2017 Kentucky Derby Day picks

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The big day is finally here and the Kentucky Derby, arguably the world’s most famous and sought-after horse race, will be run for the 143rd consecutive year Saturday at Churchill Downs.

The rains of Thursday and Friday in the Louisville area have left everything quite wet – perhaps the understatement of the year – but it’s not dampening the enthusiasm of the Derby participants or the big crowd that’s expected to turn out.

A full field of 20 is slated to face the starter for the $2,395,800 Kentucky Derby, with Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire, Wood Memorial winner Irish War Cry, Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming and Kentucky Jockey Club winner McCraken expected to vie for favoritism.

Classic Empire, last year’s champion 2-year-old male and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, is the 4-1 favorite on the morning line. He brings some questions to the table, after an up and down and up again spring that saw him finish well beaten in the Holy Bull but back to his brilliant self in the Arkansas Derby.

Horseplayers looking for other options and perhaps a better price won’t need to look far, as bets on any of the other 16 horses not mentioned above will undoubtedly yield payoffs at odds greater than 10-1.

Six big stakes are on tap before the main event, including the Grade 1 Humana Distaff featuring champion Finest City and the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic featuring last year’s winner Divisidero.

The day gets rolling with a 10:30 p.m. EDT first post with the Humana Distaff the first stakes up at 1:13 p.m. The Derby goes at 6:46 p.m.

Our handicappers didn’t handle the mud during Friday’s Kentucky Oaks card; they were blanked in the stakes on the main track and Tom was the only one of the three with a winner – scratching into Green Mask in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint. They’re hoping for better luck in the seven stakes Saturday. Here are their picks for Kentucky Derby Day 2017.

Humana Distaff (G1). $300,000, 4-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 7 furlongs. 1:13 p.m. EDT

Champion Finest City scratched from Friday’s La Troinne to return to the sprint ranks. She’s deserving favorite as the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint last year at Santa Anita. She ran on a wet track in late January at Santa Anita, winning the Grade 1 Santa Monica going 7 furlongs. She doesn’t get it easy in this spot against fellow Grade 1 winners Carina Mia and Paulassilverlining and Grade 2 winner Lightstream.

Tom: Carina Mia, Finest City, Paulassilverlining.
Sean: Paulassilverlining, Carina Mia, Finest City.
Joe: Lightstream, Carina Mia, Paulassilverlining.

Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2). $300,000, 4-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 1 mile, turf. 1:55 p.m.

The stars often come out on the big days and Miss Temple City certainly fits that description. Winner of two Grade 1s last year at Keeneland against males and against females at Santa Anita, she makes her Churchill debut against seven others. Trainer Graham Motion originally hoped to have her back in time for Keeneland but when that didn’t materialize he regrouped and planned for this spot with Royal Ascot again on the horizon.

Sean: Miss Temple City, Roca Rojo, Harmonize.
Tom: Miss Temple City, Believe In Bertie, Harmonize.
Joe: Miss Temple City, Harmonize, Roca Rojo.

Pat Day Mile (G3). $250,000, 3-year-olds, 1 mile. 2:45 p.m.

Full field of 13 features mixture of late starters, sprinters looking to stretch their speed and those not quite up to the classic preps. Wild Shot fits the latter category, fresh off a seventh in the Grade 2 Blue Grass and a third in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. A good run here and one could expect to see Calumet’s silks in Baltimore for the Preakness. No Dozing has been a bit unlucky in spots where it looked like he’d win. Local Hero was considered a Derby hopeful but didn’t have enough points despite thirds in the Grade 2 Risen Star and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.

Sean: No Dozing, Bobby On Fleek, You’re To Blame.
Tom: Bobby On Fleek, Bitumen, No Dozing.
Joe: Bobby On Fleek, No Dozing, Excitations.

American Turf (G2). $300,000, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles, turf. 3:37 p.m.

Just when it looked like La Coronel might show up to take on males her connections instead opted for Friday’s Edgewood. Oscar Performance looks to turn the tables on Big Score and Holiday Stone, one-two and ahead of him in the Grade 3 Transylvania last time at Keeneland. Winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, Oscar Performance handles soft ground and adds Lasix for this spot.

Sean: Oscar Performance, Good Samaritan, Big Score.
Tom: Oscar Performance, Good Samaritan, Made You Look.
Joe: Good Samaritan, Oscar Performance, Holiday Stone.

Churchill Downs (G2). $500,000, 4-year-olds and up, 7 furlongs. 4:28 p.m.

Put up a big purse and chances are you’ll get a big field. Hats off to the racing office for this full field of 14, including Grade 1 winner Masochistic, Grade 2 winner Tom’s Ready, recent Grade 3 Commonwealth winner Awesome Slew, multiple track-record holder Clearly Now and the ultra consistent Limousine Liberal.

Sean: El Kabeir, Limousine Liberal, Denman’s Call.
Tom: Limousine Liberal, Masochistic, Clearly Now.
Joe: El Kabeir, Masochistic, Limousine Liberal.

Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1). $500,000, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/8 miles, turf. 5:25 p.m.

If this year’s lead-in to the Derby lacks a true superstar it certainly makes up for in depth. Strong field of 12 is led by last year’s winner Divisidero, who prepped with good second in Keeneland allowance, and Beach Patrol, runner-up in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap in his only start this year for Chad Brown. Who handles the soft ground might be the big question. A quick look at the PPs shows Conquest Panthera, Enterprising and Kasaqui might like a little cut in the ground.

Sean: Kasaqui, Conquest Panthera, Enterprising.
Tom: Bal A Bali, Kasaqui, World Approval.
Joe: Ballagh Rocks, Can’thelpbelieving, World Approval.

Kentucky Derby (G1). $2 million, 3-year-olds, 1 1/4 miles. 6:46 p.m.

The main event and all the players are in the field. Last year’s champion 2-year-old male Classic Empire looks to join Street Sense as winners of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby, while Always Dreaming, Irish War Cry and McCraken take their swings. Hence is easily the buzz horse of the year, or at least everyone around Louisville seems to say he’s the buzz horse. They rarely win, however. Lost in a lot of the discussion are the 3-year-olds from California. They’ve dominated in recent years and when a colt who couldn’t manage a stakes win out West shipped East he won the Blue Grass Stakes. That colt is Irap, who looks to give his owner, trainer and jockey back-to-back victories and three overall in the Derby. But back to the major contenders, the connections of McCraken and Irish War Cry couldn’t be more relaxed. Is that a sign of confidence? Always Dreaming has given his exercise riders all they can handle. Is that a sign he’s going to improve off the Florida Derby? And what about Tapwrit? He was the buzz horse for the Blue Grass, then ran fifth but looks the part on the racetrack in the mornings. Should he be the buzz horse again? Have fun with the race and good luck.

Sean: McCraken, Always Dreaming, Gunnevera. 
Tom: Classic Empire, McCraken, Irish War Cry.
Joe: Irish War Cry, McCraken, Classic Empire, Lookin At Lee.