February 27, 2017

Preview of Wynn Kentucky Derby Futures; Classic Empire a clear-cut Winter Book Favorite

Juvenile champion Classic Empire tops list of 418 early nominees to the 2017 Triple Crown (Coady Photography)

Kentucky Derby Winter Book Favorite terminology refers to Las Vegas futures and the Wynn Race & Sports Book serves as a prime source for early Kentucky Derby odds. With the retirement of Not This Time, Classic Empire rates as the clear front-runner entering 2017.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner and presumptive 2-year-old champion is listed at 7-1, the only horse with single-digit odds at the Wynn. Classic Empire has won 4-of-5 starts, including three graded stakes wins, and the lone setback came when he wheeled at the start of the Hopeful (G1) and dislodged the jockey.

Along with outstanding form, Classic Empire possesses a regal pedigree for the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance. He’s by Pioneerof the Nile, sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and Classic Empire hails from a mare by Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Cat Thief. His second dam is by Miswaki, broodmare sire of world-renowned stallion Galileo.

As of November 28, a total of 32 juveniles are listed at less than 100-1 at the Wynn. I’ll offer a short preview of the horses with an eye toward their capacity for 1 ¼ miles on the first Saturday in May:

BEACH BUM (40-1 Wynn odds): Trained by four-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, Beach Bum captured his lone start going 7-furlongs at Santa Anita on November 6. He registered a commendable 94 BRIS Speed rating, rallying from just off the pace to win going away by 5 ¼ lengths, and the intriguing Arch colt has stamina influences on both sides of his pedigree.

BEEN WAITING (40-1): Broke his maiden in the mud at Monmouth Park and exits a third versus allowance/optional claiming foes at 5 ½ furlongs. Little to recommend.

BIG GRAY ROCKET (50-1): Del Mar maiden scorer was no factor when shipping east for Champagne (G1), finishing fourth after a troubled start, and his BRIS Speed ratings need to improve significantly next year. Bob Baffert trains the Tapit colt but Big Gray Rocket is out of a Grade 1-winning sprinter.

CLASSIC EMPIRE (7-1): His 108 BRIS Speed rating – one of the top numbers ever registered by a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner – towers over the competition presently and the last two juvenile champions, American Pharoah and Nyquist, captured the Kentucky Derby.

FACT FINDING (75-1): Rolled to convincing wins over maiden and entry-level allowance foes in sprints and he’s eligible to make a smooth transition to longer distances for Todd Pletcher. Sire The Factor is known for speed but was bred to run longer, and Fact Finding can rely upon numerous stamina influences in female family. Won’t be surprised to see him come on this winter.

GOOD SAMARITAN (50-1): Experienced a troubled trip from post 14 when third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) and he’s been all turf so far. Animal Kingdom captured the 2011 Kentucky Derby in his first dirt start but there’s little to suggest Good Samaritan can follow in his hoofsteps.

GORMLEY (50-1): After a debut maiden win, Gormley stretched out to two turns with gusto in the FrontRunner (G1), leading wire to wire for a three-length decision. He didn’t show the same speed finishing up the track in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and turf will always be an option given his female family, but Gormley remains one of the top contenders on the West Coast entering 2017. Distance should never be an issue with his pedigree and trainer John Shirreffs captured the 2005 Kentucky Derby with 50-1 upsetter Giacomo.

GUEST SUITE (60-1): Keeneland maiden winner wasn’t a factor finishing a belated third in the Street Sense two starts back and didn’t appear to beat much winning an entry-level allowance at one turn last time. Guest Suite’s last two BRIS Speed ratings (88 and 90) won’t get it done against better company.

GUNNEVERA (30-1): Displayed a lethal finishing kick taking the Delta Jackpot (G3) by 5 ¾ lengths in his juvenile finale and confirmed closer also captured the Saratoga Special (G2), winning the same graded stakes at age 2 as 2016 Preakness winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Exaggerator. Gunnevera does not hail from a distinguished female family but the presence of Unbridled (damsire) and Graustark (second damsire) is encouraging. He’ll need to keep improving but Dialed In colt must be considered a viable prospect.

