KENTUCKY DERBY HORSE-BY-HORSE ANALYSIS
Following last year’s controversial Run for the Roses that saw Bob Baffert trainee Medina Spirit disqualified in the year following… well, let’s just say we’re hoping for a more normal Kentucky Derby this year.
This year’s version features a slew of up-and-comers and plenty of potential. Even with a Baffert-less field, two of his former trainees in Taiba and Messier will be entered under the conditioning of Tim Yakteen, who took the formidable duo into his barn before their Santa Anita Derby preps. These promising runners will be gunning early after likely favorite Epicenter, who enters with the familiar and always dangerous combination of trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Joel Rosario. Rosario will look to stay aggressive on this speedy three-year-old by Not This Time, and will need to prove he can hold off a slew of strong mid-pack to deep closers headlined by Zandon, White Abarrio, and Mo Donegal.
Post time for the Derby is 6:57 pm EDT, and plenty of great betting opportunities await horseplayers looking for some diamonds in the rough to take down the favorites. Depending on the pace scenario, an early runner could hang around for longer than expected, but the more interesting longshot plays will likely come from off the pace. The less experienced Charge It showed plenty of run late in the Florida Derby, while the more heavily raced Barber Road may lack his pedigree but always seems to pick up some pieces late.
Harder-to-gauge horses include Smile Happy and Simplification, who have also been good at avoiding off performances. This field certainly has some who appear to be overmatched, but there remains plenty of balance and a plethora of real contenders who can easily find themselves in the winner’s circle.
1. #1 Mo Donegal (10-1)
2. #3 Epicenter (7-2)
3. #6 Messier (8-1)
4. #5 Smile Happy (20-1)
(The past performances include all points races, and the blue buttons beneath each horse’s PPs pop up the race videos, or just click on the running line. The PP running line includes race date, finish position, points earned, race name, and track).
1. Mo Donegal (10-1)
- TRAINER: Todd Pletcher
- JOCKEY: Irad Ortiz Jr.
- OWNER: Donegal Racing
- LIFETIME RECORD: 5-3-0-2
- MOST RECENT RACE: 1st, Grade II Wood Memorial
Irad Ortiz Jr. hops back aboard this Pletcher trainee who finished quickly in the Wood Memorial with Joel Rosario after dropping behind by six lengths early. There is plenty of reason to believe this could be a breakthrough runner for Pletcher, who has not had a high percentage of success in the Derby, especially with ones coming out of Aqueduct. Look for this one to be sitting off the leaders around fifth early, as a repeat closing trip will probably not be advantageous for him this time around. The added distance should be a benefit for this colt by Uncle Mo, who has had plenty left in his stretch runs best highlighted by his powerful turn of foot to run down front-runner Early Voting in the Wood. Unfortunately, drawing the inside post isn’t ideal for any runner, but with his running style and ground-saving trip in the Wood, he is capable of still being a top contender as long as he doesn’t get trapped in the late stages. With that strong closing kick and a slightly more forward trip, look for Mo Donegal to offer good value and be charging late.
|Mo Donegal (KY) / T: Todd Pletcher|
|Uncle Mo – Callingmissbrown, by Pulpit|
|04/09/2022 1 (100 Points) Wood Memorial (AQU)|
|02/05/2022 3 (2 Points) Holy Bull (GP)|
|12/04/2022 1 (10 Points) Remsen (AQU)|
2. Happy Jack (30-1)
- TRAINER: Doug O’Neill
- JOCKEY: Rafael Bejarano
- OWNER: Calumet Farm
- LIFETIME RECORD: 4-1-0-2
- MOST RECENT RACE: 3rd, Grade I Santa Anita Derby
After three straight distant finishes in prep races, it appears as if this colt by Oxbow will be far overmatched in a 20-horse field. Losing three graded stakes by a combined forty-nine lengths isn’t the formula for success here, and it would take a major step up to be competitive. He has shown some improvement in speed figures and positioning in recent tries, and maybe the added distance will be a benefit, but it would take a surprise scenario to see him running with the leaders late.
