While Classic Empire has the bloodline and has given his owners a big bankroll, being the best two-year-old horse is not necessarily a harbinger of Kentucky Derby glory.
Classic Empire is the +425 betting favorite to capture the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. It appears bettors have the 1A-or-1B mindset, with Always Dreaming listed at +450.
The top of the board also features McCraken (+600), Irish War Cry (+600), Gunnevera (+1200) and Girvin (+1600). The large 20-horse field and the potential for a wet track at Churchill Downs could make for a highly randomized outcome.
At one point, Classic Empire’s price was as high as +1000, but the sire off 2009 Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile became a popular pick after his victory in the Arkansas Derby in his most recent start. Classic Empire’s record also includes winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a race for two-year-olds, last season. However, since 2000, only three colts who have claimed that prize have gone on to win the Derby the following season.
Always Dreaming has three wins in five career starts, although there is reason to wonder whether the dark bay colt has benefited from suspect competition. With Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez as his mount, Always Dreaming stands a good chance of pushing to the front of the pack during the crowded first quarter-mile at Churchill Downs.
Horse players might have cooled on McCraken after he was pulled out of the Tampa Bay Derby two months ago, but the colt owns three wins at Churchill Downs where he had to come from behind on the home stretch.
Irish War Cry, ridden by Rajiv Maragh, will try to be the first horse to win from Post 17. His position in the starting gate aside, Irish War Cry was impressive earlier this season with wins in the Holy Bull and Wood Memorial races.
The price on Gunnevera is enticing, especially since Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano will be his mount. Gunnevera has shown he has the stamina to pour it on on the backstretch, which is always a concern with three-year-olds who are new to running 1 1/4 miles.
A foot problem has wreaked havoc with the training for Girvin. While the track conditions could be an equalizer early Saturday evening, it’s hard to feel good about a horse whose preparation has been set back.