Horse Racing

Early Kentucky Derby Betting: The Elite Eight

Spring has nearly sprung, with the Kentucky Derby (G1) now just over two months away. Classic Empire, the early prohibitive favorite, is seeing bettors jump from his bandwagon, once the heavy favorite but now relegated to third choice in the early Derby wagering at Sportsbook.

That could change once his foot abscess heals and he gets back on track with a better effort than we saw in his third-place finish in the Holy Bull (G2).

Until then at least, it looks as if McCraken is deserving of the top spot in OddsShark’s Elite Eight Derby prospects.

Here is a look at the eight major contenders for this spring’s Run for the Roses:

#1 McCraken

Sportsbook 11-2, Sportsbook +550

It’s been perfection for this colt, four starts and four dazzling wins, last out taking the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in his three-year-old debut. His early betting price has almost been cut in half since his last victory. He is trained by Ian Wilkes, who was an assistant trainer for Carl Nafzger, who saddled a pair of Derby Sportsbooks in Unbridled and Street Sense. Next up likely is the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 11.

#2 Mastery

Sportsbook 15-2, Sportsbook +750

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is seeking his fifth Kentucky Derby win this year and this colt appears to have a ton of talent. He won all three starts as a two-year-old, getting on the map with a victory in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) in his last start. His three-year-old debut will come in either the San Felipe (G2) on March 11 or the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park a week later.

#3 Classic Empire

Sportsbook 8-1, Sportsbook +475

After his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) win, his futures price was down as low as 5-2, but after a third in the Holy Bull (G2) in his three-year-old debut followed by a foot abscess, we have seen his price drift steadily upward. He was pointing toward the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park on March 4 but with his foot issues that is now off the table.

#4 Irish War Cry

Sportsbook 10-1, Sportsbook +725

This colt is trained by Graham Motion, who saddled 2011 upset Kentucky Derby Sportsbook Animal Kingdom. This is another undefeated runner, taking the Holy Bull (G2) last out over the champion juvenile, earning a solid speed figure. His next start likely comes in the Fountain of Youth which will be just his second start around two turns.

#5 El Areeb

Sportsbook 16-1, Sportsbook +1200

This colt has been beating up on his competition in New York, winning the Jerome (G3) by 11 ¼ lengths and then the Withers (G3) by 4 ¼ lengths. He is going to end up facing tougher competition, his next start coming in either the Gotham (G2) on March 4 or his connections could wait for the Wood Memorial (G1) on April 8. He has been dominating foes on the inner track in the winter at the Big A, but things are about to get tougher for him. He might be up for it.

#6 Mo town

Sportsbook 18-1, Sportsbook +1600

The Tony Dutrow trainee makes his three-year-old debut this Saturday as a major contender in the $400,000 Risen Star (G3) at Fair Grounds. He won the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct, going nine furlongs in his first start against Sportsbooks. He has not run fast enough yet, but is in a sharp barn and I don’t think we have seen the best of this guy yet. His coming-out party may be during Mardi Gras on Saturday. Get the beads ready.

#7 Gunnevera

Sportsbook 20-1, Sportsbook +1800

This colt ran well in a runner-up finish in the Holy Bull, beaten 3 ¾ lengths in his first start off nearly a three-month break. He won the Saratoga Special (G2) and Delta Jackpot (G3) last year. The son of Dialed In is eligible to move forward off his three-year-old debut. We might see that in the Fountain of Youth.

#8 American Anthem

Sportsbook 25-1, Sportsbook +1500

This is another talented runner from the Baffert barn. He broke his maiden in his debut at Del Mar and then was beaten a tough head by the more experienced Gormley in the Sham (G3) at Santa Anita in his last outing in the slop. This colt still appears to have a ton of upside. We will see him next in either the San Felipe at Santa Anita or the Rebel at Oaklawn Park. Baffert is going to keep American Anthem and Mastery separate in their next preps.

Handicapper Michael Dempsey will be covering the Road to the Kentucky Derby for OddsShark and his full card reports with selections, analysis, fair odds line and wagering recommendations for major tracks can be found daily at