American Horse Racing Insights

Previewing the Early Favorites for the 2017 Kentucky Derby

By horsemon
Jan. 30, 2017

To qualify for the Kentucky Derby, which takes place this year on Saturday, May 6, horses must do well enough at certain races to receive eligibility points. Between September 17, 2016 and April 15, 2017, trainers have the option of racing their horses in 39 different races. Winners receive between 10 and 100 points, and the top four finishers in each race received a point allotment. With the 1st rounds of Kentucky Derby prep races finished, odds makers, sports writers, and horse racing enthusiasts across the country are picking their early favorites for the winner.

Classic Empire

Owner John Oxley bought Classic Empire in September 2015 at the Keeneland sale. He quickly went on to win races at Churchill Downs, the Grade 1 Clairborne Breeders’ Futurity, and the Bashford Manor in quick succession. As a two-year-old in training for the Sentinent Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 5, 2016 at Santa Ana Park, Classic Empire eked out a win from the race favorite, Not This Time. Classic Empire’s top strengths include speed, versatility, and not having a high-strung personality that can make it difficult to complete.


As the offspring of the sire Dialed In, Gunnevera comes from strong pedigree on both sides of the family tree. Gunnevera managed to go from last to first place at the Delta Downs Jackpot, which made many in the horse racing community overlook his performance at the Breeders’ Futurity. This horse trains at Gulfstream Park West where he recently ran five furlongs at a time of 1:00.85. Gunnevera’s running style and his strong pedigree give people confidence in his long-distance running ability. One of his greatest strengths is his turn of foot that really stands out as his stride lengthens when coming down the stretch.


With a Beyer Speed Figure score of 93, Mastery set a record for the highest score for the two-year-old class as a first-time starter. After his initial victory, he went on to win the Los Alamos Futurity and the Bob Hope Stakes with Beyer Speed Figure scores of 91 and 87. Mastery’s 8.5 furlough time of 1:41.56 is the best that has come from this class so far. With three straight wins and a trainer and jockey with previous Kentucky Derby wins to their credit, Mastery stands a good chance to win it all on May 6.


McCracken also has genetics going for him. As the colt of Ghostzapper, winner of the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic, McCracken recently ran five furlongs in 1:00.45 during training at Palm Meadows. With an exceptional turn of the foot, he remains off the pace early in the race only to put in his strongest run towards the end. This makes many in the horse racing world confident of his ability to do well running long distances in the Kentucky Derby.

These are just four of dozens of several dozen thoroughbreds vying for a spot in May's Kentucky Derby. Only time will tell if these predictions are accurate. However, last year's early favorite, Nyquist, ended up winning the 2016 Kentucky Derby going away.