When the points system started a few years ago, it eliminated fake speed types from the Derby. No longer did we see future sprinters taking place in the Derby field. This meant the Derby pace had slowed somewhat and favored those stalking the pace. You have to go back to 2005 as the last time the pace collapsed on a dry track setting it up for a deep closer. That year, Giacomo went from 18th to 1st at 50-1 to win in a major upset.
The 2017 Kentucky Derby is starting to look like a speed-laden field. Many of the top performers on the Derby trail have been front speed types. This could generate the kind of pace the deep closers really need. With that scenario in mind, here are my top ten for the Derby with just six prep races remaining.
Gunnevara: Deep closer has won 4 of his past 6 races and is 3 for 4 with Castellano aboard. He’ll be one of the main players in the Florida Derby. His trainer is the all-time winningest trainer in Venezuela. If he runs well Saturday, he’s a strong selection for the Kentucky Derby.
One Liner: Todd Pletcher colt took the strong running of the G3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. That race is going to come back strong. Seventh place finisher Hence upset the G3 Sunland Park Derby at 11-1 on Sunday. He is likely to run next in the Wood, April 8.
McCraken: Undefeated 4 for 4 for trainer Ian Wilkes. He’s got a huge late kick and despite winning by only 9 combined lengths, he’s been much the best each time. He missed the Tampa Bay Derby with an ankle strain. He’s scheduled to run in the Blue Grass, April 8.
Practical Joke: Chad Brown colt won two Grade 1 races as a two-year-old and then ran a solid 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Runner-up to Gunnevera in the Fountain of Youth in a big effort off the layoff. He’ll get a rematch with that one in the Florida Derby on Saturday.
J Boys Echo: Winner of the G3 Gotham stakes in classy style at 6-1 earlier this month. Trainer Dale Romans is going to win a Derby. This Mineshaft colt cost $480,000 and should love any added distance. He’ll run in the Blue Grass, April 8, in his final Derby prep.
Tapwrit: Another Todd Pletcher runner and this one cost $1,200,000. He crushed in the Tampa Bay Derby after running a game 2nd to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis. His dam won the G-1 Spinaway at Saratoga. He’s 3 for 4 routing, his only loss to McCraken. Next start undecided.
Battalion Runner: Pletcher colt is 2 for 3. He has the fourth highest Beyer (98) of any of the main contenders. He got that going 7 furlongs at Gulfstream. Dam is full to Tapizar. Deeper in the female tree is an Arkansas Derby winner, Olympio. He’ll go in the Florida Derby on Saturday.
Girvin: Joe Sharp runner took the G-2 Risen Star at Fairgrounds at odds of 8-1. That made him 2 for 3 with a very close 2nd in his other start (which came on the turf). This colt sold for 18x his sire fee. He’ll go in the Louisiana Derby, April 1.
Classic Empire: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner really suffered his first defeat in the G2 Holy Bull, when third behind Irish War Cry and Gunnevera (he did lose when he wheeled and lost his jockey in the G-1 Hopeful). Eligible to improve, 2nd off the shelf in the Blue Grass, April 8.
Petrov: Ran 2nd to One Liner in the G-3 Southwest and was 8 clear of third in a huge effort. Regressed a bit in the Rebel but was only two back in the end. Has the kind of stalking style that has been successful in the Kentucky Derby. It’s undecided where he’ll run next.
Play Of The Week
It comes in a maiden special weight race at Fairgrounds on Friday, March 31, in the 8th race at 1 mile on the dirt. No. 7 MR EQUILIZER ships in from Oaklawn Park where he was a fast closing 4th in a maiden $40k claiming race. That was a very strong field and is likely better than what he sees in this Louisiana-bred race. He needs pace to close into but is reunited with Melancon, who got him up for 3rd at 26-1 and 7-1 the two times he was aboard him. Mr Equilizer is 7-2 on the morning line.
Post time for the 8th race at FG on Friday is 2:34 PST.