HOT SEAN (50-1): Defeated maiden and entry-level allowance rivals as an odds-on favorite at Santa Anita and finished second when shipping to Louisiana for his stakes bow, the Delta Jackpot (G3). A half-brother to 2015 Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Itsaknockout, Hot Sean possesses plenty of speed and may continue to perform well in preps for Bob Baffert, but his pedigree isn’t built for extended distances.

IRISH FREEDOM (75-1): Disappeared from the worktable after narrowly capturing his career debut in late August. Irish Freedom registered only an 83 BRIS Speed rating in the lone appearance and need to see more from the Pioneerof the Nile colt.

IRISH WAR CRY (85-1): Caught the eye making his debut at Laurel Park on November 11, overcoming a slow start, wide trip and immature behavior to win going away by 4 ½ lengths, striding out like a horse with a bright future under the wire. Curlin colt registered an outstanding 99 BRIS Speed rating and recently returned to the worktab for Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Graham Motion. He may be a New Jersey-bred, but don’t be surprised to see Irish War Cry make a serious impact on the Kentucky Derby Trail next year.

J BOYS ECHO (75-1): Keeneland maiden winner finished up the track in fourth when making his stakes debut in the Delta Jackpot (G3) and J Boys Echo has not run fast in three starts so far for Dale Romans.

KLIMT (75-1): Showed little from rail post in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) but Klimt left a fine impression in previous starts, winning Best Pal (G2) and Del Mar Futurity (G1) before a runner-up in FrontRunner (G1). Colt has registered BRIS Speed ratings as high as 103 and son of Quality Road features a mix of speed and stamina in bloodlines – his third dam is a full-sister to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Concern. Klimt could come on strong next year for Bob Baffert.

LOOKIN AT LEE (30-1): A listed stakes winner at Ellis Park, Lookin at Lee hasn’t been a serious win threat in three graded attempts but gave a solid account of himself finishing second in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Iroquois (G3) and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). His BRIS Speed ratings remain a little low but Lookin at Lucky colt is eligible to keep developing at age 3 for Steve Asmussen.

MASTERY (12-1): A good-looking winner in both sprint starts, crushing maiden foes at Santa Anita before posting an easy tally in the Bob Hope (G3) at Del Mar, Mastery appears to have the goods when it comes to talent. Son of Candy Ride could be any type moving forward for Bob Baffert but there’s some speed in his immediate female family and longer distances are at least a minor concern until the front-running colt tries a route.

MCCRAKEN (10-1): Closed powerfully to win his first two outings at one turn and established himself as a top contender when overcoming a speed bias to capture the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) going away in his two-turn bow. Trainer Ian Wilkes says the son of Ghostzapper has an “aura to him” and McCraken is 3-for-3 at Churchill Downs, with the potential to show even more next spring. He hails from a mare by Seeking the Gold (sire of a Belmont Stakes winner) and it’s easy to see why the bay colt is the 10-1 second choice presently.

MO TOWN (18-1): After breaking his maiden by seven widening lengths in the mud, Mo Town proved he belongs among the upper echelon, registering a 101 BRIS Speed rating for a convincing 2 ½-length victory in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct. Tony Dutrow-trained son of Uncle Mo possesses excellent tactical speed and his classy female family offers encouragement for longer distances next spring. Mo Town has a lot going for him.

NINETY NINE PROOF (85-1): He won two straight sprints over claiming foes at Del Mar this summer but didn’t run fast either time. And the California-bred son of Idiot Proof disappeared from the worktab in mid-August.

NO DOZING (30-1): After opening with a pair of convincing sprint wins, No Dozing experienced a troubled start before finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1). Rebounded with a fine second in Remsen (G2), offering a solid rally after traveling wide on both turns to register a career-best 98 BRIS Speed rating, and Arnaud Delacour-trained son of Union Rags appears well-suited for longer distances. He’s a promising contender for Lael Stables, owner of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

PRACTICAL JOKE (25-1): Strong juvenile form and eligible to make a serious impact in prep races, but sire Into Mischief inspires little confidence for Kentucky Derby considering Practical Joke counts speed influence Gilded Time as his second damsire. Won his first three outings for Chad Brown, including Hopeful (G1) and Champagne (G1), and offered a solid middle move in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) before checking in a non-threatening third. His BRIS Speed ratings are respectable (98 and 97) and expect him to be a factor at distances up to 1 1/8 miles.

