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.

Triple Crown winner Justify under observation at Del Mar

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DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Triple Crown winner Justify has re-located to Del Mar where trainer Bob Baffert is keeping him under observation after swelling in his left front ankle emerged two weeks ago.

Baffert says Justify will probably just walk around the stable area for the next two weeks at the track north of San Diego. The probable scenario for the colt is a return to racing sometime in the fall with the ultimate goal being the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November.

“Right now, we’re just looking to get him 100 percent,” Baffert said Monday. “We’re in a holding pattern. I’d love to run him again because he’s so much fun and exciting to watch. We should know more in a couple of weeks.”

Justify has won all six starts in his brief career that began this year. He has won four straight Grade 1 races, including a sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become horse racing’s 13th Triple Crown champion.

The colt hasn’t had a workout since the Belmont Stakes on June 9.

Funtastic wins Monmouth’s United Nations Stakes in 23-1 upset

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OCEANPORT, N.J. — Funtastic led all the way in a 23-1 upset Saturday in the $300,000 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Chad Brown, the Eclipse Award winner the last two years as the nation’s leading trainer, got his third victory in the New Jersey’s biggest turf race. He won with Big Blue Kitten in 2013 and 2015.

The U.N. and the $1 million Haskell on July 29 are the two Grade 1 stakes at Monmouth.

Brown saddled four of the nine runners in the U.N. and ran 1-2 as Money Multiplier rallied to finish a half length behind Funtastic and jockey Antonio Gallardo.

The other two Brown horses were Silverwave (fifth) and Kurilov (eighth).

The time was 2:12.36 for 1 3/8 miles over the firm course.

Funtastic paid $48, $15.80 and $8.60. Money Multiplier, the 2-1 favorite, returned $4 and $2.80.

Bigger Picture, last year’s U.N. winner, was third, paying $5.80 to show.