Kentucky Derby 2017: The Final Analysis

Kentucky Derby 2017: The Final Analysis
Photo: Dan Heary/Eclipse Sportswire

1) Lookin At Lee- Quite simply, he needs a fast pace up front and then a total pace collapse. If he gets it, and if a few others can’t close better than he does, he can win. I don’t see all of that happening. Horses like him are usually a sucker bet in the Kentucky Derby

2) Thunder Snow- He’s a talented horse, no doubt. But I don’t like the way he looked while winning his last two races in Dubai. Literally, he looked like a very awkward mover, and to me, it’s hard to envision him gliding home at the Derby distance. I would be very surprised if he hit the board.  

3) Fast and Accurate- Even though he won the same race that Animal Kingdom won in 2011 as his final prep, this is no Animal Kingdom. I don’t think he’s quite as hopeless in here as most people, but I don’t really see him sticking around much longer than the first mile. His name should probably be Not That Fast But Accurate.  

4) Untrapped- I wish he wasn’t running for the simple fact that I was thinking he would be my sneaky longshot pick before he ran an uninspiring race in the Arkansas Derby. So then I kind of lost interest in him, but he’s going to run in the Derby and I can’t stand the thought of dismissing him and then watching him run big and mess up all my bets. So I am going to use him a little, but in truth I think he’s going to need a major, major step forward if he’s going to be a factor in here. He seems to be something of a known quantity, and what we know is that he isn’t as fast as a lot of these.   

5) Always Dreaming- He made his 2017 debut on a Wednesday at Tampa Bay Downs and enticed jockey John Velazquez to give up an entire day of mounts at Gulfstream Park to ride him that day, when he won by 11 lengths. He has since won twice more by margins or 4 and 5 lengths, including his win in the Florida Derby. And he’s made the wins look effortless. The word from Louisville is that he’s been bouncing all over the racetrack this week, and while that can sometimes be interpreted as a sign that the horse is too fired up by all the commotion, most people seem to think he is feeling full of himself and is sitting on a huge effort. In my opinion, he is the co-most likely winner. 

6) State of Honor- Literally every single time this horse has raced around two turns, he has lost ground to the winner in the final 1/8 mile. I simply can’t see him putting it all together at the Kentucky Derby distance against horses who have already beaten him and who appear more suited to the distance. If he wins, I may have to forget everything I know about horse racing and start over or pick another sport to bet on. He’s going to have to run a race that he has never shown he is capable of running if he is to win this. That being said, I think he’s got a lot of talent. You’ll get good odds if you like him. 

7) Girvin- In his four career starts, this guy has done absolutely nothing wrong. I made over a grand on him when he won the Risen Star at 8-1, and he followed that up with a really solid effort when he won the Louisiana Derby. My main reason for not using him in the Kentucky Derby is because we have seen so many horses in recent years dominate the Louisiana preps and then fail to make an impact at Churchill Downs. To me, it seems like that path to the Derby is perhaps populated with second tier horses in most years. Plus, he had/has a recent foot issue and has had his training interrupted in the last couple of weeks. So I didn’t really like him all that much before, and I don’t like him now. He’s a really solid horse who just has too many strikes against him. 

8) Hence- Two horses he beat in the Sunland Derby, Irap and Conquest Mo Money, came back to run huge races in their subsequent starts. Because of that, this is seemingly everyone’s sneaky pick. But allow me to keep this short by declaring that I think a bunch of others in here are more likely, and if Hence finishes in the top two, I will lose every bet. 

9) Irap- It kills me that I bet this horse when he ran 2nd at 23-1 in December and then again when he ran 4th at 6-1 in March, but I neglected to bet him in the Blue Grass Stakes when he got his first career win at 31-1 in April. I wanted to vomit. I have always felt like Irap was a sneaky kind of Derby candidate, and while I admit that the Blue Grass as a bit of an odd race, he might be picking the right time to get good. His jockey, Mario Gutierrez, is 2 for 2 in the Kentucky Derby, both times riding for Irap’s trainer, Doug O’Neill. I would not dismiss this horse if I were you.  

