It’s been a while since we had a Kentucky Derby this wide-open. Wednesday was the final day for formal entries into the most important event in horse racing, and after the post positions were drawn, the 2017 Kentucky Derby odds got even tighter. Classic Empire (17/4 at press time) and Always Dreaming (9/2) saw their odds take a small hit, falling slightly back to the pack on the Derby futures market, while Irish War Cry (6/1) and McCraken (6/1) have gained ground on the top favorites at Bovada Racebook.
In theory, Classic Empire has already proven himself the best of this year’s crop by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2016. But the Road to the Kentucky Derby has been a rough one for “Racing’s Bad Boy.” The Mark Casse-trained bay was limited by a hoof abscess earlier this year, then developed back problems and was generally difficult to handle.
Always Dreaming hasn’t been a joy to handle, either. Trainer Todd Pletcher has already gone through equipment and personnel changes with the son of Bodemeister, and reports from Churchill Downs have the dark bay bouncing off the walls. But all that excess energy is being interpreted as a good sign in this case, and on top of that, the Grade 1 Florida Derby champion drew post No. 5 for Saturday’s big race; nine previous Kentucky Derby winners left from that gate, including California Chrome in 2014.
The race within the race should be between Classic Empire and McCraken, who drew post No. 15. That’s the first stall in the auxiliary gate, which means there will be a little more elbow room between the two horses. American Pharoah used that leverage to win the 2015 Kentucky Derby, then won the Preakness and the Belmont to complete the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. McCraken was an early favorite for this year’s Derby before a disappointing third-place finish at the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes. Despite the third-place finish, the Ian Wilkes-trained bay has plenty of fans supporting him at the betting window.
Irish War Cry will leave from post No. 17, and no horse has ever won the Derby from that gate, but that statistic is a bit misleading; fields of 20 horses have become the norm only in the past couple decades. In fact, the higher-numbered gates have been more successful in recent years, with nine of the past 17 winners breaking from post No. 13 or higher. Seven of those nine were in the auxiliary gate. Will Irish War Cry make some more history this Saturday?
*Odds as of May 5, 2017