My 2022 Kentucky Derby preview enters the starting gate with a little more pep in my step than in the last couple of years. That's because, unlike in the last two years, there will not be any limits on crowd size.
Yet despite more than 100,000 folks expected in attendance for the 148th "Run for the Roses," there is one Kentucky Derby regular who won't be there — Bob Baffert. Not having the legendary horse trainer at Churchill Downs is like having an NFL postseason without Tom Brady. And like Brady, Baffert has had plenty of success, having won the Derby six times, tying for the most ever. However, he is banned from entering any horses into races at Churchill Downs until mid-2023.
Related: Kentucky Derby Past Winners List
To refresh your memory, Baffert won the Derby last year with Medina Spirit. However, Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned substance after the race. Sadly, Medina Spirit also died later in 2021. The omission of a Baffert horse this year will certainly be felt.
But that also makes this year a very interesting one to handicap. But before we get into that, here are the horses entered for the Kentucky Derby with their trainer, jockey, post position, and current odds.
Irad Ortiz Jr.
Summer Is Tomorrow
Tiz The Bomb
Brian Hernandez Jr.
Pioneer of Medina
Saffie Joseph Jr.
Ricardo Santana Jr.
D. Wayne Lukas
Now that you know the participants, let's break it down.
148th Kentucky Derby Preview
In years past, I've gone into heavy detail about each horse. But we're going to keep it much simpler this year in order to whittle it down to just a few bets.
Horses We Can Safely Ignore
I wouldn't fault you for including any of the 30-1 horses in the bottom of your trifecta and superfecta bets. Some interesting options, but I simply can't see any of them winning. And to be honest, they will not even be at the bottom of any of my tickets. So cross them off the list.
Additionally, I feel like we can also cross off a number of the 20-1 horses as well. Smile Happy, Crown Pride, and Zozos are long shots who can join the 30-1 horses that I just don't have the confidence in for this race. We have now eliminated about half the horses.
Let's start with the 20-1 horses I did not cross off yet.
Simplification has some nice value and he's a great horse to fill out a Superfecta ticket. He had a sneaky-good race in the Florida Derby. But I don't see him winning or placing.
ChargeIt has some nice breeding lines, having been sired by Tapit. But his offspring seem to perform better in the Belmont than the Derby. Plus, ChargeIt is just too inexperienced to be a factor in this race.
Cyberknife might be my favorite long shot, but I'm worried that by post-time his odds will be too short. I love him at 20-1 or longer, but if he creeps into the 15-1 territory, his value will disappear.
Like some of the front-runners though, Cyberknife too is coming off a victory, having won the Arkansas Derby. He's peaking at the right time, having won each of his last two races and three of his last four.
While not 20-1, the 12-1 Tabia will likely be a very popular choice. The fact that two of his races notched 100+ Beyer Speed Figures will have many excited about his prospects. Similar to my feelings about ChargeIt, Tabia's inexperience worries me. But if you like to bet horses that I fade, this is probably the one to do so. But I'm not.
The Final Five
That leaves us with five horses.
We might as well start with the favorite, Zandon. The fact that he is being ridden by Flavien Prat is huge, as Prat has come up huge in the Kentucky Derby time and time again, whether riding long shots to surprising finishes or stronger possibilities across the finish line first. And I would be shocked if Zandon finishes out of the top four. He will be at the bottom of most of my tickets, but two facts I can't ignore.
One, it's been 15 years since the Blue Grass Stakes winner also won the Derby. I don't think this is the year that history suddenly changes. I am also a little skeptical of trainer Chad Brown's history. Of Brown's six previous entries, only Good Magic back in 2018 finished in the money. Zandon has an unproven pedigree and while the odds might say that this is Brown's best chance, that is not enough to sway me. I'm thinking a third-place finish is in the cards, but unfortunately for Brown, not a victory.
Messier was sired by Empire Maker, who won the Belmont and also sired Triple Crown winner American Pharoh. And John Velasquez is one of the best jockeys in racing. He's already ridden Messier to a win and a second-place finish. Messier is one of the fastest horses around and the aforementioned Prat also rode him to a second-place finish. But with Prat riding Zandon, I am a little concerned about Messier.
I also don't really like White Abbario. This horse has never finished out of the money which is obviously attractive, especially as a potential place or show bet. However, all four of his victories have come at Gulfstream Park. Those have not traditionally translated well.
That leaves us with two horses. I really like Mo Donegal, as his sire was Uncle Mo, who fathered 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. I also direct you to the results of the Remsen S back in December. No, it's not a race on the same level as some of the more recent, more prominent races, but Mo Donegal did beat out Zandon. Not many other horses can say that.
One of the few that can though is Epicenter who rode past Zandon in the Risen Star Grade 2 back in February. Epicenter also comes into Churchill Downs with momentum, posting four first-place finishes in his last five, all on dirt. And that includes his most recent race, the Louisiana Derby.
Epicenter is trained by Steve Asmussen, who might be the best trainer in all of North America. Amongst his hundreds and hundreds of victories, are three Triple Crown victories. He's won the Preakness twice (Curlin in 2007 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009) and Belmont once (2016 with Creator).
I'm sure by now you can tell that I will be including Epicenter in a few of my bets. I will be betting him ATB (across the board) — which means first, second, or third.
I will also be including him in a box exacta with Mo Donegal.
It's boring, I know. And maybe I'll come up with something a little more exotic closer to post time. Follow me on Twitter (@MarkStrausberg) to see if I do.
Until then, go baby go!
— Written by Mark Strausberg, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Hit him up on Twitter @MarkStrausberg.