Las Vegas book director likes McCraken to win Kentucky Derby

Updated May 5, 2017 - 6:38 pm

Wynn race and sports book director Johnny Avello handicaps the Kentucky Derby field:

“It’s the best betting race in the world. You never see a 20-horse field in American racing. Huge wagering pools. I’m not normally a trifecta and superfecta player, but there have been some supers that have paid over $100,000 in the Derby. Of course, that means picking the right-priced horses in there, but a lot of guys play that way.

“I like McCraken (5-1) to win, Practical Joke (18-1) second and Hence (20-1) third. Just looking for something crazy to happen. The track looks to be off. It’s sloppy, so bettor beware.”

Post position, horse, jockey, morning-line odds:

1) Lookin At Lee, Lanerie, 25-1

One of three Steve Asmussen-trained horses in the race. His only two wins are a maiden special weight and a cheap stakes at Ellis Park in August. His running style is to come out of the clouds, so the one post isn’t that bad for a horse that, at most, can hope for a third- or fourth-place finish.

2) Thunder Snow, Soumillon, 22-1

It’s always difficult to gauge these horses from across the pond because of their previous races on turf and foreign soil. He hasn’t run in six weeks, but here are three positives if you’re considering him: He’s performed in high-quality races, won his past three and appears to run well on an off track (which it may very well be).

3) Fast And Accurate, Hill, 60-1

Picked up 50 points by winning the Spiral, and the connections decided to put up $200,000 and supplement him into the race. I respect the trainer (Michael Maker), but he appears extremely slow and I don’t believe he belongs with this group.

4) Untrapped, Santana, Jr., 40-1

The second of the Asmussen horses who really tries hard in every start. He broke his maiden at Churchill at 6½ furlongs and finished well on a muddy track in the LeConte at the Fair Grounds, but the 1¼-mile distance may be an issue.

5) Always Dreaming, Velazquez, 5-1

It wasn’t the greatest of Florida Derby fields, but he won it easily with his best race. He put forth such a great effort that I look for him to regress just a tad. Hard to criticize a horse with three straight wins to go with the world-class trainer/jockey combination of Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez.

6) State of Honor, Lezcano, 28-1

He has run 10 races, and it took five starts to break his maiden, and that still is his only win. He is getting better each race and usually stays close to the pace, so you’ll probably hear his name called a few times early, but I don’t look for him to be there when the dust clears.

7) Girvin, Smith, 12-1

Lately has spent more time in a swimming pool than on the racetrack because of foot issues. His four races at the Fair Grounds are all good, with his only loss on turf. His workouts seem to be favorable, and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith has the reins. Girvin has done nothing wrong, but I’m still uncertain if he’s coming into this race properly.

8) Hence, Geroux, 20-1

His last in the Sunland Derby was excellent, and he would have to repeat that performance to win the Derby. Has been racing against a lesser quality of horse, but he had the good fortune of selecting a great post position and picks up a superb rider in Florent Geroux.

9) Irap, Gutierrez, 25-1

Won his first and only race in the Blue Grass at Keeneland. Doesn’t look the part of a Derby winner, but the trio comprised of owner Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez has won two of the past five Derbys. Experience is paramount.

10) Gunnevera, Castellano, 12-1

A little too far back in the Florida Derby to have any chance and tailed off from his two previous starts. He’s won four of nine and been in the money in seven of nine, but what makes him somewhat appealing is jockey Javier Castellano, who rarely makes mistakes.

11) Battle of Midway, Prat, 35-1

Lightly raced colt with a good effort in the Santa Anita Derby. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer knows how to get a horse ready, but this stage might be too big.

12) Sonneteer, Desormeaux, 50-1

Ten races without a win, but made a nice move in the Arkansas Derby to finish fourth. The trainer/jockey (J. Keith/Kent) Desormeaux duo have been known to work magic. If you want your trifecta or superfecta to be substantial, use him on the bottom on a few tickets.

13) J Boys Echo, Saez, 25-1

After an outstanding race in the Gotham, it seemed he might be a top choice for the roses, but his Blue Grass was disappointing. I wasn’t that interested then and even more so now.

14) Classic Empire, Leparoux, 4-1

Going to be the favorite at probably no more than 7-2, and understandably so with five wins in six races and two wins over the track. I might use him underneath in gimmicks, but I don’t have enough conviction for the top spot at the short price.

15) McCraken, Hernandez Jr., 5-1

I’ve liked him since his first race in October 2016. I’ll give him a pass in the Blue Grass and label it as a glorified workout. Speaking of workouts, they’ve been solid lately. He’s 3-for-3 on the Churchill surface, and I expect him to be right there.

16) Tapwrit, Ortiz, 20-1

Everything looked like systems go after the Tampa Bay Derby, but what a horrible showing in the Blue Grass. Returning to form makes him a contender at a big price.

17) Irish War Cry, Maragh, 6-1

There’s only three horses in the race with a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, and he’s achieved that twice in his five-race career. His running style is dictated by leaving the gate and settling among the top three or four. We’ll see how that works out departing from Post 17.

18) Gormley, Espinoza, 14-1

All of his races have been in California, and surprisingly one of those races, the Sham, was in the slop and he performed nicely. He has distance limitations, but he’s in the hands of a well-respected trainer in John Shirreffs.

19) Practical Joke, Rosario, 18-1

Has one of the better resumes. In six races, he’s run in three Grade 1s and two Grade 2s. He’s won three races and was in the money on the other three. Has arguably one of the top five trainers in the country in Chad Brown and a rider who is starting to heat up in Joel Rosario. The two negatives are the post position and the distance.

20) Patch, Gaffalione, 35-1

Reminds me a lot of myself with one eye and a vision problem. Has shown well in only three starts, but this is a big demand from this lightly raced colt.

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