Kentucky Derby 2017 Analysis

Derby 2017Kentucky Derby-(Louisville, Kentucky) the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby is carded as race 12 this Saturday at Churchill Downs, approximate scheduled post time is 6:34PM. The field consists of 20 entrants who are vying to make history having their name on a placard in the paddock at the storied Churchill Downs. The weather forecast shows rain with unseasonably low temps, certainly not ideal conditions. Additionally, the Louisville area has been pounded with rain leading up to the event so expect a soft surface.

Churchill down track crew has likely reached out to Noah for some advice on how to keep the main track in somewhat good working order. I’m not even sure an Arc can help save the surface as it’s just hard to envision anything less than a quagmire, certainly makes the race even that more perplexing.


What a year the 2016 Cubs had, they put together an amazing season that culminated with a World Series title in game 7. Oddly enough, one of the key pieces of the team, Kyle Schwarber got hurt before the season began and rehabbed the whole year and was fortunate enough to make it back for the World Series. Schwarber’s persistent rehab enabled him to make it to the big dance was an amazing feat against all odds;  not only did he make it back, but he impacted the series going 7 for 17 and drawing 3 walks. My good friend & horse racing buddy Tim Dempsey was a huge Cubbies fan, unfortunately he passed away a few years ago but I know he is smiling down on their triumph.


Derby fever starts every year with the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile winner, the 2016 winner was a very impressive Classic Empire. A few weeks later, Churchill hosts the Kentucky Jockey Club stakes which was won impressively by a then undefeated colt McCracken. So by December 1st, the Derby picture for 2017 had two stalwart faces.


As we can attest to, life isn’t fair. Similar to Schwarber, both Classic Empire & McCracken have encountered injuries which have set them back in their preparation for immortality winning the 1st Saturday in May. The good news for their respective camps is both are scheduled to enter the gate, while they are both talented individuals, only time will tell whether they will be ready to run the race of their life, certainly a mystery.


In last 4 years, we have had some very strong favorites: Nyquist, American Pharoah, California Chrome, & Orb who all came to Churchill as leading contenders and all left with a blanket of roses. The 2017 Derby just doesn’t have the same “face”. Even if McCracken or Classic Empire shows up with an A effort, it still might not be enough to win.


I commonly refer to the Derby as a puzzle, there is the analytical side and the objective side. While I put weight on the stats, at the end of the day I need to make a decision. The joke on Wall Street has been that a monkey can throw a dart at a board and outperform some of the best fund managers, well get your dart ready.


Let’s start eliminating and identifying pretenders, below is some interesting stat’s I have followed over the years:


The Apollo jinx is alive and well, No horse has won the Derby without racing at two since 1882 (Apollo). If you like angles, history has this angle on your side. Battle of Midway & Patch can safely be eliminated.


Since 1980, 32 of the 37 Derby winners were out a winning dam. That is 86% and here are the ones that are NOT out of a race winning dam: Girvin, Classic Empire, Gunnevera, State of Honor, Hence, Fast and Accurate, Untrapped, & Sonneteer


Since 1996, 19 of the last 21 Derby winners finished 1st or 2nd in their final prep; the other 2 were Mine That Bird & Giacomo (2 of the 3 longest prices ever) who both finished 4th in their final preps both lighting up the board and paying over $100 to win. Gunnevera, J Boys Echo, Tapwrit, McCracken, & Untrapped can now be eliminated.


After eliminating the ones above, 6 are still left.


Some other interesting stats, the Wood prep race since 2003 has produced no on the board finishes with 28 starters, doesn’t bode to well for Irish War Cry.


Going into this race, no one excites me, sometimes a face or two shows itself and I become a bandwagon fan. I don’t see any Triple Crown serious hopeful at this point.


Three hurdles all 20 entrants must overcome: First time racing in a 20 horse bulky field, first time going a mile and a quarter, and carrying 126 lbs for the first time in their careers. Can we get 5 straight favorites with a certain off track?





