2017 Kentucky Derby day selections and analysis

As usual, this year’s Derby promises to be a fascinating race. While it’s the best known race in the country if not the world, it’s by no means the race with the best horses. It’s a race for young horses just developing, where the pace and trip in a 20 horse field mean more in many cases than who has the most talent. This year’s edition is particularly wide open; there are no less than five horses who could logically go off the post time favorite (a couple of whom I’ll be taking a strong stand against) and about 5 others who have almost as good a chance of wearing the roses at the end of the race.

First, some selections for a few other key races from Churchill on Oaks and Derby days…

Friday May 5th - Kentucky Oaks Day;

5th race – Grade I La Troienne Stakes

I’ll take morning line 2nd choice Paid Up Subscriber for trainer Chad Brown to upset 6 to 5 morning line favorite Finest City, who ships in from California with a great record but has never run on this track. Can make a case for longshot Streamline to run well here at a big price.

6th race – Grade II Alysheba Stakes

Honorable Duty’s last points him out, in great form and likes the Churchill surface, may go off a solid price too. American Freedom for Bob Baffert is strictly the horse to beat if he can handle the extended layoff but will likely be over bet due to his connections.

11th race- Grade I Kentucky Oaks

The lightly raced favorite Paradise Woods has been nothing short of spectacular in her last two starts and will go off a heavy choice. She has the breeding and connections to win this, but I’m not sold on her limited California form and will take a cautious stand against with the next three likely choices. Farrell has been almost as spectacular in winning her last four starts, all stakes, and has much more proven experience. People don’t take races in Louisiana as seriously as Santa Anita but there’s no reason to think she’s faced anything less there. In addition she’s had four races at Churchill and run really well, including a 6 length romp in the Goldenrod stakes there last year, while the favorite has never run on this track, a major difference. She’s trained by Wayne Catalano, a grossly underrated trainer who is as good as anyone in the business and deserves much more recognition than he gets. Salty is another lightly raced filly who unfortunately drew the far outside #14 post. Tough to win from there but she could be every bit as talented as the top two and will go off a better price. Mention must also be made of Monmouth Park based connections Miss Sky Warrior. Trainer Kelly Breen and jockey Paco Lopez are as good as you get in the game and the filly just keeps winning. She was nothing short of spectacular in her 13 length win at Aqueduct last time out and a case can certainly be made for her to run big again here.

Saturday May 6th – Kentucky Derby Day

Pre-Derby races;

6th – Grade I Distaff

Paulassilverlining is as consistent as they come and goes for top connections. Can make a case for Carina Mia if she can handle the lengthy layoff.

7th – Grade II Distaff Turf

Hard to go past Roca Rojo for Chad Brown off her last, even with a moderate layoff. Miss Temple City strictly the horse to beat. Believe in Bertie will be an obscene longshot and could hit the board and make for nice exacta payoff with short priced likely top choices.

8th – Grade III Pat Day Mile

I don’t care for Pat Day and I don’t like the race

9th – Grade II American Turf

Wide open race, look for a price, no obvious selections

10th Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes

Masochistic ships in for Ron Ellis, another grossly under rated top trainer. Has won over the track and looks primed for big effort.

11th Grade I Woodford Reserve

Divisadero has run very well here before and is perhaps sitting on a big race. Beach Patrol and Ballagh Rocks run for top connections and can’t be ignored. Not much to choose from between top three, look for the price.

The Kentucky Derby

This is a super wide open affair, more than any year in recent memory. Let’s begin by taking a stand against the two morning line favorites, one of whom will likely go off the tepid choice. Always Dreaming won the Florida Derby in a cakewalk, and that’s usually a good path to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle. Problem is, this year’s Florida Derby was the weakest in recent memory, basically a glorified allowance race. He got a perfect trip and won easily, this is a totally different story. A very talented horse, he’s also known to be a nervous type, not a good thing for a race like this. He is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has a horrible record in all the Triple Crown races. If he runs his best race he certainly could win, but betting this race is about taking a stand against likely over bet horses and I’ll let him beat me if he can. Classic Empire, last year’s two year old champion, is another nervous type who will likely bet over bet. Two year old champions rarely win this race but his win in the Arkansas Derby from off the pace was impressive and he’s a little more scary to take a stand against than Always Dreaming. That said, as above, you have to be willing to bet against likely over bet horses with obvious flaws to make money in this race, so I’ll let him beat me too. Finally, let’s leave out Gunnevera, a weak third to the top mentioned Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby. A gritty deep closer, he could hit the board but hard to see him win it all. Assuming Always Dreaming and/or Classic Empire take solid money in the wagering, I’ll go with 3 possible horses on top;

Top Contenders;

  1. All of New Jersey racing will be cheering madly for Irish War Cry, but emotion aside, he’s a very logical horse to win it all and may go off a decent price to boot. By top distance sire Curlin, he’s bred to go the distance and looks the part.He’s trained by Graham Motion, a low-key type who does a great job and has quietly managed this horse to peak at the right time. Throw out his one debacle in the Fountain of Youth stakes and he’s undefeated. His win in the Wood Memorial was visually impressive as he stalked the pace, rated perfectly, and won going away. He has the speed to get a good position and the talent, breeding and training to wear the roses with a decent trip if he fires his best shot.
  2. McCraken would be the solid unbeaten favorite had he not been upset in his last prep, the Blue Grass at Keeneland. That said, he wasn’t badly beaten there on a surface he may not have favored and has trained well since for the patient Ian Wilkes. He could easily go off the favorite here in a wide open race, if he gets a little less mutual support he’s well worth a bet. Would be no surprise at all to see him in the winner’s circle and an excellent candidate to hit the board if he doesn’t win.  
  3. Hence won the Sunland Park Derby in a fast time, coming from 10th of 11 horses to win going away in race that has become a key prep when Irap who finished 4th behind him came back to upset McCraken in the Blue Grass. He’s trained very well since and trainer Steve Asmussen knows his way to the winner’s circle in big races. Will be a price here and won’t be shocked if he at least hits the board.

Possible Contenders (in no particular order);

Patch - The one eyed horse will get emotional betting, a great story. The far outside post hurts, Pletcher doesn’t do well in Triple Crown races, but royally bred for it and last was a huge effort, a factor if he moves forward and others don’t fire.

Gormley – California contender has some big races, John Shirreffs is an excellent, patient trainer. Perhaps a cut below the top ones, probably not the winner but could easily hit the board

Girvin – Really has done nothing wrong in four lifetime starts, beat the above-mentioned Patch in his last. At 15 to 1 morning line with Mike Smith, there are a lot worse bets in this race. Good backup bet.

Thunder Snow – If ever there was a year for a horse to come from out of the country and upset, this is it. All the likely favorites have question marks, and this horse has run well on the grass in Europe and trained impressively towards this race in two preps in the United Arab Emirates). If he goes off anywhere near his morning line 20 to 1 odds, he’s a must use for at least a small backup wager.


Sonneteer – A maiden who has run very well in last two starts (Rebel Stakes 2nd and Arkansas Derby, a closing 4th) he’ll be a huge price and could hit the board.

Irap – A consistent type who looked good upsetting McCraken in the Blue Grass

Battle of Midway – Lightly raced talented horse by top sire Smart Strike trained by one of the best in the world in Jerry Hollendorfer. At 30 to 1 morning line there are worse backup bets.

Practical Joke – Always close, beaten by one of the top contenders in each of his last three starts but never a bad effort. Chad Brown is as good a trainer as there is. 20 to 1 on morning line and could certainly hit the board.

Good luck and a safe, clean trip to all the horses and riders. All of New Jersey says GO IRISH WAR CRY!