Classic Empire set as sportsbook favorite in 2017 Kentucky Derby betting

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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.

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.