|Happy Jack (KY) / T: Doug O’Neill|
|Oxbow – Tapistry, by Tapit|
3. Epicenter (7-2)
- TRAINER: Steve Asmussen
- JOCKEY: Joel Rosario
- OWNER: Winchell Thoroughbreds
- LIFETIME RECORD: 6-4-1-0
- MOST RECENT RACE: 1st, Grade II Louisiana Derby
The probable favorite comes off of some strong efforts at the Fair Grounds, including a two-length win in the Louisiana Derby last time out. He has enough early speed and handled the longer distance in that race well — that’s the longest key prep at 1 3/16 miles — but started in third there and might let some others like Summer Is Tomorrow and Messier vie for the lead to his outside. Runners out of the Fair Grounds have fared better in recent Derbies than in years past, and this colt should be no exception barring a poor break. Avoiding an early hot pace will also be key for this Asmussen trainee, although Rosario has been effective at controlling his speed in past efforts. Even with recent sharp speed figure, there may be others who offer better value and a bit more upside at this distance. This colt has been consistent and seems to be a bit ahead of the others in terms of his development. The three-post is tough with his running style, but he still has a strong chance to find the lead at the top of the stretch with a chance to hold off a slew of closers.
|Epicenter (KY) / T: Steve Asmussen|
|Not This Time – Silent Candy, by Candy Ride(ARG)|
4. Summer Is Tomorrow (30-1)
- TRAINER: Bhupat Seemar
- JOCKEY: Mikael Barzalona
- OWNER: Michael Hilary Burke and Negar Burke
- LIFETIME RECORD: 7-2-3-0
- MOST RECENT RACE: 2nd, Grade II UAE Derby
In many ways, this colt was more impressive than Crown Pride in the UAE Derby, setting a quick pace and holding on into the mid-stretch. It will be tough to bounce back from that tiring effort and add another sixteenth of a mile while also trying to go gate to wire here with Epicenter to his inside and Messier two gates to his outside. They also didn’t close particularly quickly in Dubai, and it was clear that the distance may have just been a tad too far for this colt by Summer Front. Less familiar connections will make this one of the longest prices on the board, and with more accomplished and threatening pace-setters, look elsewhere for a value play who can hold on to a lead for longer.
|Summer Is Tomorrow (KY) / T: Bhupat Seemar|
|Summer Front – Always Tomorrow, by Badge of Silver|
|03/26/2022 2(40 Points) UAE Derby (MEY)|
5. Smile Happy (20-1)
- TRAINER: Kenneth McPeek
- JOCKEY: Corey Lanerie
- OWNER: Lucky Seven Stable
- LIFETIME RECORD: 4-2-2-0
- MOST RECENT RACE: 2nd, Grade I Blue Grass Stakes
Won the Kentucky Jockey Club in November at Churchill, and since then has finished second in two preps where he went off as favorite. This is clearly a good and capable sophomore, although it appears that he hasn’t improved enough to be a winner here. In the Risen Star it was Epicenter who was well clear of him charging to place, and in the Blue Grass Zandon completely outkicked him in the late stretch. The silver lining is that he didn’t get ideal trips in either race, getting stuck behind horses in the Risen Star before closing in the stretch and then bumping the leader at the top of the Blue Grass stretch. Maybe his best running style will be as a closer to adapt better to the classic distance, and he could be a very competitive horse going forward after this, but this doesn’t feel like his ideal target race and distance with others who are better suited to close. Still a tough one to ignore since he has never raced poorly and has been bet to favorite multiple times so can’t be tossed.
