WASHINGTON — Will history repeat itself on Saturday at Churchill Downs? Or, with a wide open field this year, could a dark horse emerge as the winner in first leg of the Triple Crown? Over the past four years the favorite has won the Kentucky Derby: Orb in 2013, California Chrome in 2014, American Pharoah in 2015, and Nyquist in 2016. Track conditions could be sloppy, as Storm Team 4 Meteorologist Lauryn Ricketts suggests that an inch-and-a-half to two inches of rain could fall from Friday into Saturday.
The 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby does not feature mega stars in this race. There are no proven horses like eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, or even a California Chrome who won both the Derby and Preakness three years ago.
See the gallery below for a complete race list with odds updated as of Friday afternoon:
Here are the picks for Win, Place & Show (and a few dark horses if you’re feeling wild)
WIN: #5 ALWAYS DREAMING
“Look, what do you do when you buy a horse? You’re ‘always dreaming’ it’s going to win a big race. More important, every day everybody’s always dreaming about doing something.”– Maryellen Bonomo, wife of Always Dreaming owner Anthony Bonomo, told the New York Post.
Anthony Bonomo and Vinnie Viola and their stable called “Brooklyn Boyz” own the second favorite in this year’s Derby at 5-1 (Update: Always Dreaming has moved to the favorite at 4-1). The 3 year-old colt draws the 2014 winner California Chrome’s post at #14 and has been getting better as the week has gone on down at Churchill Downs.
His last three races he’s won by more than 20 lengths combined and he ran in outstanding fashion in his Florida Derby victory. The only thing that might work against AD: he’s never run against more than 10 horses in the field. If he gets tied up in the slop with other horses it could spell trouble. But after watching his performance in the Florida Derby — which, in my opinion, is the best indicator of who will find success at the Derby — Always Dreaming is ready for glory.
There won’t be a ton of speed horses around Always Dreaming out the gate, and he’s peaking at the right time. He’s undefeated in all three starts this year — I predict you can make that four and that the Brooklyn Boyz will be dreaming of a Triple Crown after winning on Saturday.
PLACE: #16 TAPWRIT
I’ve never been one to call myself a pedigree snob, but Tapwrit’s bloodline has me believing he could make a serious run at winning the 1 ¼ mile race. The 2017 Tampa Bay Derby winner is the son of sire Tapit who has an average winning distance of 7.53 furlongs, which ranks fourth among this year’s Derby Sires.
What I like most about Tapwrit, however, is not his speed or his family — it’s his long strides and the fact that he never seems to get tired. I’m not so worried about his fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes, as he never seemed to get into any rhythm at Keeneland back on April 8. If the conditions are indeed sloppy at Churchill Downs Saturday I believe it will play to his advantage even more.
It’s going to be a great day for legendary trainer Todd Pletcher, who also trains Always Dreaming.
SHOW: #14 CLASSIC EMPIRE
With five wins in seven career starts and coming off a win at the Arkansas Derby, Classic Empire is the #1 favorite coming into Saturday. However, I do not believe that he will become the fifth straight favorite to win the Derby, a feat that has not been accomplished since the 19th century.
The colt only has two starts this year (including the Arkansas Derby), finishing third in the Holy Bull back in February to 6-1 Irish War Cry. Classic Empire’s trainer Mark Casse has never won the Derby and neither has jockey Julien Leparoux.
Empire’s looked spectacular in his first place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile back in November and, as I mentioned, he won the Arkansas Derby his last race. But he’s not a standout like American Pharoah. While he should be included in your trifecta and superfecta boxes, I wouldn’t throw a lot of money down on the favorite to win outright.
#1 LOOKIN AT LEE
The inside position is not favorable, as the inside horse has not won the Kentucky Derby since Ferdinand in 1986. I do not believe Lookin at Lee is good enough to overcome the obstacle and history, however he’s proven at Churchhill Downs and on a wet track. He could sit on the rail and hope that it opens up. Plus, his jockey Ray Hanson is from Kentucky, so that would make for a great story, right?
I loved what I saw back in March when Gunnevera won the Fountain of Youth, and wasn’t pushed in the Florida Derby too much so I don’t put too much stock into his third-place finish. Has had some bad exits from the gate but always finishes well. With a clean trip, he could be dangerous.
#19 PRACTICAL JOKE
He won his first start at Saratoga Race Course by five lengths back in August, and followed up with wins in the Hopeful and Champagne G1 races. The distance might be too long for the #19 horse, but if the conditions are sloppy and he is able to avoid a slow start, he’s got a chance to make a late charge and finish in the Top 4 or 5.
If you’ve got $100 to spend at the track this weekend:
$35 on #5 to win
$10 Exacta: #5-#16
$1 Superfecta Box (costs $24): #5, #16, #14, #1
$4 Trifecta Box (costs $24): #5, #16, #14
$7 on #10 to Win