10) Gunnevera- I have gone back and forth on this horse more than I have on any other horse in the last 15 years. On one hand, I can see him flying from the back of the pack and passing every horse on his way to a win. But I can also see him starting at the back and staying there until the very end when he passes the quitters and finishes 7th. I see a lot of similarities between him and his father, Dialed In, who never really fired as the Kentucky Derby favorite in 2011. So I am going to use Gunnevera a little, but not a lot.   

11) Battle of Midway- Ran arguably the best race of anyone when finishing 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby, but my gut tells me that was more a result of the competition than of his own ability. He never race as a two year old, and no horse has won the Kentucky Derby without a start at two since 1882. 

12) Sonneteer- See: Lookin At Lee.  

13) J Boys Echo- I won some good money on this guy when he won the Gotham at 6-1, and I have to admit he’s an interesting longshot in here. That being said, my general sense is that horses that spend the winter in New York usually aren’t among the best of the bunch nationwide. He’s a nice horse but I just like too many others more. 

14) Classic Empire- Last year’s Champion Two Year Old has only raced twice in the last six months, and one of those races was essentially a non-effort. The other was a really nice win last out in the Arkansas Derby. So it’s obvious he is a serious racehorse with immense talent and he is clearly the most accomplished horse in this field who, on his best day, is a prime win contender. But in the 20+ years I have been closely following the Kentucky Derby trail, I can’t remember a single time that a horse that missed training or a race (or both) due to some sort of physical setback was able to make a major impact on the Kentucky Derby. It is my opinion that in order to win the Derby, a horse’s winter and spring need to be all smooth sailing, and that was not the case for Classic Empire. Additionally, he will be favored. So I am not using him. I like others more. And while I wouldn’t try to talk anyone out of betting him, I would urge them to seriously ask themselves if they really feel comfortable wagering on a horse who has basically only had one real race since November.  Of course he’s good.  But I think he’d would need to be a superstar to overcome all he has faced.  

15) McCraken- This horse has a ton of fans, and that’s not surprising considering he is undefeated at Churchill Downs and was undefeated everywhere until he missed the Tampa Bay Derby and went straight to the Blue Grass where he finished 3rd in a relatively flat effort. And the reason that concerns me is because he needed points in the Blue Grass in order to make the Kentucky Derby. So I have to think he was primed or nearly primed for a big race that day. And while yes, that was an odd race, I think there was a real expectation he would show more than he did. So even though it’s undeniable that McCraken is a very good horse, we can’t use all 20 and we can’t use only the favorites. I think there are legit reasons for dismissing him. But he can definitely win. 

16) Tapwrit- Last year, Trainer Todd Pletcher won the Tampa Bay Derby with Destin, who then didn’t race again until the Kentucky Derby where he finished just off the board in a pretty solid effort. Many observers wondered if Destin might have won the Derby last year if he had had a race in between his Tampa win and the Derby. Well, after Tapwrit won the Tampa Bay Derby this year, Pletcher entered him in the Blue Grass where he raced wide throughout the race and even encountered some traffic trouble en route to a 5th place effort. Everyone jumped off his bandwagon after that race, even though, from my perspective, it was the exact race Destin might have needed last year. Tapwrit didn’t need to run a big race in the Blue Grass. He already had the necessary points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, and just needed to stay fit. And based on the reports of most observers at Churchill Downs this week, Tapwrit has looked fantastic. I think he’s a serious win candidate.   

17) Irish War Cry- If you draw a line through his 7th place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, he’s a perfect 4 for 4 and the most consistently fast horse in the Kentucky Derby. The question is, why did he run so badly in the Fountain of Youth? Did he just have a bad reaction to the big win is his prior race? Did he quit when he knew he was beaten? Whatever the reason, I am thinking that trainer Graham Motion got the situation corrected, and that’s why he romped in the Wood Memorial. No need to overanalyze it. He’s a major win candidate.   If it were not for that poor race in the Fountain of Youth, I would say he was the most likely winner.  So we’ll call him co-most likely. 

