DiLo’s 2017 Kentucky Derby Contenders List

February 16, 2017

Photographer standing near the quarter pole in the Kentucky Derby

…Not your usual Derby Dozen…With additional comments by Jonathan Stettin! You know, we get by with a little help from our friends!

I have always been against Derby Top 10’s…I get it…it’s a good thing for a novice player to have in his arsenal when trying to pick the 2017 Kentucky Derby contenders.

I want to expand that idea and have a say about The Derby, but also look deeper into who we should be keeping an eye on for the King Bishop (Saratoga’s 3yo Sprint Race on Travers day) The Pennsylvania Derby (a now G1 3yo stake race in September) The Travers ( The mid-summer Derby where a 3yo who might be getting a late start to their 3yo season has been pointing to all along…(Arrogate )

My very early 2017 Kentucky Derby contenders

It’s mid-February so this is when we start to separate the contenders form the pretenders. My list below is of 3yo’s I have circled that I think can be BIG time stakes 3yo’s in 2017.


“Very,very,very early!”

PRACTICAL JOKE (Chad Brown): If you have followed me on social media you know I fell in love with this horse on Whitney Day in Saratoga when he broke his maiden. I thought that day had a stiff head wind early, and really helped the front end. This 2yo made a huge move around the turn and impressed me a lot. His first start will come on March 4th either in the Fountain of Youth at GP or Gotham in New York.
One of the main reasons I liked this horse so much as a 2yo because he was built like a 3yo. Will he be built like a 4yo after a few months off? Chad Brown has said he has developed even more and I’m excited to see him run back.

I made a big bet on him on BC day, and after watching the replay a bunch, there are a few excuses. He didn’t start great, blew the turn a little going from the 2 path around the first turn to the 4/5 path, then went to make a big middle move on the outside, on a speed friendly track before the final turn, until ducking to the inside where he was cut off by eventual 2nd place finisher Not This Time. With his pedigree suggesting he might NOT want a classic distance I’ll tread lightly before making him a Tier 1 Derby contender but I’m excited for his 3yo campaign.


“I’m not quite sold. I think he is a nice horse, but doesn’t have the look of a Derby horse to me. I’ll need to see more.” 

UNIQUE BELLA (J. Hollendorfer) 3YO Filly: These aren’t the same connections as Songbird. They aren’t scared/hesitant to take a shot at the Derby, and the way fillies are fleeing California (Champagne Room to Keeneland next, Shane’s Girlfriend to Louisiana) everyone knows this one is the goods. I always look at Euro Books and Vegas Books to see who is taking money, sharp money always finds value, and it’s no coincidence Unique Bella is taking money in Vegas to win the Derby.


“It’s no secret I have been very high on her since I first saw her lose her debut. I said then she was as good or better than any three-year old filly I had seen to date. She’s just continued to validate that opinion. I also think she’ll carry that speed as she shuts down, and that is what you have to do to get a distance. Super talented, a mile and a quarter might be stretching her limit but I think it is a moot point. I see her in The Kentucky Oaks, not The Kentucky Derby. If I am wrong, we’ll discuss it then, not now.” 

EL AREEB (C Lynch): It would just be too big of a coincidence the year that they take away a G1 status form the Wood Memorial, the Derby winner comes out of the Wood Memorial. El Areeb’s next stop is the Wood memorial after an impressive and tactical Withers victory. I always felt that tactical horses, who can make a run around the turn at Churchill are the ones that I want to play in the Derby. That is what this one has shown twice now at Aqueduct and is bred to go long. They load them up in the gate tomorrow, he is my Derby pick, but we are a LONG way away.


“Not for me. Not the first Saturday in May anyway.” 

AMERICAN ANTHEM (Bob Baffert): Would be foolish not to have a Baffert 3yo in my TOP echelon of 3yo’s this time of year. I was super impressed with this one 2nd time out who was on the rail (on a part of the track that I didn’t think was the place to be that day) and ran very game vs a more seasoned Gormley.


“No question my top choice right now. I spoke to Bob Baffert about this colt, and he likes him as much as any other three year-old he’s seen thus far. His and others included. That is a strong vote of confidence but not why I like him. I loved his debut when he got left and came running late to get up when it looked like he had lost all chance. In his next start he was pinned on the rail by Gormley who I know is a nice horse and was more experienced, and he fought back gamely inside. These are qualities I like come Run for the Roses time.” 

MO TOWN (A. Dutrow): This 3yo does not have to improve that much more to start being talked about by everyone as a derby contender. His win in the Remsen might get downgraded a little, as he just took over an easy lead after Takaful collapsed, and beat No Dozing, who didn’t run great at Tampa this past weekend, but this 3yo is talented and bred to run longer.


“A lot of hype, but not beating much. We’ll see, or maybe we won’t.”

TAPWRIT (Todd Pletcher): Everyone is talking about McCraken’s big run in the Sam F Davis this past Saturday, but I want to talk about Tapwrit’s BIG effort. Watch the replay again, he got checked while trying to get position, then when trying to make a final move down the lane, McCraken hit the sport first, so Jose Ortiz needed to move lanes and re-rally. He sure did re-rally closing VERY STRONG with a HUGE gallop out. Watch out…this might be Pletchers Triple Crown horse.


