Shapiro's wagering strategy for 2017 Kentucky Derby: Top four and two more

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TwinSpires Staff

May 5th, 2017


The time is here. After several prep races and a ton of discourse we are just one day away from the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.

Without further ado…


1) Hence

#8 Hence is 15-1 on the morning line and my top choice in the 2017 “Run for the Roses”

The Calumet Farm colt comes off an impressive Sunland Derby win where he made a big move in the middle part of the race and was striding out extremely well in the final stages of the event.

He may not have the same number of quality races as the top four betting options on the morning line, but he has done everything right since arriving at Churchill Downs and gets a rider in Florent Geroux that rode a great race last year with Gun Runner and knows this oval well.

Hence may be somewhat dependent on a brisk pace to be at his absolute best, but I think he is peaking at the right time and can be a bit closer to the pace if it is required. While a hot pace will increase the son of Street Boss’s chances, I think he can still win under moderate early fractions.

Steve Asmussen gets a well deserved first Derby as Hence runs them down in the final eighth of a mile to spring the upset.

2) Irish War Cry

#17 Irish War Cry would be the clear favorite if not for a total clunker in the Fountain of Youth in early March. His efforts in the Holy Bull and the Wood Memorial were extremely strong and his running style suits this race well.

The son of Curlin drew well on Wednesday, which should allow Rajiv Maragh to sit a perfect stalking trip outside of rivals. He has the look of a colt that should have no problem with the distance and to me is the most likely horse to hit the board in the mile and a quarter event.

I will be using Irish War Cry as my key horse in the vertical wagers and would be far from surprised if Graham Motion captured his second career win in the Kentucky Derby.

3) Classic Empire

#14 Classic Empire is a horse I struggled evaluating over the past couple of weeks. His upside is obviously as high as anyone in this field, but he has a bit of an attitude and comes into the race off of a workmanlike, but not eye-popping victory in the Arkansas Derby.

The three weeks rest after being sidelined since a career worst performance in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream and concern that he will act up before the race with that massive crowd in Churchill Downs have me tempering expectations a bit on the 2016 American Champion two-year-old male.

With that being said if the Pioneerof the Nile colt can get back to his winning effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November it will be party time for the Mark Casse barn. My pick for third, but will be including on almost all of my vertical and horizontal tickets.

4) Tapwrit

#16 Tapwrit was extremely impressive in both the Sam Davis and the Tampa Bay Derby this winter. One can argue that his runner-up effort in the Sam Davis was a better performance than the one put forth by #15 McCracken in winning the Grade 3 mile and a sixteenth event back in mid-February.

The $1.2 million dollar son of Tapit had a goofy trip when likely not at 100 percent in the Blue Grass last month. I can forgive that effort and I think that his best performance can not only earn him a minor share, but maybe good enough to get Todd Pletcher his second win in the coveted first leg of the Triple Crown.

At 20-1 on the morning line he is a must use and a potential “bust out” in the horizontal wagers if Jose Ortiz can work out a trip from his outside draw.

Horses to include underneath in trifecta and superfecta wagers:

Part of the fun for me in handicapping the Kentucky Derby is searching for that horse that probably is not good enough to win the race, but can run on late or hang on after being involved early to help “beef” up the exotic wagers. Here are a couple that I think can do so this year:

#12 Sonneteer-

The son of Midnight Lute enters the Derby starting gate winless in 10 starts for trainer Keith Desormeaux. Despite not visiting the winner’s circle yet, he has 6 in the money finishes, including a runner-up finish two back in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park. He has looked great since arriving to Louisville and has a big chance to pass a number of tiring rivals in the Churchill Downs stretch on Saturday.

#11 Battle of Midway-

The Jerry Hollendorfer-conditioned son of Smart Strike is short on numbers, but is a colt that should relish the additional distance. He did all of the dirty work in last month’s Santa Anita Derby before being worn down late by Gormley. I think the Don Alberto Stable/WinStar runner has a career best effort in him and he figures to get a nice trip under California’s leading rider Flavien Prat.


Much has been said about the wide-open nature of the 2017 rendition of the “Run for the Roses” and I could not agree more.

While the four likely post-time favorites all bring solid resumes into the mile and a quarter race, none of them strike me as horses that are worth betting to Win at their morning line price or have significantly better chances than some of their less discussed rivals to put forth the effort it will take to capture the lions’ share of the $2 million dollar purse.

I will be wagering on Hence to Win at anything 14-1 or higher and outside of that concentrating on vertical wagers keying around Hence and Irish War Cry.

I wish everyone luck in this year’s fascinating race. It should be a great day in Louisville.

Hence photo by Jamie Newell/