2017 Kentucky Derby Power Rankings: 2/17/17 (by Andrew Champagne)

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1) McCraken (last ranked: #3) Record: 4-4-0-0 Owner: Whitham Thoroughbreds Trainer: Ian Wilkes Derby Points: 20 Next Start: TBD We now know McCraken isn’t a horse that only excels at Churchill Downs. His 3-year-old debut in the Sam F. Davis saw him set a new track record while moving to a perfect 4-for-4. The Ian Wilkes trainee has the right running style for the 10-furlong distance, and he may be getting better and better with every start. If there’s a hole in the Sam F. Davis, it’s that the race set up perfectly for him given the fast early fractions. However, many a Kentucky Derby has featured a ridiculously-quick early pace, so I’m not reading too much into it (since this IS, after all, a list of top Derby contenders). 2) Irish War Cry (NEW) Record: 3-3-0-0 Owner: Isabelle de Tomaso Trainer: H. Graham Motion Derby Points: 10 Next Start: Fountain of Youth New to this list, Irish War Cry wired the field in the Holy Bull to vault himself into the Derby picture. In that race, he defeated last year’s champion 2-year-old (Classic Empire) and another very good horse (Gunnevera). He’s bred to go long, which is another plus, and he could still be improving. The lone negative from the Holy Bull was that Irish War Cry sat a picture-perfect trip. He was loose on the lead through moderate fractions in a race with a short stretch, and those are circumstances that may never happen again for him. Still, he’s obviously one to watch given his immense ability. 3) Mastery (last ranked: #2) Record: 3-3-0-0 Owner: Cheyenne Stables Trainer: Bob Baffert Derby Points: 10 Next Start: TBD Mastery skipped the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and has yet to be tested in three starts. Two turns proved to be no problem at all in the Los Alamitos Futurity, where he finished powerfully under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith. He’s been working up a storm at Santa Anita, and those drills show a horse that could be loaded for his 3-year-old unveiling, which could come in either the San Felipe at Santa Anita or the Rebel at Oaklawn Park. 4) Classic Empire (last ranked: #1) Record: 6-4-0-1 Owner: John Oxley Trainer: Mark Casse Derby Points: 32 Next Start: TBD I dropped Classic Empire out of the top spot following the Holy Bull, but I can’t drop him further than this. It’s entirely possible he needed his 3-year-old debut after a brief absence, and news has broken that he had an abscess immediately following the race. That ailment could have hindered him that day (to what extent, we’ll never know), and we can agree he’s got a world of talent. I’m keeping him in the top four for now, and he could very well re-ascend to the top spot with a win in his next start. 5) Gormley (last ranked #4) Record: 4-3-0-0 Owner: Jerome and Ann Moss Trainer: John Shirreffs Derby Points: 20 Next Start: TBD John Shirreffs is much more well-known for his success with older horses (namely, of course, the great Zenyatta). However, he’s got a real Derby prospect in Gormley, who won the Grade 1 FrontRunner as a 2-year-old and annexed the Sham in his 3-year-old debut. His lone misfire came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and I’m willing to consider that a bounce off his FrontRunner score. 6) El Areeb (last ranked: #9) Record: 6-4-1-0 Owner: M M G Stables Trainer: Cathal Lynch Derby Points: 20 Next Start: Wood Memorial I was hoping to find out more about El Areeb in the Withers, and I’m not sure I did. He was impressive enough to jump up three spots in this list, and the field he beat that day was certainly better than the one he dusted in the Jerome. Still, it’s not like he beat a star-studded group on either occasion, and he had perfect trips in races over Aqueduct’s quirky inner track. It’s tough to knock a horse that’s 2-for-2 with two daylight wins in stakes company during his 3-year-old season, but I can’t rank El Areeb higher than this in good conscience. 7) Gunnevera (last ranked: #7) Record: 7-3-2-0 Owner: Peacock Racing Stables Trainer: Antonio Sano Derby Points: 14 Next Start: TBD Gunnevera did enough in the Holy Bull to maintain his standing on this list. He didn’t get to Irish War Cry, but as mentioned in that one’s write-up, the winner got away on a fairly-easy lead in a race that featured a short stretch run to the wire. It wasn’t the best spot for a stone closer, which is what Gunnevera is, but that race could serve as a solid springboard for the rest of the prep season. 8) Mo Town (last ranked: #5) Record: 3-2-1-0 Owner: Magnier, Tabor, Smith Trainer: Tony Dutrow Derby Points: 10 Next Start: TBD Remsen winner Mo Town dropped three spots on this list, and not entirely because others jumped up. Horses coming out of the race that doubles as his signature win have not performed well, and that doesn’t reflect well on this son of all-world sire Uncle Mo. That doesn’t mean I’m completely selling my shares of stock in Mo Town, but it WOULD be nice to see him in the afternoon and find out where he stands. He hasn’t run in nearly three months, so there’s a lot of mystery here. 9) Practical Joke (last ranked: #6) Record: 4-3-0-0 Owner: Klaravich Stables, William Lawrence Trainer: Chad Brown Derby Points: 14 Next Start: TBD Practical Joke emerged as New York’s top 2-year-old last year with late-running wins in the Hopeful and Champagne. He then finished a distant third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on a day where late-runners didn’t do particularly well. Chad Brown, who recently won an Eclipse Award as the top trainer of 2016, has said Practical Joke could return in either the Gotham at Aqueduct (which he won last year with Shagaf) or the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. 10) American Anthem (last ranked: #8) Record: 2-1-1-0 Owner: WinStar Farm, S F Bloodstock, China Horse Club Trainer: Bob Baffert Derby Points: 4 Next Start: TBD American Anthem won at first asking in a stacked maiden race (the third-place finisher, So Conflated, won his next two starts, including a stakes race at Golden Gate), and then finished a close second to Gormley in the Sham. Those two were far clear of the rest of the field that day, so it’s safe to assume American Anthem has a lot of potential. His next effort, which could come in either the San Felipe or the Rebel, will say a lot about where he stands compared to the rest of this crop. HONORABLE MENTIONS: Tapwrit, Malagacy, Faja, Uncontested, Guest Suite, Lookin At Lee, Royal Mo


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