The 143rd Kentucky Derby is set for post time at 6:34pm EST on NBC this Saturday, so toss on a ridiculous hat, whip up a few mint juleps and enjoy the most exciting two minutes in sports!
For most Americans (and even most hardcore sports fans) this is likely the first time you have thought of horse racing since the last Triple Crown race last year (or maybe even longer, given the ratings for the Belmont when there ISN’T a potential Triple Crown winner). It is one of the most fun events to wager on the sports calendar, but with 20 horses – ALL of them brand-new every year, it can also be one of the most difficult.
We have you covered here at TheSportsGeek – we do the research to make you Derby Day selections a little easier (and hopefully more profitable!) We cashed winning tickets in two of the last three Derby years, so lets see if we can enjoy another money-making run for the roses in 2017.
2017 KENTUCKY DERBY PICKS:
This year’s field is far more wide open than in the recent past. The last four years the favorite has won the race, but those favorites were all no larger than 2/1 odds at racetime. As of today, the narrowest odds are 4/1 with favorite Always Dreaming. Behind him are McCracken at 5/1, a rapid close from the 12/1 mark earlier this week, and earlier co-favorite Classic Empire at 6/1.
Without a prohibitive favorite and SO MANY horses in the 6/1 to 12/1 range, this is a tricky field to handicap, but also one with some potentially exciting paydays.
Here’s my 2017 Derby Card:
WIN: McCracken (5/1) – I’ll admit, I loved this horse a lot more earlier in the week at 12/1, but as more and more experts came around on McCracken, he went from plucky upstart value play to near-favoritte status. McCracken’s overall resume isn’t dazzling; a third-place finish at the Bluegrass was a little disappointing, but Horseracing Nation has him as their third-ranked horse speed-wise. Experts love his ability to start at a moderate pace, just behind the pack, only to close down the field with a flurry of late speed.
This racing style is IDEAL for the 1 ¼ mile distance at Churchill Downs and makes McCracken my favorite pick at the Derby (and an even better prospect at the Preakness, if you want to start triple crown dreaming already…) The poor-performance at the Bluegrass may be a blessing for savvy bettors – a win there would likely have landed McCracken as the strong favorite instead the closing co-favorite status he has crept to over the last few days (again, opened at 12/1).
PLACE: Always Dreaming (4/1) – This is the favorite, and for good reason. Todd Pletcher’s horse has never NOT finished in the money in his career. The legendary trainer has bred Kentucky Derby Champions before (Super Saver, 2010) and has raised other Triple Crown race winners including famous filly, Rage to Riches). An impressive recent win in the Arkansas Derby cemented Always Dreaming’s favorite status and dream to add “Kentucky Derby Champion” to his decorated resume.
This is currently the top-rated horse on Horse Racing Nation, which factors in not just placement in races, but also speed and form. This is a worthy co-favorite with a highly capable jockey and incredible trainer and lineage, and a viable Triple Crown threat.
SHOW: Gunnavera (15/1) – This isn’t a horse a lot of people are talking about, aside from the insane kidnapping story of trainer Antonio Sano in 2009 in Venezuela (a really wild story if you want to google it), but the horse itself should be garnering a little more attention. Gunnevera overcame a bad post and a raw speed-favoring track to notch a third-place Florida Derby finish after running the final three-eighths of a mile in 36.59 seconds. That is the third-fastest time in the twenty horse Kentucky Derby Field.
This horse is known as an off-the-pace runner, important in a massive field like the Kentucky Derby where no horse has come from more than five lengths back to win this decade. He has the ability to keep pace and the speed to close down the field. Don’t be surprised to find Gunnevera sneaking into the money on Saturday.
That’s my Trifecta card, but here are my two favorite other Derby wagers.
LONGER SHOT TO WIN: Irish War Cry (8/1) – This is a “win-only” longer odds play. Irish War Cry’s best races have been awesome. His worst was really bad. The showing at the Fountain of Youth was poor. If you throw out that race, the ceiling is incredibly high for Irish War Cry. I’m going to “Ricky Bobby” this wager – if he ain’t first, he’s last. The is a WIN only wager at 8/1.
SLEEPER: Gormley (10/1) – When a good horse is jockeyed by a living legend and toting ten-to-one odds, you have to give him a second look. I’ll take my chances with the guy who rode American Pharaoh to glory on a lesser, but still-capable, horse.
Good luck Saturday! It should be a thrilling two-minutes!