|Smile Happy (KY) / T: Kenneth McPeek|
|Runhappy – Pleasant Smile, by Pleasant Tap|
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6. Messier (8-1)
- TRAINER: Tim Yakteen
- JOCKEY: John Velazquez
- OWNER: Golconda Stable, Madaket Stables LLC, SF Racing LLC, Siena Farm LLC, Starlight Racing, Waves Edge Capital LLC, Catherine Donovan, Robert E. Masterson, and Jay A. Schoenfarber
- LIFETIME RECORD: 6-3-3-0
- MOST RECENT RACE: 2nd, Grade I Santa Anita Derby
The more experienced of the Baffert/Yakteen duo also appears to be better suited for this race and has never finished worse than second in six career starts. He shares a similar path to Medina Spirit last year by getting beat in the Santa Anita Derby after a dominant Robert B. Lewis. Watching a horse get passed in a nine-furlong prep by his greener stablemate is never a great sign going into a 10-furlong race, but this one did a lot of the dirty work in that race, and was up on a legitimate pace. Since front-end speed has been holding up well in recent Derbies, it is hard to pass Messier up as a contender who gets a cleaner trip than most and hangs around late to hold on to hit the board or finish in the top four. Drawing the six post is also a positive, and if Velazquez can beat Epicenter and Summer Is Tomorrow to the first turn, the bloodlines of Empire Maker might be enough to hold on for a strong effort.
|Messier (ON) / T: Tim Yakteen|
|Empire Maker – Checkered Past, by Smart Strike|
7. Crown Pride (20-1)
- TRAINER: Kochi Shintani
- JOCKEY: Christophe Lemaire
- OWNER: Teruya Yoshida
- LIFETIME RECORD: 4-3-0-0
- MOST RECENT RACE: 1st, Grade II UAE Derby
The UAE Derby winner enters this race a winner of three out of four and has looked strong doing so. He has gotten situated for his first race in North America with a six-furlong work over the Churchill track, and looks to give Japan their first Derby winner. Traveling from Dubai is usually very taxing as was the race itself where Summer Is Tomorrow ran out of energy in the stretch. This seems like a tough step up for a colt that will need to come from off the pace and face a stronger field here. Considering the slower closing fractions in his last two races, stretching in distance could be another issue, and if he breaks poorly as in the Hyacinth, regaining ground here with a large field might be too much to ask.
|Crown Pride (JPN) / T: Kochi Shintani|
|Reach the Crown (JPN) – Emmy’s Pride (JPN), by King Kamehameha (JPN)|
|03/26/2022 1 (100 Points) UAE Derby (MEY)|
8. Charge It (20-1)
- TRAINER: Todd Pletcher
- JOCKEY: Luis Saez
- OWNER: Whisper Hill Farm LLC
- LIFETIME RECORD: 3-1-2-0
- MOST RECENT RACE: 2nd, Grade I Florida Derby
It feels like this colt by Tapit will become a wise-guy horse in this race after a very encouraging step up into the Florida Derby last time out. In just his third start, Charge It didn’t break quite as forward as he would have liked, and yet still appeared to have plenty of run left in the stretch before failing to keep his head straight in an attempt to run down White Abarrio. With another race under his belt and more time to adjust to the step up in class, maybe this talented Pletcher trainee can continue to improve and take advantage of his versatile running style. Being put directly amongst the leaders might not be the best strategy here, but Luis Saez tends to be aggressive and distance shouldn’t be limited whether he aims for the top grouping or decides to stalk early.
|Charge It (KY) / T: Todd Pletcher|
|Tapit – I’ll Take Charge, by Indian Charlie|
|04/02/2022 2 (40 Points) Florida Derby (GP)|
9. Tiz the Bomb (30-1)
- TRAINER: Kenneth McPeek
- JOCKEY: Brian Hernandez Jr.
- OWNER: Magdalena Racing
- LIFETIME RECORD: 8-5-1-0
- MOST RECENT RACE: 1st, Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks
Of the ones coming from Turfway, this McPeek trainee was by far the most impressive, winning the Battaglia and Jeff Ruby as the post-time favorite. With an added sixteenth and a slightly more forward trip in the Ruby, Tiz the Bomb flashed his distance potential and ability to dominate a lesser field. Despite these encouraging signs, the switch from artificial surface of Turfway to Churchill could be an issue, especially for a colt that has run his best on non-dirt surfaces. In the grade III Holy Bull three back, Tiz the Bomb was a non-factor and did little to dispel the surface concerns at Gulfstream. It seems that his best form was actually from the fall, when he won two of three stakes races on the turf including the grade II Bourbon. Still, clearly being the best in the Jeff Ruby and taking a step forward makes it possible for him to find a way to close to a respectable finish in this field.
