1. Classic Empire
He's been my number one for a long time, be that though I tried to talk myself off him right from the beginning of the 2017 season. It's hard to ignore my gut. Regardless of his campaign not being ideal, I feel a little better knowing Casse said he's only missed about 10 days total of training when taking into account all of his issues. His first prep of the season is a toss, and in fact not really that bad when you consider the only two horses who have ever managed to beat him figure in the top 5 of many Derby lists, and they did so while he was running on an abscessed foot. There's a lot to like about him - one of the few multiple G1-winning horses in the gate, he's been in stretch battles and won so he won't be afraid of a fight and won't back down if challenged. His Arkansas Derby was everything you want to see in terms of overcoming adversity and being capable of winning in spite of having nothing go your way. As others have pointed out it was a pretty Derby like run. First time being so far back and not where he prefers, first time taking a ridiculous amount of dirt, first time being boxed in between horses at each side, front and behind, being forced wide at the end and still finish running. That revealed he is a horse who does not need his favourite spot and showed enough of versatility. Granted he switched his lead at the last minute but that gave him a burst of speed and he won under a hand ride pulling away. Only half a second slower than older males at the same distance on a track known to be deep and tiring on an extremely humid day. I also believe his Beyer to be a toss, Whitmore was a hair off the track record that day and received a 100. And due to him not only winning but how he won, I think he got exactly the race he needed to tune up his fitness. If that's not enough, he's also 2 for 2 over the surface at his home track, Churchill so that is not an unknown and that may give him yet another edge. It's hard to know if that'll be enough for him on Derby Day, but given his effort and the projected spacing, I think it'll be just right. Pedigree is no question. This horse's greatest enemy is himself, provided he stays happy and keeps his game face on I have a hard time seeing anyone finish ahead of him.
2. Always Dreaming
The prep with the most show of brilliant speed at 9f and arguably the best of the final Derby preps overall. He is clearly a very talented player and there aren't many knocks against him, but just enough questions that I rank him behind Classic Empire on my list. While Pletcher was probably smart to be patient and wait for him to break his maiden before throwing him into Graded stakes company, that leaves him with only one start in a Stakes race, and so for me the question of experience comes up. He also has never been in a stretch battle and won (haven't seen his two year old races so I don't know if he's been in stretch battles and lost). Never ran at Churchill or a Churchill-like track. Pletcher factor. I'm not sure I love the long spacing from his last prep to Derby day, but on the other hand it cancels out the concerns I had that he might be a tired horse coming out of the race. His last work looked good even if it wasn't very fast I liked the way he was moving, but I will be curious to see how he moves over Churchill. I do think he's got the pedigree for the distance, and the ideal running style for a Derby winner. I also liked the fact he wasn't phased by having to check hard at the beginning of the Florida Derby, and while that doesn't mean he'll be unflappable about anything or everything thrown his way, it does bode well for him as a potential indicator of temperament. Will likely go off as the second or co-second favourite and deservedly so, I think there's a good chance he'll hit the board barring an excessively bad break or horrible trip. The biggest knocks against this horse are not flaws, but rather several unknowns.
3. Irish War Cry
I keep hesitating with him going back and forth between ranking him co-number 2 and co-number 3 or lone number 3. On the one hand, he's only had one loss. On the other hand I'm having trouble evaluating his 3 year old form, since his two first prep are a toss for me, and the third one was questionable. The first he was benefiting hugely from First Time Lasix in my opinion, an abscessed Classic Empire and a Gunnevera not getting his setup. The second was I think the bounce back reaction to the first time Lasix, and to me what confirms this is how he seems to have levelled out in his third race, but that one's also hard to gauge based on the track conditions and I don't think the time accurately reflect his best. So, nothing gobsmackingly spectacular, but in correspondence with his 2yo form. Some horses are more sensitive and for that reason I'm willing to overlook that ugly 7th, but if I'm willing to overlook that, it means, per my reasoning for overlooking it, I also have to treat his prior win with suspicion. He's not been in any real stretch battle either, and while Battalion Runner just doesn't seem to be that good, he at least didn't fold to him, which would have been pretty concerning. Based on raw ability I think he is less talented than the previous two at this point in time, but being a Curlin I'd expect him to improve throughout the year, and the next if given a chance. Pedigree wise it could go either way, not sure if he really wants to go further but he could be in the mix with a suitable pace and he's shown he can rate. He was out working on the tapeta this morning and apparently moving well but haven't seen him with my own eyes. Graham Motion is also an asset. The biggest question will be the distance, the track and his ability cap at this point in time.