RANDOM WALK (85-1): A sharp 5 ¾-length debut winner at Belmont Park, Random Walk has been sidelined since finishing second in the July 23 Sanford (G3) at Saratoga. The precociously-bred colt could focus upon shorter events if he makes it back to the races by next spring.

ROYAL MO (85-1): Led wire to wire when trying two turns in third career start at Del Mar. Royal Mo has made solid progress for Kentucky Derby-winning trainer John Shirreffs and sire Uncle Mo had a Kentucky Derby winner in his first crop. The colt’s BRIS Speed numbers leave something to be desired and the black-type performers in his female family are primarily turf, but he remains an interesting prospect.

RUNNING MATE (65-1): Stamped himself as one to watch for two-time Kentucky Derby runner-up Larry Jones, registering a pair of 97 BRIS Speed ratings as followed a six-length debut score with a 7 ¾-length romp over entry-level allowance foes, and figures to make his two-turn and stakes bow in the January 21 Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds. From the first crop of classic-placed Grade 1 winner Creative Cause, Running Mate counts the speedy Dayjur as his second damsire but hails from a stamina-infused female family. Looking forward to seeing whether he continues to progress.

SILVER DUST (85-1): Registered only an 84 BRIS Speed rating breaking his maiden in his second career outing at Churchill Downs. By leading sire Tapit, Silver Dust cost $510,000 at a 2-year-old sale but still has much to prove.

TAKAFUL (50-1): Recorded a brilliant debut win sprinting at Aqueduct but Takaful did not carry his form forward when stretching out to 1 1/8 miles in the Remsen (G2), weakening to third as 4-5 favorite. Bernardini colt may show more at longer distances with added maturity but he’s bred primarily for turf on dam side.

THEORY (40-1): Looked like a colt with a bright future when posting an easy 3 ½-length score in the October 15 Futurity (G3) at Belmont Park, but Theory never fired in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and exited the 10th-place effort with an injury. His pedigree features an excellent mix of speed and stamina but status of Gemologist colt is in doubt.

THREE RULES (60-1): A Florida Stallion series standout, Three Rules sustained first setback when beaten nearly 15 lengths in sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). The Gone Astray colt lacks a favorable pedigree for Kentucky Derby but did turn in an impressive 10-length victory in two-turn bow, registering a 102 BRIS Speed rating.

TICONDEROGA (85-1): Out of five-time graded turf stakes winner Keertana, Ticonderoga has raced exclusively on turf in four career starts, finishing second in the Bourbon (G3) before a rallying fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). Tapit colt may be given a chance on main track early next year but he’s more of a candidate for the American Turf (G2) on Kentucky Derby weekend presently.

UNCONTESTED (60-1): A runaway debut winner at 6 ½ furlongs, Uncontested faltered when trying two turns in Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), weakening to fourth after establishing a reasonable pace. Tiz Wonderful colt will bring plenty of speed to future engagements but looks better suited for sprint or middle distances.

WARRIOR’S CLUB (60-1): After five starts versus maiden special weight foes, Warrior’s Club posted first win in restricted Spendthrift Stallion Stakes and followed with a non-threatening third in Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). Four-time Kentucky Derby-winning conditioner D. Wayne Lukas will give him every opportunity to earn a Kentucky Derby berth but Warrior’s Reward colt must still prove he belongs among the upper echelon of division.

WILD SHOT (30-1): A smart maiden winner sprinting at Churchill Downs, Wild Shot followed with a third to Classic Empire in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and a second to McCraken in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). Trappe Shot colt owns good speed and counts Preach (dam of Pulpit) as second dam. Can’t knock form but he appears slanted toward middle distances.

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