NEW YORK (WFAN) — Classic Empire might be the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, but horse-racing handicapper Brad Thomas isn’t buying in.
In previewing the race on Mike Francesa’s WFAN show on Thursday, Thomas said he believes McCraken should be the favorite and didn’t give Classic Empire much of a chance.
“He does not rate comfortably or readily in traffic, and there’s 19 horses to contend with,” Thomas said of Classic Empire, whose odds are 4-to-1. “He tends to lose focus in his races. And he has a spotty 2017 foundation with only two races beneath him. Traditionally animals with his profile come undone under pre-race and in-race Derby stress. I will use him defensively in tris and supers and even exactas because talent matters, and there’s not a whole lot of talent in this field. But I’m going to be looking to get him off the board. My score tickets will have him off the board.”
Here are the horses Thomas said he likes most in the race with some of his analysis:
“Horses that accelerate like McCraken does at middle distances on dirt can have their hops dulled somewhat at a mile and a quarter, and traffic can always be an issue for a rallier, and this horse only has two 2017 starts of foundation because of the ankle issue. But he’s been masterfully developed otherwise by a homebred operation that focuses on winning the championship races rather than marketing potential stallion prospects in the softer, preliminary contests. … McCraken is the horse to beat and the one who should be the favorite.
IRISH WAR CRY (6-to-1)
“While the maternal side of his breeding is very sprinty, Irish War Cry, to me, looks and races like sire Curlin. His Fountain of Youth stinker is a knock. But on his overall body of work and raw potential and just frame of reference, Irish War Cry is one of the ones to beat. His outside draw, however, could cause a wide and hard-used trip for a horse of his style. He’s not going to be that far back, and I think this post really could hurt him.”
“Hence has the stride of a router, and he’s a true win threat if he’s not forced too wide in the 20-horse field. And also what you have to watch with him is he does have a hot disposition, and you have to really look him over in the post parade and pre-race. If he’s under control, this horse has a huge shot.”
LOOKIN AT LEE (20-to-1)
“Trainer Steve Asmussen has believed … in this horse’s mile and a quarter prowess and Derby potential for months and always has been pointing for this race. Lookin at Lee, though, is a deep closer. He lacks instant acceleration. He needs both a good trip and a pace meltdown. But this is a very weak field … below-average Derby field. He’s a deep underneath threat, to me. He has a crazy shot to get up for second or even pull a Giacomo. I’m using this horse all over at a big price.”
J BOYS ECHO (20-to-1)
“Trainer Dale Romans is as good as they come in big-time spots, and I do like this horse’s pedigree for a mile and a quarter more than many of his rivals. If the stars are aligned with the pace and trip gods, I think he has a Keen Ice-in-the-Travers of a win chance. … But realistically, I see him in the third and fourth spots at best.”
“Sonneteer might lack the top, top tier talent and real Grade 1 acceleration, but this horse is another one who can get a deep underneath piece, maybe even a fluky place, maybe even a scary, weird win with pace and a trip. This is a mediocre year, and chaos does happen, and it can happen with the right alignment.”
To listen to the full segment with Thomas, click on the audio player above.
Also check out Francesa’s interview with NBC Sports analyst and two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Jerry Bailey below.