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Best bets for the 2017 Kentucky Derby include Classic Empire and a 15-to-1 long shot

Classic Empire returns to the barn area after morning training before the 143rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The 2017 Kentucky Derby is Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, and while all signs point to a long shot, Gunnevera, crossing the wire first on Saturday, here’s some information to guide you while filling out the rest of your exacta, trifecta or superfecta tickets.

The pace isn’t expected to be blazing fast, but it won’t be slow, either. According to the Racing Dude’s Michael Spector, this year’s field has a Brisnet Derby Field Speed of 6.50, which ranks as the fourth highest in the past 17 years.

The long shot that will win this year’s Kentucky Derby

Only one horse, State of Honor, can be classified as a need-to-lead type. He has been first at the second call in six of his 10 lifetime starts, winning once with that running style as a 2-year-old maiden. Always Dreaming, however, also likes to gravitate toward the front of the pack, and could end up in a speed duel with State of Honor. He also looks ready to go — Always Dreaming turned in a blistering workout at Churchill Downs on April 28, running five furlongs in 59.6 seconds and a full mile in 1 minute 40 seconds.

This race to grab the early lead will likely have a negative impact on at least three horses, if not more. Fast and Accurate, labeled by Brisnet as an early speed/presser type, might also look to get a jump on the crowd for early position from the No. 3 gate. However, his Beyer Speed Figure of 82 in the Grade III Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park casts doubt he will be able to get into position. Lookin at Lee and UAE Derby champ, horses in posts No. 1 and No. 2, could face a similar challenge. Untrapped, the No. 4 horse, could be trapped as well.

2017 Kentucky Derby field, odds and analysis

Classic Empire and Gunnevera, meanwhile, are off-the-pace runners in outside post positions who could benefit.

Gunnevera didn’t get a great trip from jockey Javier Castellano in the Florida Derby but his performance in the Holy Bull (trouble on the far turn couldn’t stop his second-place finish) and the Fountain of Youth (driving to a five-and-three-quarters length lead) are more indicative of this horse’s potential.

Classic Empire has had his own challenges, even in the most recent Arkansas Derby win, which caught him four wide down the stretch en route to a 94 Beyer Speed Figure, his best as a 3-year-old.

Speaking of speed: None of the last eight Derbys saw a horse hold on for second place after posting a Brisnet speed figure of 94 or less in their final prep. Four of the last five have earned Brisnet speed figures of 100 or more, leaving Irish War Cry (102), Irap (100) and Always Dreaming (102) as the most likely to hang on. Discount Always Dreaming if you think he will be in a speed duel for the lead and take caution adding Irap, who has never won as a 2-year-old (the last 12 to hit the trifecta have all won at that age).

J Boys Echo (93), Untrapped (90), Tapwrit (87) and Fast and Accurate (86) each ran a Brisnet figure in their last prep race that is lower than anything we have seen in a third-place finisher over the past eight years. Hence (103), on the other hand, has a triple-digit mark in his last prep race, the same as we have seen from the last four horses who held on for show in the Kentucky Derby.

Freshness counts, too. Mucho Macho Man (2011) and Steppenwolfer (2006) are the only horses to come in third with three or more key Derby preps. Eighteen of the last 21 who placed all had two or fewer heading into the first Saturday in May. Lookin at Lee had three preps before the Derby.

Going back to 1998, 18 out of 19 horses that held on to third place in the Derby either won outright or were sharp (top-three finish or within three lengths of the winner) in their last prep race leading up to the Derby or in any race nine furlongs or longer as a 3-year-old. Untrapped, J Boys Echo and Tapwrit were not.

Danza (2014) is the only show horse since 1998 who didn’t run two two-turn prep races before the Derby. This year that dings Fast and Accurate and Patch.

With that said, after accounting for pace, speed and running style, here are three horses you don’t want to leave out in your exotic wagers this Saturday:

No. 10 Gunnevera (15-to-1 odds)
No. 14 Classic Empire (4-to-1 favorite)
No. 17 Irish War Cry (6-to-1 odds)

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