“I was as impressed with his race as with McCraken’s. I wish Todd had a better record pointing for The Derby, but hey it is Todd Pletcher and The Derby so I won’t hold it against him. I say this one bears watching. Close watching. I like.” 

These seem to be the 3yo’s everyone is falling in love with but I have some question marks at short prices next time out…

McCraken (Ian Wilkes): This 3yo looked good at Tampa Bay Downs this past Saturday in the Sam F Davis BUT, what a ride Brian Hernandez gave him. With the quick first turn, Hernandez tucked him in on the rail, saved ground the entire way around, got him to relax, then made one big move, with a big turn of foot. This 3yo “broke a track record” and even more of a reasons he will be the “talked about horse” going forward. But if the Derby was tomorrow I wouldn’t bet him to win at short odds as his pedigree is a little turfy. He is a half to a nice turf horse, and his dam ran well on dirt but also well on all weather/turf. The dam is also a half to a G1 winner on the turf.


“I gave him a pass on the lugging in at Tampa, but still not sold.” 

Classic Empire (M. Casse): Had some health issues, we found out during the Holy Bull so maybe the race is a toss, but in a race I made a big bet on Practical Joke in The Hopeful, and I saw Classic Empire bolt…I remember those things as maybe the horses brain isn’t of championship caliber? Sure he put blinkers on and romped in the BC Juvenile, but he was on the front end that day at Santa Anita, and I believe the front end of the dirt that BC Saturday was the place to be. 5-1 Derby future?? No thanks, but he has talent to turn it around.


“Big question mark. Let me see him turn around the sub-par return first. I’m not sold he will. He may, but I’ll have to see it.” 

Irish War Cry (G Motion): I made a nice bet on him in the Holy Bull after I saw Classic Empire just not act like his normal self in the warm up. He went to the lead, an uncontested lead, going soft fractions and cleared a suspect field (after Classic Empire wasn’t the same.) I like but don’t love next time out.


“I basically agree with DiLo here, but looking beyond the surface, and what everybody sees, I see talent, and a lot of upside despite the perfect scenario win. Nice colt.” 

Mastery (B. Baffert): This one is a G1 winner but didn’t face much that day. Does that mean he can’t explode and be a huge 3yo?…Arrogate…No, but I’m waiting and seeing before making him a top 3yo on my list. Mastery’s dam is a half to JUMP START, a very nice 2yo sprinter who was vanned off during the BC Juvy in 2001. Could Jump Start have gone two turn, probably, so the pedigree is there.


“I spoke to Bob about this one also. he’s legit and should be taken seriously. I am listening. Nothing I’ve seen as me thinking otherwise.”

Gormley (J. Shirreffs): Lots to like about this 3yo, and having John Shirrefs move this one up to stakes company so fast as a 2yo says a lot. I like what I see but this one is BRED FOR THE TURF, big time. That doesn’t mean that he won’t win his fair share of stakes this spring, but I’m ready to take a big stand against in one of these preps at a SHORT price.


“Good horse. I knew about him before he ran. I’m not sure he is a Derby horse, or he can beat American Anthem again, but he is for real.” 

Up and comers…3yo’s who have I been impressed with but we beed to figure out if they are, pretenders or contenders in 2017:

ILIAD (Doug Oniel): Was up close 3 wide on a fast pace this past Sunday in the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita. A small field that he put away nicely, but again with his pedigree, this is one that I want to see go two turns before I take a very short price.


“Haven’t seen near enough to make my list, not my Derby one anyway, or I should say Kentucky Derby one….”

MALAGACY (T. Pletcher): The Cubs curse is over so why not the “Apollo Curse” be next. The “Apollo curse” is that no unraced 2yo has won the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882. Problem is, is that this one is bred to sprint and might be a better off going 1 turn at Belmont this spring and the Kings Bishop this summer.


“I agree on the Apollo curse. Bodemeister came close, Pulpit might have done it had he not got hurt in The Derby. It’s just a matter of time. The problem is DiLo has the wrong horse. The horse who might do it isn’t on his list, so I can’t comment. After all it is his list.” 

BATTALION RUNNER (T. Pletcher): This 3yo is a half to Oceanwave who was a 3yo filly who ran an ok race in the Kentucky Oaks. Oceanwave didn’t start great, swung 9 wide and gained late in the Oaks. Some are knocking Battalion Runner for not making an impressive move vs allowance company a few weeks ago at GP but maybe Pletcher is learning not to have these 3yo’s fully cranked in Feb, but in May? Love the pedigree.


“Interesting, very interesting.”

LOOKIN AT LEE (S. Asmussen): Can this horse learn how to rate? The last time we saw this son of Lookin at Lucky he was drawn WIDE in the BC Juvy, ducked to the inside to save ground on a dirt course I felt favored the front end! In a race that not many closed he did, and should get better as a 3yo if he can learn how to rate.


“Nah. At least for now.” 

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