The road to the 2017 Kentucky Derby has been interesting. While there has been plenty of excitement and stories that we have followed closely, the entire package of contenders that will load into the starting gate is still somewhat of a mystery.
Who those 20 horses will be, however, is now clearer. Over the next three weeks, we will begin to learn more about which of hopefuls in the top 20 will be running for the roses. Likewise, we will find out if the connections of any qualifier will pass and open the door for someone else that is currently on the outside looking in.
2017 Kentucky Derby Leaderboard
As of Saturday, April 15, 2017
*Tiebreakers: Earnings in non-restricted graded stakes races is the tiebreaker for horses with the same amount of points
Beyond this list here is what else we know. The new "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" is unlikely to produce a starter in the opening year of the partnership between Churchill Downs Inc. and the Japan Racing Association. One spot in the starting gate is reserved by invitation to the following horses in order of preference that competed in the Cattleya Sho or Hyacinth: Epicharis, Mont Saint Legame, and Adirato. However, it is pretty clear that their connections have elected to pass on the opportunity. As a result, the lucky horse that officially becomes #20 will benefit the most from them declining the invitation.
Conquest Mo Money has enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby since he finished runner-up in the Arkansas Derby on Saturday after he also finished second in the Sunland Derby. However, the son of Uncle Mo, owned by Judge Lanier Racing, is not Triple Crown nominated. Therefore, the ticket to Churchill Downs now costs a whopping $200,000.
The connections for Conquest Mo Money attempted to avoid the late Triple Crown Supplemental Fee but they missed the deadline date of March 20. Another qualifier that is in this same predicament is the Spiral Stakes winner Fast and Accurate. However, the owner in this situation has a very good relationship that made his decision to pay the $200k much easier.
Dr. Kendall Hansen and Skychai Racing partnered in the past when the group of horse racing enthusiasts purchased 25% interest in his most accomplished colt, Hansen. The business transaction occurred before the son of Tapit would go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2011. Now, after the win in the 2017 Spiral Stakes, Skychai and Dr. Hansen have partnered again when Skychai invested in a 27% interest in the son of Hansen.
So, consider the $200k supplemental fee paid, and for Fast and Accurate to be in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. As for Conquest Mo Money, we are still waiting to hear if his connections will be willing to pay the fee or if they are also working on a partnership to offset the cost.
Something else we don’t know yet is if any of the top 20 will pass on the Kentucky Derby. It seems like a recurring thing, so it isn’t abnormal when I say that we’re still waiting on a decision from UAE. In 2017, the winner of the UAE Derby was Thunder Snow, trained by Saeed bin Suroor. At this point in his young career, he has yet to race on American soil, so this would be his first trip across the Atlantic.
When you look at his record you will see three consecutive graded stakes wins which makes you think that it would be worth the trip, because he could be a serious contender. However, when you also consider a different race on the same exact day, you could then start to understand why his connections are still considering their options. If it’s not the Kentucky Derby look for Thunder Snow to be searching for this fourth consecutive win in the English 2000 Guineas-G1.
It happens every year. A horse will show his brilliance in one stage of the Kentucky Derby prep season before he’s asked to “Go the Distance.” Unfortunately, I don’t think Malagacy is Ray Kinsella from Field of Dreams. Because he couldn’t hold on to crack the top four at a distance of 1 1/8 mile at Oaklawn yesterday, I don’t see him being a factor at the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 1/4 mile. Nothing has been announced and it’s really up to the owner so we’ll see if Malagacy stays in the Kentucky Derby field or sits back and targets the Preakness Stakes instead.
Therefore, Conquest Mo Money, Thunder Snow, and Malagacy are my top three to qualifiers that I consider most likely to opt out of the Kentucky Derby field. What’s interesting is that the first horse in is trained by someone who has shown that he isn’t willing to send a horse to the Kentucky Derby unless they have a real chance to win. Since he started out on his own in 2007, Chad Brown has only saddled a total of three Kentucky Derby starters. The first was Normandy Invasion in 2013, while last year Brown sent two in My Man Sam and Shagaf. I’m sure he would be thrilled to arrive in Louisville this year with two more but it will be interesting to see if Brown chooses to send Cloud Computing if he gets the chance.
Therefore, don’t consider Untrapped or Lookin at Lee as non-starters in this year’s Kentucky Derby for they still might get the chance.
Now that the scoring has officially concluded here’s some more information about our past four Kentucky Derbys dating back to 2013, the first edition after the points system was launched in the summer of 2012.
+ Of the horses that started in the Kentucky Derby, the horse that won has always been ranked inside the top three – 2017 top three: Girvin, Classic Empire, Gormley.
+ No winner has ever had less than 130 points. If Girvin or Classic Empire do not win, this year will be the first.
+ The winner in the first four years of the points prep season also won their final prep that was worth 100 points.
+ Since the points system began the highest amount of points for the last horse in was 32 (Mo Tom in 2016) -- 40 points is the current cutoff in 2017.
Like most years it’s been a long road so far and has been surprising to say the least. For many flashes of brilliance, a step in the opposite direction happened next. Therefore, what do we make of the ones that just scored the best win of their young racing careers? Based on what we’ve seen lately we might be timid to expect the same performance next time out.
And so, it might just be that type of year. Consequently, I’m not putting any value into the points stats over the last four years. It might look good on paper but this year, a horse with less than 50 points could easily be wearing the roses. The good news is that we still have three more weeks to study so keep digging until you find your winner.