#17 Irish War Cry– All signs point to him, he’s the double triple digit Beyer speed figure earner in the field. Trainer Motion has won this race before with Animal Kingdom, nice to have a trainer who already has a blueprint for what it will take to be successful. Running style should put him right in the top flight, but doesn’t need the lead, should be in a good spot to stalk and pop. Rider Maragh has had a few injuries over the past few years but is deserving of a big win like this on a big stage. The negatives, 2 back as the 6/5 chalk he absolutely flopped finishing 7th beaten 21 lengths. The effort was so poor that couldn’t even get rider Rosario to sign back on for the Wood. If you believe it was a fluke like he bled real bad, flipped his palate or some other logical excuse then line that race out and move forward. If you feel he showed he is very vulnerable when in a true test, then go shopping elsewhere. Although untested on the off going, he does sport one of the best Tomlinson wet track ratings in the field. If you like intangibles, this winter I went and listed to a speech given by Martin Dempsey, there were protesters outside chanting, “War Crimes”. It sounded a lot like War Cry and I can’t get that chant out of my head to this day. Last work was brilliant, Wood prep entrants haven’t fared very well of late, time to buck that trend, my choice in an evenly matched group.


#14 Classic Empire– The 2 year old champ looks to be over hoof issues that plagued him earlier in the year, he is now wearing glue on shoes. The year started out as a 1 to 2 favorite beaten by my top pick by over 8 lengths. Connections took a step backward and regrouped to an impressive win in the Arkansas Derby and wheel him back 3 weeks later in this spot. Like the heavy public support which even occurred in his unveiling having started his career 1 year ago Derby week, sports a perfect 2 for 2 over this surface. His sire, grandsire, and grandam sire all have had Derby success finishing 2nd, 2nd, & 1st respectively. All things being equal he is likely the most talented runner in here, the only real knock is he has been playing catch up in a race where you need you’re A game. The likely public choice and I wouldn’t try to talk anyone off him, already has a sloppy track score at CD.


#10 Gunnevera– Trainer Sano was actually kidnapped in his native country for 36 days before these very owners helped pay his ransom to free him, I’m sure after that ordeal he is just happy to be alive, but I’m sure his life would get a lit bit sweeter if this guy would find his way to the winner’s circle. Love the way he is built as he just has the look of a router, he does his best work in the lane and I have a feeling he will be picking up a bunch of them late, just not sure it will be all of them. Modest priced yearling would make a very good story.


#15 McCracken– Made a nice middle move in the Blue Grass before leveling out, based on his time away while recovering, he had every right to be a little short. Still, it’s hard to play catch-up on this stage. Is a perfect 3 for 3 over this oval so the home court advantage can only help. Rider Hernandez had his choice of him or Girvin and stayed here while that horse has won 2 in a row, speaks volumes.


Selections: 17-14-10-15


Betability: Great if you like uncertainty because unlike other years, many horses could find their way into the infield after the race for the blanket of rose’s ceremony. To put this in perspective, I actually had my 7th choice wrote up at one point as my top pick so this my friends is a very playable race. The favorite has won the last 4 years, I am a big streak handicapper & bettor as they have to start and stop at some point, got a strong feeling the winning favorite ends this year.


Suggested Wagers:

17 & 15 to Win & Place for 1 unit

17 & 15 wheeled first and second in Exacta’s with All (except the 3,4,12,13) for 1 unit

Exacta Wheel 2 unit 15,17 / 1,5,9,10,11,14,15,16,17,18,19

Trifecta Wheel ($84 for $1) 15,17  /  1,2,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,14,15,16,17,18,19,20 / 1,10,19

Trifecta Wheel ($84 for $1)  1,2,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,14,15,16,17,18,19,20 /  15,17  /  1,10,19

Superfecta Wheel for 1 unit 14,15,17  /  1,2,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,14,15,16,17,18,19,20 / 1,2,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,14,15,16,17,18,19,20 /  1,10,19 ($1638 a unit) (for large budget players only)


Saver bet: 1 unit Trifecta Wheel 5,11 / 1,2,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,14,15,16,17,18,19,20 / 1,10,15,17,19 ($140 for $1)


Should you be interested in the Oaks on Friday, it is a 14 horse competitive field, I like Miss Sky Warrior (#10), she comes into this on a 5 race winning streak for one of the good guys in the business trainer Kelly Breen.