|Tiz the Bomb (KY) / T: Kenneth McPeek|
|Hit It a Bomb – Tiz the Key, by Tiznow|
10. Zandon (3-1)
- TRAINER: Chad Brown
- JOCKEY: Flavien Prat
- OWNER: Jeff Drown
- LIFETIME RECORD: 4-2-1-1
- MOST RECENT RACE: 1st, Grade I Blue Grass Stakes
One of Chad Brown’s most promising three year olds enters after a last to first effort in the Blue Grass where he won with ease. The positives of Zandon start with his improvement in performance and speed figures in every race, culminating with his first non-maiden win in three tries. A visually impressive effort might be underscored by his running style, which could be difficult to win with in this field. Outside of a few here, most are looking to close from mid pack, and despite distance being no problem for this Upstart colt, he will likely need more pace to target than what may be available. Flavien Prat preventing Zandon from falling more than seven to eight lengths from the early leaders might be enough to keep him in range for a competitive stretch run, and with continued improvement, this could be a good play to finish in the money.
|Zandon (KY) / T: Chad Brown|
|Upstart – Memories Prevail, by Creative Cause|
11. Pioneer of Medina (30-1)
- TRAINER: Todd Pletcher
- JOCKEY: Joe Bravo
- OWNER: Sumaya Us Stable
- LIFETIME RECORD: 6-2-1-2
- MOST RECENT RACE: 3rd, Grade II Louisiana Derby
Possesses a good lifetime record finishing in the money five out of six, but of the three Pletcher trainees, seems like the one with the least upside and worst chance at being competitive. He has definitely improved however, and ran a solid third behind Epicenter and Zozos in the Louisiana Derby at long odds. Having said that, stronger pace-setters and an uptick in competition make this race more difficult for a longshot that draws in after a couple scratched out early in the week. The lack of betting action in his two Fair Grounds preps also isn’t very encouraging, going off at 34/1 and 16/1 in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby respectively. Should probably consider others here to have a viable chance to challenge for the lead and hold into the stretch.
|Pioneer of Medina (KY) / T: Todd Pletcher|
|Pioneerof the Nile – Lights of Medina, by Eskendereya|
12. Taiba (12-1)
- TRAINER: Tim Yakteen
- JOCKEY: Mike Smith
- OWNER: Zedan Racing Stables Inc.
- LIFETIME RECORD: 2-2-0-0
- MOST RECENT RACE: 1st, Grade I Santa Anita Derby
The greener of the Baffert/Yakteen duo, Taiba easily drove clear of stablemate Messier in the Santa Anita Derby in just his second start and looks for redemption for owners Zedan Racing Stables, who owned Medina Spirit. Stretching from six furlongs to nine clearly proved to be no problem for this rangy colt by Gun Runner, who passed a tiring Messier in the late stretch. The lone knock on Taiba has to be that he got perfect trips in both tries and won’t have it so easy in a crowded field such as this. Still, it seems as if he will have the right running style in this field if Mike Smith is able to keep him close to the lead. If he drops back early or doesn’t break near the lead, this could be a tough race. With a bit more improvement and experience, a colt with his upside may be the top contender in this race, but it would be easier to look elsewhere for better value as he will likely be over-bet.
|Taiba (KY) / T: Tim Yakteen|
|Gun Runner – Needmore Flattery, by Flatter|
|04/09/2022 1 (100 Points) Santa Anita Derby (SA)|
13. Simplification (20-1)
- TRAINER: Antonio Sano
- JOCKEY: Jose Ortiz
- OWNER: Tami Bobo
- LIFETIME RECORD: 7-3-1-2
Finished in the money in all three Gulfstream preps including a win in the Fountain of Youth, and has been bet to favorite in four of seven career starts. Keeping Jose Ortiz in the irons is a big plus, but this colt did most of the dirty work for White Abarrio and others in the Florida Derby and appeared to just get too tied up in the pace early. A lot of his success here will depend on trip and positioning. He needs to be in the perfect place early to find a way back into the money, and even then there are enough who are better in here which will make this spot difficult. Hard to make a winning case for this colt, although his consistency might be enough to be used in superfectas.
