Kentucky Derby 2017: The Experts Make Their Picks


Melissa Hoppert’s picks: Classic Empire, McCraken, Irish War Cry

Here’s how we see the field:

1. Lookin at Lee

Trainer: Steve Asmussen Jockey: Corey Lanerie Odds: 20-1

Drape: This colt is too slow, and any minimal chance he had was obliterated by breaking from the No. 1 hole.

Hoppert: The third-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby is a late runner, so this unlucky post should not matter too much. But it did prove to be the undoing of his sire, Lookin at Lucky, in 2010, who was sixth.

2. Thunder Snow

Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor Jockey: Christophe Soumillon Odds: 20-1

Drape: This talented colt has won the U.A.E. Derby at a mile and three-sixteenths and in the mud. With a wet track expected, leave him off your tickets at your own risk. This may be the one to notch Dubai its first Kentucky Derby.

Hoppert: I knew Joe would jump on this Godolphin homebred’s bandwagon, as he does with most of the overseas contenders. But there’s just too much to overcome after a long trip like that.

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Fast and Accurate

Credit
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

3. Fast and Accurate

Trainer: Mike Maker Jockey: Channing Hill Odds: 50-1

Drape: He’s gray, which would have landed a $2 bet from my late mother, but that’s about all there is to like about him.

Hoppert: The Spiral winner’s lone race on dirt was dreadful, and the only buzz surrounding him Derby Day will be because of his owners, the quirky doctor who also owned his sire, Hansen, and the Olympic skier Bode Miller.

4. Untrapped

Trainer: Steve Asmussen Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr. Odds: 30-1

Drape: He has one victory in six starts. It did occur at Churchill Downs. But no way he gets his second here Saturday.

Hoppert: Sixth in the Arkansas Derby, this colt is distance-challenged and has been trending downward.

5. Always Dreaming

Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: John Velazquez Odds: 5-1

Drape: The colt is deservedly among the favorites after a terrific Florida Derby and very strong workouts since. He has been hard to handle here, prompting a change of equipment and exercise riders by his trainer. Don’t blame you if you bet him big or throw him out altogether.

Hoppert: He won the Florida Derby by an impressive five lengths. But he has been a bundle of energy since arriving, which prompts the question: Will he be able to relax come race time?

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6. State of Honor

Trainer: Mark Casse Jockey: Jose Lezcano Odds: 30-1

Drape: He has some early speed, and his pedigree suggests he will take to a wet track. The colt will be prominent early. Late? Not at all.

Hoppert: The Florida Derby runner-up will likely go straight to the lead. He has been solid in the mornings here, but it is extremely doubtful that he can hang on to win.

7. Girvin

Trainer: Joe Sharp Jockey: Mike Smith Odds: 15-1

Drape: This gritty colt swept all three Louisiana prep races and would have been on my tickets. Alas, he developed a foot problem and will run in a bar shoe to protect his hoof. That’s too much to overcome.

Hoppert: The Louisiana Derby winner had lots of upside until his training schedule was thrown into disarray because of the aforementioned woes. Pass.

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Hence

Credit
Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

8. Hence

Trainer: Steve Asmussen Jockey: Florent Geroux Odds: 15-1

Drape: He ran fast while winning the Sunland Derby, has won on a wet track and raced here last year to lose only by a neck. If that’s enough for you, bet him.

Hoppert: He has been lights out during training, setting the backfield abuzz and quickly establishing himself as the all-important “wiseguy pick.”

9. Irap

Trainer: Doug O’Neill Jockey: Mario Gutierrez Odds: 20-1

Drape: He won his first race a month ago. That ain’t the greatest foundation to capture America’s most famous race.

Hoppert: He did post a 31-1 upset in the Blue Grass, but the oddsmaker was being generous when he installed him at 20-1.

10. Gunnevera

Trainer: Antonio Sano Jockey: Javier Castellano Odds: 15-1

Drape: He cost only $16,000 and is a hard-trying colt with four victories and more than $1 million in earnings. He is a closer, though, and needs the pace to collapse in front and a clear path to get to the wire first.

Hoppert: The third-place finisher in the Florida Derby is — rightfully — getting sympathy votes: His mother died after foaling him, and his Venezuelan trainer has been kidnapped twice.

11. Battle of Midway

Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer Jockey: Flavien Prat Odds: 30-1

Drape: This lightly raced colt ran a solid second in the Santa Anita Derby. It’s hard, however, to see him hitting the board.