Graded Analysis with fair value win odds

#17 Irish War Cry- 6 to 1, seems to have everything going right for him at the right time: post, pace scenario, and workouts leading up are stellar, should be a formidable choice if he gets to run his race.

#14 Classic Empire- 5 to 1, Casse in the past has been a trainer that seems to flop on the big stage but has eased that moniker over the past few years, this would be a huge victory for his barn.

#10 Gunnevera- 12 to 1, bounced in his last effort after ascending Beyer’s for the season, looked like a tired horse in that race but still rallied to run 3rd, will be rallying late.

#15 McCracken- 8 to 1, history has proven the last prep race is very important in the Derby, he had legit excuse so maybe give him another chance, really like rider sticks with him.

#19 Practical Joke- 15 to 1, trainer Brown is due to win this race and will at some point in the near future, this guy has never been off the board in 6 career tries, makes noise but isn’t a door kick in type

#18 Gormley- 20 to 1, was the benefactor of a bunch of them staggering home in the Santa Anita Derby, bred to run all day and is 1 for 1 on a sloppy track, I feel he is good, but not great..

#5 Always Dreaming- 9 to 1, on paper there is nothing not to like, but my insiders say he gets very worked up in the AM and the 100K plus crown on Saturday won’t help, I think he will lose the race in the paddock.

#1 Looking At Lee- 25 to 1, my wise guy horse, the rail draw won’t hurt him as he will be lagging at the back, but gets local rider who knows this strip and will be running the best of any of them late, take a long look.

#7 Girvin- 15 to 1, The Rosie & Joe show blow into Louisville, despite the success in Louisiana he has to overcome a quarter crack and new pilot, too much to ask.

#2 Thunder Snow – 25 to 1, gets in here via the UAE Derby automatic entry, a major wildcard but I concur with Mike Watchmaker of The Daily Racing Form, “I’ll pitch these imports until they beat me”.

#11 Battle of Midway- 25 to 1, if you like Gormley, then you have to love this guy as he did all the work in SA Derby, broke his maiden on an off track, conditioned by one the sports best in Hollendorfer, look of a live longshot.

#16 Tapwrit- 30 to 1, complete flop in the Bluegrass where he never fired, was heavily bet against the then undefeated McCracken so he had a lot of fans, seems on an island now but a return to past form can make him a player.

#8 Hence- 30 to 1, took the same route as past slop winner Mine that Bird by competing in the Sunland Derby, does have a win on a wet track, would only be my choice if I believe in lightning striking twice.

#6 State of Honor- 30 to 1, synthetic horse at two moved to the main at three and hasn’t missed the board, might find a way into the mix with the right trip, but likely will be better served in listed stakes down the road.

#20 Patch- 50 to 1, a one eyed horse who drew the cozy far outside, only 3 career attempts and having not started at two would need to buck a lot of history, today won’t be his day.

#9 Irap- 50 to 1, trainer/owner combo has won a few Derby’s together including last year, but this guy was a maiden until his 30 to 1 upset in the Bluegrass. If you missed the wedding don’t bet the funeral, pass.

#13 J Boys Echo- 40 to 1, I like big daddy Roman’s, his an easy guy to root for especially after his fist fight with Indian Charlie a few years ago, maybe I’m rating this guy too low, but outside of the Gotham he has been slow.

#4 Untrapped- 150 to 1, descending Beyer’s but hey, he qualifies for the race due to the defections and the fact he has enough points, so run him, enjoy getting the saddle pad Mr. Langford.

#12 Sonneteer- 200 to 1, a maiden who does his best running late so he likely will finish somewhere in the middle of the pack, nice work since arriving in Kentucky, he’s no Exaggerator though.

#3 Fast and Accurate- 200 to 1, I actually made a nice score when this guy broke his maiden as he was 2nd choice behind a Ramsey runner, but that was a 30K claimer, the water is much deeper in here, line out


This year’s Preakness should see some very intriguing new shooters, be sure to follow along with my on the Triple Crown trail as that publication will be out May 17 at as well as the Belmont Stakes on June 8th at


Don Tiger

-Professional handicapper at






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