This horse is no doubt a hard worker, and he seems to do better the closer together that his races are. He's well raced and experienced in stakes company. He's mostly consistent in how he performs even though that isn't always enough to win. And he's done well to perform the way he has at Gulfstream in spite of the fact his running style is at a disadvantage. He comes home fast and works well, seems to have good stamina, and as far as the Florida Derby goes, while I did expect him to perform better, without expecting him to win however, that would have been his bounce race. He didn't need to win. Foundation isn't even a question with this horse, and I'm not sure a stretch battle is relevant given his run style. I do think in the Derby his preferred position in a race puts him at a huge disadvantage, and he will need a hot pace to close into, as well as luck to find his way through horses if he wants to get there on time. I do not know how he would feel about being closer than usual, perhaps blinkers would give him an edge. It is also worth noting that while he has run in Graded stakes company, he has failed to win a G1. I do have questions as to whether he will be tired coming in, but since he seems to perform better when his races are closer together, I am choosing to take that angle rather than the tired one. Lastly he hasn't ran at Churchill before so he may or may not like it. This horse's biggest knock is his running style.
It's not that I think he's 5th most likely to win or won't hit the board. He's a talented runner, who unfortunately suffered an injury setback, which affected his fitness. That might explain why he was blowing hard after his 3rd place effort last out, but I'm also concerned that even taking this into account, that was also his first time going further. On the other hand, he's been working very well since he's been back home at Churchill, showing good energy and looks keen to work, and like Classic Empire may benefit from a home track advantage. Like my boy CE, he's got a perfect record there, with an additional race. His run style seems generally suitable to the Derby even though it's further back than I'd like but since he doesn't need to be close to the pace, if the pace gets really hot he won't be at a disadvantage. The fact that when he was close to it however, he was unable to sustain his turn of foot will be concerning at a mile and a quarter unless he really gets his way. Which is easier said than done in the Kentucky Derby. Logically he should relish the distance, but he certainly didn't finish his 9f like a horse who wants 10f. I do like that he came wide in his Sam F. Davis performance though. He hasn't won (or even ran in) a G1, and besides State of Honor, he hasn't beaten or faced anyone else on my Derby list. He's going to need a very good ride, and his greatest challenge will be the competition to distance ratio.
6. Thunder Snow
Some might find him to be a little high on my list. But given how weird this year is and how this crop appears mostly subpar, if there is any year for a foreign invader to hit the board, if not win, this could be it. Additionally he is the horse with the most experience in Graded stakes company (7) and has done well in the UK, France and obviously Dubai. Yes he's primarily from Europe and has won on Turf but seems better on dirt, and looks to get better with added distance. Which brings me to my next point - having won the UAE Derby in a respectable time he's also been the one to technically run as closely to the 10f distance than the rest of the field due to the 9.5f distance and the fact he broke from gate 13 and raced wide most of the way. He's also one of the few to have gotten caught up in a true stretch battle and have won. On the other hand, Meydan is a weird track, and it's not like the best 3yos on Dirt in the world rush to the UAE Derby so it's hard to gauge just how well he actually matches up against this competition. With Christophe Soumillon in the irons, this is a jockey who has ran and won in Japan and can handle a large field. However, I should hope he will get some rides the day before and on the undercard. I'm not sure I'm fond of the idea that he's shipping late and I don't like his issue with changing leads. This horse's greatest obstacles are training questions, the foreign factor and the long journey to Kentucky.
8. State of Honor
10. Lookin At Lee *
* = indicates the horse either needs a defection, supplementation or final decision
This post will be updated with my thoughts on the remaining four eventually.
A filly named Ruffian...
Eine Stute namens Danedream...
Une pouliche se nommant Trêve...
Kincsem nevű kanca...
And a Queen named Beholder