Alas, the Cream of the Crop Has Risen
Thanks in large measure to the triumphant return of this generation’s champion, Classic Empire, in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, there is some clarity among racing’s glamour division as the Kentucky Derby-143 looms.
What’s interesting is that the horses ranked clearly atop HorseRaceInsider’s Final Derby Hi-5 Poll--as race callers are want to say as two horses’ battle their way down the stretch: “There’s nothing between them.”
And, so, after 40 Kentucky Derby qualifying rounds that began at Churchill Downs on September 17, 2016 and will end there with the Big Dance on May 6, 2017, Always Dreaming and Classic Empire separated themselves from a pack of 418 Triple Crown nominees.
As fate would dictate, there is not only a dead-heat at the top but a reprise of the 1944 Carter Handicap with a triple dead-heat for fourth position. That’s right, there’s a field of six for HRI’s Hi-5 Derby.
A seventh runner, Irap, the upset winner of the Blue Grass, was the only other three-year-old to earn points in HRI’s finale until the only poll that matters for the record; the opinions of staffers and contributors released here Derby eve, a.k.a. Oaks Day.
The final thoughts of our panel will not be formulated until late during Derby week.
That’s because workouts and defections matter: Just ask the connections of those whose runners have not amassed 40 points, the highest number of qualifying points since Churchill Downs replaced graded stakes earnings as the criteria.
The current system, inaugurated in 2013, de-emphasizes sprint and juvenile racing in favor of races rounding two turns at 2 and 3.
The later races in the prep season and the longer the races, the greater number of points become available. Graded stakes earnings is now a tie-breaker. It’s never been utilized.
1-Classic Empire: The champ is back. Overcame brutal trip in Arkansas Derby to vault back to the top of his generation.
2-Always Dreaming: Hasn't done a thing wrong. Unbeaten as 3YO, which has been the pattern for last five Derby winners.
3-Gunnevera: Gutty, always fires, will be coming fast in the stretch.
4-Irish War Cry: Winner of two major preps. None of the others here have done that (Girvin notwithstanding).
5-McCraken: On second look, his Blue Grass wasn't that bad; Thunder Sky would be here if I knew he was coming.
1-Classic Empire -- 2YO champ got his major prep win.
2-Always Dreaming -- Ran fastest 9-furlong prep.
3-Irap -- May trigger Sunland Derby upgrade.
4-Irish War Cry – Wood win confirmed ability.
5-Girvin – The only dual major prep winner this year (Irish War Cry notwithstanding)
5-Irish War Cry
5-Irish War Cry
And it troubles me I could make no room for, in order of current preference, Girvin, Practical Joker, J Boys Echo, Tapwrit and Lookin at Lee.
HRI HI-5 KENTUCKY DERBY CONSENSUS
1 - (Tie) Always Dreaming 
1 - (Tie) Classic Empire 
3 - McCraken 
4 - (Tie) Girvin 
4 - (Tie) Gunnevera 
4 - (Tie) Irish War Cry 
HRI consensus points earned, first through fifth, on a 6-4-2-1-1 basis
April 16, 2017
Written by John Pricci - Comments (21)