Hoppert: He is improving and has front-end speed, but his connections prefer he ration his energy for the mile-and-a-quarter Derby.

12. Sonneteer

Trainer: Keith Desormeaux Jockey: Kent Desormeaux Odds: 50-1

Drape: This guy is the longest shot on the board. He worked lights out here, though, for those who think they all will win sometime.

Hoppert: The fourth-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby is winless in 10 starts, and he will not become the first maiden to win the Derby since Brokers Tip in 1933.

13. J Boys Echo

Trainer: Dale Romans Jockey: Luis Saez Odds: 20-1

Drape: He is awfully hard to like after a plodding fourth-place finish in the Blue Grass.

Hoppert: Trouble at the start and lack of pace hurt the Gotham winner in the Blue Grass. He’s got speed and could be running at the end.

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Julien Leparoux rides Classic Empire.

Credit
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

14. Classic Empire

Trainer: Mark Casse Jockey: Julien Leparoux Odds: 4-1

Drape: He was the 2-year-old champion, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, and a horse for the course (2 for 2 at Churchill). Because of injuries, the colt has only raced twice as a 3-year-old – once in February and three weeks ago. He is not burning my money at a short price.

Hoppert: Injuries aside, the Pioneerof the Nile colt has been the class of this mediocre 3-year-old crop, and his Arkansas Derby performance was enough to put me back on the bandwagon.

15. McCraken

Trainer: Ian Wilkes Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr. Odds: 5-1

Drape: He has won four of five and has worked like a machine here in the mornings. He is definitely a buzz horse, but I don’t think I’m going to listen.

Hoppert: His third-place finish in the Blue Grass was his first loss, but it came after he was sidelined with a minor shin injury. His trainer shook it off and said his colt will be ready for the Derby. Rain in the forecast only ups his game.

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Tapwrit (left)

Credit
Garry Jones/Associated Press

16. Tapwrit

Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Jose Ortiz Odds: 20-1

Drape: Here’s your winner: This colt has quietly been growing into a racehorse in the shadow of his stablemate Always Dreaming. Excuse the Blue Grass, he blew the start. He’s won on a wet track and, yes Mom, he is gray.

Hoppert: I’m still scratching my head after this Tapit colt failed to fire in the Blue Grass, finishing a well-beaten fifth. But he has been a star during the morning hours, showcasing his fluid stride.

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Irish War Cry

Credit
New York Racing Association, via Associated Press

17. Irish War Cry

Trainer: Graham Motion Jockey: Rajiv Maragh Odds: 6-1

Drape: Here’s your winner. I know I just said that, but value demands I take 20-1 over 6-1 every time. His trainer will understand — I correctly picked his Animal Kingdom (25-1) in 2011. So far, this colt has been the class of the crop.

Hoppert: Of course Joe reminds us of his Animal Kingdom pick. But I agree with him on the Wood Memorial winner, who has tons of speed and feel-good stories aplenty, from his female owner who raced cars in Europe to his jockey who came back from serious injuries. But no horse has ever won from Post 17.

18. Gormley

Trainer: John Shirreffs Jockey: Victor Espinoza Odds: 15-1

Drape: The trainer won this race in 2005 with Giacomo, and the jockey won in 2002 with War Emblem and 2014 with California Chrome; and he swept the Triple Crown in 2015 with American Pharoah. No surprise if they add to their résumés.

Hoppert: The Santa Anita Derby winner is conditioned by Zenyatta’s old-school trainer. He will have him in good shape for this race, but will that be enough?

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Practical Joke

Credit
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

19. Practical Joke

Trainer: Chad Brown Jockey: Joel Rosario Odds: 20-1

Drape: This guy was a gutsy 2-year-old, but everyone else developed, and he has not. At best, he is a miler. He has a lousy post to boot.

Hoppert: The runner-up in Blue Grass clearly has distance limitations, as he has lacked that finishing punch his past couple races. His trainer added blinkers when he got here, but then he took them off.

20. Patch

Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione Odds: 30-1

Drape: If the Louisiana Derby runner-up had a motor installed, this guy wouldn’t win.

Hoppert: That’s not nice! This lightly raced colt only has one eye, making him by far the fan favorite. But he will need a miracle coming from that far outside.

Correction: May 5, 2017

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a horse in one instance. He is McCraken, not McCracken.

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