2017 Kentucky Derby Too Early Top 5

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D.S. Williamson

November 20th, 2016

Is it too early to start thinking about the 2017 Kentucky Derby?  Probably. But, who cares? 2 exceptional races took place this past Saturday, Nov. 19, that sends 2 horses into my 2017 Derby Top 5. The $1M Delta Downs Jackpot and the G3 Bob Hope Stakes not only sent the winners into my Top 5. They sent both winners into my Top 3.

1. Classic Empire

The son of Pioneerof the Nile only beat Not This Time by a neck in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. To me, it was a much more impressive race than Not This Time because jockey Julien Leparoux put Classic Empire up front right off a fast pace. They ran the quarter in 23.05 and the half in 46.06. That's impressive! Leparoux and Empire held off the hard-charging Not This Time. He goes into 2017 as the undisputed top 3-year-old in the nation.

2. Mastery

In my opinion, Bob Baffert, who trained Pioneerof the Nile and Nile's Triple Crown winning champ American Pharoah, has the second most impressive 2-year-old in the nation in Mastery. Sired by Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride, Mastery was fantastic in taking the lead shortly after the gates opened in the Bob Hope on Nov. 19. Jockey Mike Smith and Mastery waited for the challenges of Ann Arbor Eddie and California Diamond before running on for an easy win. Mastery only figures to improve for Baffert in 2017.

3. Gunnevera

Florida based trainer Antonio Sano has one of the top Derby prospects in the country in Delta Downs Jackpot winner Gunnevera. Jockey Javier Castellano rode the son of Dialed In to an impressive win. What was really impressive about it was the move Gunnevera made around the final turn. Visually, it's the type of move that has won many Kentucky Derby's in the past. If Sano can get Gunnevera to improve next year, that's not always an easy task with a Delta Downs Jackpot winner, he could be a special horse.

4. Hot Sean

The horse that finished second to Gunnevera in the $1M Delta Downs Jackpot, Hot Sean, has every reason to improve in 2017. Trained by Bob Baffert, Hot Sean was sired by Flatter. He's from Stormy B, a Cherokee Run broodmare. Hot Sean was part of a fairly quick pace in the Delta Downs Jackpot. As they went around the turn, it appeared that it was his race to lose. It took the closing skills of a horse like Gunnevera to run down Hot Sean who had 2 to 3 lengths over the rest of the field.

5. Practical Joke

Based on what I saw in the BC Juvenile Stakes, Practical Joke might be trainer Chad Brown's best shot at winning a Triple Crown race, well, ever. His upside is tremendous. Not only that, but he can run for days since he was sired by Into Mischief and is from Halo Humor, a Distorted Humor mare. Practical Joke could develop into being as good as any other horse on this list. Or, Brown, like he does at times, could decide that Joke is better on the turf.

If I had to make a wager right now, which, luckily, I don't have to, I'd probably throw some dollars behind Majesty. He's a nice, lengthy, colt that has the pedigree and connections to be as good as any three-year-old, maybe with the exception of American Pharoah, that Bob Baffert has ever trained.