|Simplification (FL) / T: Antonio Sano|
|Not this Time – Simply Confection, by Candy Ride (ARG)|
14. Barber Road (30-1)
- TRAINER: John Ortiz
- JOCKEY: Reylu Gutierrez
- OWNER: Wss Racing LLC
- LIFETIME RECORD: 8-2-4-1
- MOST RECENT RACE: 2nd, Grade I Arkansas Derby
Has already raced eight times which matches the most of this group so experience will not be an issue for this longshot. Plus has hit the board in seven of those eight and always seems to be closing strong in the stretch. Even if his speed figures aren’t the best and he ran in what appear to be weaker Oaklawn fields, this is one that is worth a look to play in exotics and be making a big move late. Probably not one that wins here given his slew of seconds, but definitely shouldn’t be overlooked especially if the pace is a bit hotter than expected and could end up a very enticing price.
|Barber Road (KY) / T: John Ortiz|
|Race Day – Encounter, by Southern Image|
15. White Abarrio (10-1)
- TRAINER: Saffie Joseph Jr.
- JOCKEY: Tyler Gaffalione
- OWNER: C2 Racing Stable LLC and La Milagrosa Stable LLC
- LIFETIME RECORD: 5-4-0-1
A perfect trip from Tyler Gaffalione in the Florida Derby gave trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. his first Florda Derby winner and put White Abarrio at a perfect 4-for-4 at Gulfstream Park. Unfortunately, his effort over the Churchill track in November didn’t go as well as his Gulfstream tries, but the bigger issue might be the need for things to go perfectly again to be as competitive here. Distance shouldn’t be a problem, although he didn’t come home particularly fast in the Florida Derby stretch and has speed figures that lag behind some of the others coming off graded wins. With that being said, a recent blistering workout and the ideal stalking running style may position this colt by Race Day – Catching Diamonds, by Into Mischief for a strong bid to hit the board in the stretch.
|White Abarrio (KY) / T: Saffie Joseph|
|Race Day – Catching Diamonds, by Into Mischief|
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16. Cyberknife (20-1)
- TRAINER: Brad Cox
- JOCKEY: Florent Geroux
- OWNER: Gold Square LLC
- LIFETIME RECORD: 6-3-2-0
- MOST RECENT RACE: 1st, Grade I Arkansas Derby
Not entering here as highly regarded as some of Brad Cox’s more recent Derby competitors, but still comes off an Arkansas Derby win as the clear best in the race. He had some early pace to sit off of in that try, and seems to hold onto his leads well when entering the stretch in first. While this colt has clearly improved in his three year old season and returns to Churchill where he ran his first two maidens in the fall, the speed figures are slower than others in here and he did not finish particularly quick at Oaklawn. Slower finishes might be overshadowed by good attention from the betting public over his career, although that could be a result of trainer Brad Cox more than the upside of this colt by Gun Runner. In a relatively balanced field with others coming off more impressive preps, it is hard to make a case for this one over others as a winner but perhaps can be included in exotics.
|Cyberknife (KY) / T: Brad Cox|
|Gun Runner – Awesome Flower, by Flower Alley|
17. Classic Causeway (30-1)
- TRAINER: Brian Lynch
- JOCKEY: Julien Leparoux
- OWNER: Kentucky West Racing LLC and Clarke M. Cooper
- LIFETIME RECORD: 6-3-1-1
- MOST RECENT RACE: 11th, Grade I Florida Derby
Against weaker competition as the favorite at Tampa Bay Downs, Classic Causeway won the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby preps convincingly on the front end. After seeing those efforts and a strong second in the Kentucky Jockey Club in November, Brian Lynch opted to add another prep race in the Florida Derby where this fourth choice finished dead last in a field of eleven. Coming off a tough performance like that and with other speeds in here that have performed better against stronger competition, it is hard to see a way for this colt to have a winning chance. What he can do if Leparoux pushes him early is muddy the pace scenario, possibly causing issues for Messier, Zozos, and others who look to vie for the lead. It still remains unlikely that he will end up with the dream trip and have enough in the tank to hold on in the money here.
|Classic Causeway (KY) / T: Brain Lynch|
|Giant’s Causeway – Private World, by Thunder Gulch|
18. Tawny Port (30-1)
- TRAINER: Brad Cox
- JOCKEY: Ricardo Santana Jr.
