2017 Kentucky Derby Picks and Analysis
143rd Kentucky Derby likely muddy and wide open
2017 Kentucky Derby-G1, Race 12, Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 6, 2017
3-Year-Olds, 1 1/4-miles, Dirt, Purse: $2 million
2017 Kentucky Derby Predictions
1. Irish War Cry
2. Practical Joke
5. Classic Empire
6. Longshot — Battle of Midway
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Kentucky Derby Analysis
The 143rd Kentucky Derby is likely to be run over a muddy track this year, but it was already wide open to start with, and we’re not changing our picks regardless.
Irish War Cry looked too good not to use in his last start, the Wood Memorial-G1 on April 8, and we’d almost given up on him going into that race. We bet on him in the Fountain of Youth and he was beaten over 20 lengths, which we found very odd considering top trainer Graham Motion. Given another chance in the Wood Memorial, Motion corrected whatever went wrong and it was a much more relaxed Irish War Cry who powered home when asked to win by 3 1/2-lengths.
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Irish War Cry has enough tactical speed to sit just off the pace in the 143rd Derby and could get a perfect trip despite breaking from post 17 in the auxiliary gate. He’s the only horse in this year’s Derby to have broken the 100 mark on the Beyer Speed Figure scale twice, his trainer won this race in 2011 with Animal Kingdom, and he’s been training perfectly at Churchill Downs. All systems go as the current in-form play.
If you like tough guy horses as we do, Practical Joke is your play. He finished second beaten only three-quarters of a length in the Bluegrass Stakes-G2 on April 8 while making his third start off the layoff and he gave his best while still not being quite ready. And despite the fact that the Blue Grass was won by the- maiden-now Derby entrant Irap, there was just something odd about how the race was run.
We’re guessing Irap got a little lucky over a speed favoring surface in the Blue Grass and both Practical Joke and third place finisher McCraken probably ran better than it looked. Conditioned by top trainer Chad Brown, and slated to be ridden by star jockey Joel Rosario, Practical Joke comes to fight every time. A double Grade-1 stakes winner at two, he’ll need a good trip from the outside behind a pace battle if he hopes to get the 1 1/4-miles of the Derby, but he might just get it.
It’s a close call for our third choice between McCraken and Gunnevera in this year’s Derby, but McCracken gets the edge because of his 3-for-3 record at Churchill Downs. Undefeated in four starts leading up to his third-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes, he also may have been disadvantaged by the way the track was playing at Keeneland that day. He’s another that will need some pace up front, but should be flying late, as should Gunnevera. The latter could be a bit of a sleeper at a big price with top jockey Javier Castellano in the irons.
Gunnevera actually ran a good race in his last start, the Florida Derby-G1 on April 1, finishing a rallying third to runaway winner and fellow Derby entrant Always Dreaming. The latter will face more pace pressure this time, while Gunnevera looked like he was prepping for this race. Enticing at a big price.
Another longshot we like a bit is Battle of Midway. Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer and slated to be ridden by top Santa Anita jockey Flavien Prat, Battle of Midway finished a game second beaten only half a length in the Santa Anita Derby-G1 and might just put the other speed in this year’s Derby away if he feels like it. He was making only his fourth lifetime start in the Santa Anita Derby and he ran much better than many expected. Still improving and a game sort based on his last race, he doesn’t necessarily need the lead to win and he will be huge odds. We’ll be using him up and down in our longshot exactor flyers.
The last horse we’ll mention is likely favorite Classic Empire. A finicky sort, last year’s Breeder’s Cup Juvenile-G1 winner got back on track in his last with a win in the Arkansas Derby-G1, and his best race would make him the horse to beat based on class. At a short price in the mud, we’d rather look elsewhere.
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