18) Gormley- I had him at 10-1 in the Frontrunner Stakes last October.  Nice pay day. The change in tactics he used in the Santa Anita Derby win clearly helped, but I tend to agree with the conventional wisdom which is that the Santa Anita Derby was a subpar race overall. It just doesn’t seem like the horses coming out of California were all that strong this year, minus the injured Mastery. Jockey Victor Espinoza is always dangerous, and Gormley is a multiple Grade I winner. So there are things to like. I just happen to think several others in here are better.   

19) Practical Joke- One of the few Grade I winners in here, and he has two Grade I wins. It’s always risky to take a classy horse lightly, but I have never felt this guy wanted to run this far. His trainer has been trying different equipment on the horse in the last couple weeks, and to me that says he is uncertain about his ability as well. Every year there is a horse in the Kentucky Derby that I don’t use but who scares me. This is that horse this year. He’s talented, but I am thinking this isn’t his best distance. 

20) Patch- What is really unfortunate about Patch is that he is the feel good story of the year due to the fact that he lost his left eye to an infection when he was much younger and now everyone feels sorry for him which will result in people betting on him which will drive down his odds.  He should be 30-1, and it won’t surprise me if he is 15-1. And guess what. I really love his chances to hit the board and I don’t think a win is out of the question.  In addition to only having one eye, he only has three career starts and never raced at age two (See: Battle of Midway).  I have watched the replays of all three of his races, and I think he is going to love this distance.  Does he have the experience? That’s obviously a key question. I hate the fact that Patch is the media darling of the Derby. I wish he was more under the radar than he is because it would give me better odds. This horse is no joke. One final fact: He was named Patch before he lost his eye.   

21) Royal Mo (Also Eligible)- Will only run if there is a scratch before 9am Friday-  Some people really liked the way he ran in the Santa Anita Derby, and from a visual standpoint it wasn’t a bad effort. They all just staggered home so slowly in that race, and with so many horses so close together at the wire, it’s fair to question the quality of the race. So I won’t be using him if he draws into the field.   

22) Master Plan (Also Eligible)- Will only run if there is two scratchs before 9am Friday -  He lost to Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby, but I actually liked his effort and in my opinion, he looked more suited to the Kentucky Derby distance than Thunder Snow. And while I am using all three Pletcher horses and I do respect Master Plan, I won’t be using him in the unlikely event he makes the field.  

Classic Empire is almost certainly going to be the favorite, and that’s understandable. But he’s not for me. I could never bet serious money on a horse who was not only favored, but who missed significant training time so close to the Derby. Yes, he still managed to win the Arkansas Derby. But this is a big step up and I have serious doubts about how prepared he is. So he is not going to be a big part of my bets. For me, from a wagering perspective, the race comes down to Irish War Cry and the Todd Pletcher trio of Always Dreaming, Tapwrit, and Patch.  I think Always Dreaming and Irish War Cry are right there together as far as most likely winners. After the top two, I’d put Tapwrit in the same category as McCraken and Classic Empire, but at much better odds.  And Patch looks like he’s going to love the distance and won’t stop running. I just wish the Patch story wasn’t getting so much attention. Irap and Gunnevera will also appear in my bets.  Obviously, we need Classic Empire and McCraken to run no better than 3rd.  

Most Likely Winner: I can’t separate Irish War Cry and Always Dreaming.  Take your pick. Luckily I don’t have to pick one. Gun to my head, I’ll take Irish War Cry because he should be better odds. 

Top Longshots: Tapwrit, Patch, and Irap.

Win/Place Bet: Patch, although I already have money on Tapwrit from Pool 3 of the Future Wager, so I will be celebrating if either horse wins. 

Meet Justin Dew














Father ...

Gambler ...

Writer ...

Porsche driver.



Top Stories

Trainer Michael Stidham could not be more excited...
Palm Beach, Fla. Sometimes racing gets it right. S...
Palm Beach, Fla. He raced only three times last ye...
In this biweekly series, racing analyst J. Keeler...
With all the major hype surrounding Arabian Knight...
x