- OWNER: Peachtree Stable
- LIFETIME RECORD: 5-3-1-0
- MOST RECENT RACE: 1st, Grade III Lexington Stakes
This Pioneerof the Nile colt is the only entered here to run in the most recent prep in the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland. Even with a win there and a clear second to Tiz the Bomb in the Jeff Ruby, this longshot finished almost eight lengths off of Epicenter and some other top contenders here when running in the Risen Star. It is always good to enter the Derby off a winning effort, but of the three Brad Cox entries, this one looks like the most outclassed based on his previous efforts against contenders in this field and his prep win over a weaker group in the Lexington.
|Tawny Port (KY) / T: Brad Cox|
|Pioneerof the Nile – Livi Makenzie, by Macho Uno|
19. Zozos (20-1)
- TRAINER: Brad Cox
- JOCKEY: Manny Franco
- OWNER: Barry and Joni Butzow
- LIFETIME RECORD: 3-2-1-0
- MOST RECENT RACE: 2nd, Grade II Louisiana Derby
In just his third start, Zozos got off to an early lead in the Louisiana Derby, but was not able to hold off the charging Epicenter at the top of the stretch. It might appear that this one will be distance limited, although his effort last time out in defeat may have been a step above the prep wins of the other Cox trainees in Tawny Port and Cyberknife. Appears to be a reach picking this one to win here, as he will need to expend some energy coming from an outside post to compete with the leaders. Florent Geroux also steps off to ride Cyberknife instead which leaves Manny Franco in the irons who will look to be aggressive here. If Zozos is able to break, he could add to the early pace significantly and change the outlook of this race for the closers. Can be used as an add on in exotics and supers if looking for a value play in the scenario of slower fractions.
|Zozos (KY) / T: Brad Cox|
|Munnings – Papa’s Forest, by Forestry|
|03/26/2022 2 (40 Points) Louisiana Derby (FG)|
20. Ethereal Road (30-1)
- TRAINER: D. Wayne Lukas
- JOCKEY: Luis Contreras
- OWNER: Aaron Sones and Julie Gilbert
- LIFETIME RECORD: 7-1-1-1
- MOST RECENT RACE: 4th, Grade III Lexington Stakes
Like Pioneer of Medina, this one draws in following a late scratch and will likely be outclassed by this field. He didn’t run particularly well in a weaker Lexington by finishing fourth, and he was a non-factor in the Blue Grass. His second in the Rebel in February was his best effort to date, but even that race looks a lot slower than others here. Will need to take a massive step forward to show some competition in a much deeper and more talented field than previous. Should be a huge price and would be surprising to see this one in the mix entering the stretch, especially considering the tough outside post.
|Ethereal Road (KY) / T: D. Wayne Lukas|
|Quality Road – Sustained, by War Front|
21. Rich Strike (AE)
- TRAINER: Eric Reed
- OWNER: Red Tr-racing LLC
- LIFETIME RECORD: 7-1-0-3
- MOST RECENT RACE: 3rd, Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks
|Rich Strike (KY) / T: Eric Reed|
|Keen Ice – Gold Strike, by Smart Strike|
22. Rattle N Roll (AE)
- TRAINER: Kenneth McPeek
- OWNER: Lucky Seven Stable
- LIFETIME RECORD: 7-2-0-1
- MOST RECENT RACE: 6th, Grade I Blue Grass Stakes
|Rattle N Roll (KY) / T: Kenneth McPeek|
|Connect – Jazz Tune, by Johannesburg|