The last major Kentucky Derby prep race of the 2017 season is upon us. This race has always been my favorite of the Derby preps, and since 2004 it has been on a very productive run. That year Smarty Jones won the race and then nearly won the Triple Crown. The 2005 winner, Afleet Alex, should have won the Triple Crown - he somehow finished a short length behind the underwhelming Giacomo in the Derby, won the Preakness, and then just crushed the field in the Belmont. And 2006 winner Lawyer Ron didn't win a Triple Crown race but was champion older male of 2007. The 2007 winner, Curlin, is a Preakness winner and an all-time legend. And 2012 winner Bodemeister was the hard luck runner-up in both the Derby and the Preakness.
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In 2015 the Arkansas Derby was a stop on the road to American Pharoah's historic Triple Crown. And last year's winner, Creator, won the Belmont. So, winning the Arkansas Derby is good for a horse's future. Will the race produce another Derby winner this year? Lord knows that things are very wide open after the strange prep season didn't provide any real clarity last weekend. There are 12 horses entered, but three don't deserve to be considered.
Here's how the rest of the field breaks down (odds are track morning line):
Classic Empire, Julien Leparoux, 8/5: This horse won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year to clinch the two year old championship. And little has gone right since. He made his three year old debut in the Holy Bull and looked just awful. He finished third and had little spark. And then he fought an injury, and he when returned to training he refused to work at least twice. He's a mental case, but he's awfully talented and could be the best three year old out there if he's on his game. He's also a son of Pioneerof the Nile, who also has a son named American Pharoah who won a race or three I think. At this point it's hard to know what to expect, but on talent and potential I see no choice but to be a believer. He's my pick, and I only hope I don't regret it.
Malagacy, Javier Castellano, 2/1: This is a lightly-raced unbeaten colt out of the Todd Pletcher stable. Pletcher is a master at getting horses to the Derby off of a light prep schedule and then seeing them flop on Derby day. He's going to have a big group in Louisville again this year, and he'll hope this is one. This colt made his debut in January, which is a major historical knock against his Derby chances. He broke his maiden in January at Gulfstream then came back a month later to win an allowance race. In March he headed to Oaklawn and made his stakes debut in the Rebel. He won that race handily against a field that included five others in this race. This horse is talented and fairly well bred, and Pletcher has had a strong prep season, but he's not my first choice. I don't think he wants distance at all - he feels like a miler to me.
Untrapped, Mike Smith, 6/1: There is plenty of potential in the Steve Asmussen colt. He should have won the Rebel last time out but couldn't muster enough and finished third. He was runner up in the LeConte and Risen Star, too. Just not quite good enough to justify this price. It's telling, too, that Smith took a Derby ride on Girvin this week before even knowing if this horse would make the field. Hardly a vote of confidence.
Petrov, Ricardo Santana Jr., 12/1: This colt was a promising second in the Southwest, and a far less inspiring fourth in the Rebel. Nice, but not nice enough is the overwhelming feeling I get about him.
Rockin Ruby, Mario Gutierrez, 12/1: Trainer Doug O'Neill, who coincidentally is my least favorite trainer on the planet, had an odd weekend last weekend. He was the shocking winner of the Blue Grass with now-Derby bound Irap, but he sent four horses to the gate in the Santa Anita Derby and was left with nothing to show for it. This is his last shot to find a second Derby horse. I'm not at all optimistic. This horse has only three starts and is making his graded stakes debut. Too raw and not ready.
Lookin at Lee, Miguel Vasquez, 15/1: I really want to like this son of Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky, but he makes it tough. After strong seconds in the Iroquois and Breeders' Futurity last fall, I liked him in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but he was a disappointing fourth. And this year so far in the Southwest and the Rebel he has looked like an also-ran. I fear he peaked too early. I'll pass.
Sonneteer, Kent Desormeaux, 15/1: Nice career starts for this Keith Desormeaux-trained colt without a win. That's not a good omen. He has fallen short in seven maiden races and an ungraded stakes. Last time out, though, the connections took a big risk throwing him into the Rebel, and he was a shocking second. Is he actually any good? If he is he'll cost me money.
Conquest Mo Money, Brian Hernandez, 15/1: He was second in the Sunland Derby just three weeks ago. That seemed like a horrible race, but fourth-place finisher Irap came back to upset the Blue Grass last week at a huge price, so I guess anything could happen. I'd use him in the exotics for price, but I'm not a huge believer.
Silver Dust, Corey Lanerie, 20/1: He's a son of Tapit out of a Hard Spun mare, so I like the breeding. After breaking his maiden last fall at Churchill Downs, he came out this year to finish fourth in the Southwest and fifth in the Rebel. He's an also-ran here.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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