been an exciting fan favorite for the Derby. Think about it before Pharoah there was Calfornia Chrome, the colt foaled by an $8,000 filly that was too slow for the track. (Side note $8,000 may seem like a lot, but in the horse racing world that is pretty much nothing.)

Then before California Chrome came along there was Mine That Bird, the little gelding that showed up in the back of a van driven by his trainer Benny (Chip) Wooley and rode by Calvin Borel. Mine That Bird was a 50-1 longshot, who became horse racing’s Cinderella story.

But take a look at the field of 20 horses in this weekend’s Derby. Who stands out? Who is the horse no one wanted? Who is the horse that showed up not in a prestigious hauling trailer? There isn’t one.

While there is no California Chrome or Barbaro in this year’s Derby, there is one horse that is favorited to win it easily. Classic Empire appears to be the one that could be wearing the roses at the end of the day.

Classic Empire, a 4-1 favorite, is trained by Mark E. Casse with Julien R. Leparoux as his jockey. He is fully healed from a hoof abscess that caused some problems for him earlier in the year.

The young horse is known by his trainer as “racing’s bad boy,” due to his rebellious side. He won the first two races he ran in last year (both at Churchill Downs) before throwing his rider at the start of Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga in September. After this, he came back to win two Grade 1 wins last fall, which included the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but threw away the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream and refused to train for several weeks after that.

In April Classic Empire redeemed himself with a win at the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and has been on his best behavior since. With good health and good behavior, Classic Empire will likely be hard to beat.

Of course, there’s always those handfuls of horses that could beat the favorite. One being Always Dreaming. The three-year-old will be in the number 5 post and is trained by Todd Pletcher and jockeyed by John Velazquez.

Always Dreaming. Photo: AP Photo/Garry Jones

Coming in with 5-1 odds, Always Dreaming is undefeated since moving to Pletcher’s barn and has risen to the challenges asked of him. All three wins under Pletcher have come by open lengths.

Winner of the Florida Derby after breaking from the field in the final lengths of the race, the horse is a true threat to Classic Empire and could easily put on a show everyone fancies. His only downfall is inconsistent practices earlier this week.

Two others that could be upsetting are McCraken and Irap. McCraken was undefeated in his career until the Blue Grass last month, which his trainer says he didn’t have him fired up for. Trained by Ian Wilkes and jockeyed by Brian Hernandez Jr. the young horse has a good track record at Churchill Downs as three of his four wins came on that track.

Though it is a stretch Irap has a little wildcard chance of wearing the roses. Trained by Doug O’Neill and jockeyed by Mario Gutierrez, Irap beat McCraken and battled it out with Practical Joke to win the Blue Grass last month. His trainer, jockey duo were the same team that won the 2012 Derby with I’ll Have Another and his owner, trainer duo won the Derby last year with Nyquist. It will be quite a show and an impressive upset if Irap did turn it on and run to the winner’s circle.


Allison Leslie is a University of South Florida graduate with a bachelors degree in Mass Communications. She joined Genesis in 2016. With a passion for sports, Allison has interned with 620 WDAE, Pewter Report, Trifecta Team: St. Petersburg Bowl, Bullscast, and many other publications. Being a native to the Bay Area, she has followed and supported Tampa Bay teams her whole life.