Classic Empire is favored in potentially chaotic Kentucky Derby

The first Saturday in May is quickly approaching, which means the Grade I, $2 million Kentucky Derby is nearly here. Churchill Downs, as usual, will be the site for arguably the most prestigious horse race on the calendar. A full field of 20 three-year-old colts will line up for the ten-furlong challenge on the main oval. Going as Race 12 on a stacked 14-race card, post time for the Kentucky Derby is 6:46 p.m. EST. In addition to watching and wagering on the “Run for the Roses,” you can try out FanXT’s Daily Fantasy Jockey game too!

#14 CLASSIC EMPIRE (4-1, morning-line favorite), the 2016 Juvenile champion, had a difficult start to his three-year-old campaign but may have righted the ship. He was far back in February’s Holy Bull Stakes then came out of the race with a minor injury. Despite missing a work due to bad behavior, CLASSIC EMPIRE managed to ship into Oaklawn and win the Arkansas Derby. The talent is there, as is the pedigree (same sire as American Pharoah), but it’s hard to believe his nerves will hold up in front of over 150,000 patrons. He may also lack conditioning off just one decent prep, so he and Julien Leparoux are a bet-against.

Several other lower-priced horses look shaky too. #5 ALWAYS DREAMING (5-1) could be an underlay off one fast race (Florida Derby) and two mediocre wins earlier this year. Trainer Todd Pletcher’s Derby record (1-for-45) is highly discouraging.

#15 MCCRAKEN (5-1) was high on many people’s lists before suffering a minor injury and missing the Tampa Bay Derby. His Blue Grass effort was very poor, so it’s far from guaranteed he’ll bounce back here.

#17 IRISH WAR CRY (6-1) sandwiched one horrible outing (Fountain of Youth) with two wins (Wood Memorial and Holy Bull). That inconsistency gives cause for pause, and the Wood Memorial has failed to produce a Kentucky Derby winner since 2003.

All that being said, it’s time to try and find a winner in this wide-open edition of the Kentucky Derby.

#2 THUNDER SNOW (20-1) could become the first horse to win both the UAE Derby and Kentucky Derby. He appears to have kept good company overseas, as the horse he beat in the UAE Derby, Epicharis, was 4-for-4 and had won a Derby points race in Japan earlier in the year. THUNDER SNOW has won three straight stakes for world-class trainer Saeed bin Suroor and has had no issues when adding ground from start to start. Christophe Soumillon, who was aboard Thunder Snow for his UAE Derby victory, has the mount again.

#10 GUNNEVERA (15-1) threw in a clunker in the Florida Derby but prior to that start, he appeared to be a prime Derby contender off an easy win in the Fountain of Youth. Javier Castellano had choices in here; his deciding to stay aboard is a statement. He’ll be rolling late.

#1 LOOKIN AT LEE (20-1) has a late-closing style that always seems to fare well in the Kentucky Derby. He’ll be a big price off six straight losses but he’s makes up significant ground every time he runs, suggesting he’ll appreciate the stretchout today. Locally-based Corey Lanerie has the jockey assignment for Steve Asmussen.

#11 BATTLE OF MIDWAY (30-1) chased a fast pace in the Santa Anita Derby yet held on admirably for second. That race was not well-rated, but he’d shown significant talent prior to that start. If he can relax today under Flavien Prat, he could have something to offer in the stretch. He certainly has the pedigree to help him stay the distance.

The play: $1 exacta box 1/2/10/11, $1 exacta 2,10/1,2,10,11, $2 win 1,2,10,11 ($26)

DFJ analysis: Irad Ortiz Jr. won’t be at Churchill Downs this Saturday, but he is an absolute ‘must-have’ riding at Belmont. Ortiz Jr. has a mount in 11 of 12 races there, eight of which are below 3-1 in odds. His stakes assignments include Sea Calisi in the Sheepshead Bay, Connect in the Westchester and Time Test in the Fort Marcy, all of which are favored.

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