2022 Kentucky Derby Preview

by Al McMordie

This year's Kentucky Derby would seem to have something for everyone.  Everyone, that is, unless you like betting on Bob Baffert horses.  But even though the superstar trainer -- whose horse crossed the finish line first last year but was later disqualified for a banned substance -- isn't allowed to be running horses at Churchill Downs, two of his horses are still represented in the big race.  So even for Baffert fans, there are opportunities in this latest edition of the Run for the Roses.  But there are also so many other angles to pursue.  So here is a preview of the some of the field for the most exciting two minutes in sports -- including the contenders, pretenders, likely over-bet favorites, and live longshots 

Contenders:

#3 - Epicenter.  Steve Asmussen's brilliant runner has done little wrong in his career winning four of his six races.  Yet the son of Not This Time is not likely to be the favorite, and may even go off at odds of 4-1 or higher (especially if Mattress Mack puts down several million dollars on Zandon, and doesn't bet on Epicenter).  Asmussen was something like 0 for his last 72 starts in the State of Kentucky but with a couple of wins on Oaks Saturday, he has removed that monkey from his back.  Some people are saying the #3 post position is a bad one, but with Epicenter's forward running style, it really shouldn't matter.  Top Jockey Joel Rosario will ride as he did in Epicenter's dominant victory in the Louisiana Derby.

#10 - Zandon.  The Chad Brown trainee is likely to go off as a strong favorite - perhaps even as low as 2-1.  Like Epicenter, the son of Upstart has done little wrong in his career and there are few reasons to knock him.  The 10 post position is thought to be ideal for a horse with his running style.  Look for Flavien Pratt to sit chilly and look for that opportunity at the top of the stretch to unleash Zandon's deadly kick down the lane.  The only potential hiccup will be if he has nowhere to go behind a wall of horses.  He won't be facing 10 other runners like he was in the Blue Grass Stakes, but 19 others and most of them will be in front of him for most of the race.

Pretenders:

#15 - White Abarrio.  Saffie Joseph has come out of nowhere in less than 10 years to become the king of trainers in South Florida.  White Abarrio is just his second Derby runner.  And while he comes in with an impressive resume that includes wins in the Florida Derby and Holy Bull, there are giant question marks as to how his form will translate outside of the Sunshine State.  Indeed, in his only previous start shipping from Florida, White Abarrio was a well-beaten third right here at Churchill Downs in last year's Kentucky Jockey Club.  You will want at least 20-1 on this runner and you're not likely to get it.  

 #1 - Mo Donegal.  Like White Abarrio, Todd Pletcher's Mo Donegal is a homeboy trying to win the biggest race outside of his home state.  But instead of Florida, the son of Uncle Mo has been calling New York home.  Yes, Mo Donegal was impressive in winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct race track, but he only beat seven other runners, and won just barely (by a neck).  He drew the dreaded #1 post position for the Derby and although folks are saying it doesn't matter because he's just going to drop back anyway (he's not a front-running horse) one could easily see a scenario where he is hopelessly boxed in around the first turn getting dirt and mud kicked in his face before the race is even half over.  His late charge was barely enough against a weak field in New York -- it's unlikely it will get him to the winners circle here.  Like White Abarrio you will need 20 or 30-1 to make it worth your while and you won't get it.

 Over-bet Favorites

 #6 Messier and #12 Taiba - Yes, we're going to put both of the former Bob Baffert horses -- now both trained by Tim Yakteen -- in this category.  Though neither will be the favorite in the Derby, both Messier and Taiba will likely be bet below their morning line odds of 8-1 and 12-1, respectively.  The recent success of California horses in the Derby will guarantee that you won't get fair odds on either of these horses.  They are the 1-2 finishers in the Santa Anita Derby, but what did they beat?  There were six horses in the field and the heavy favorite, Forbidden Kingdom, threw in a complete clunker and finished off the board.  Taiba especially should be avoided with just two lifetime starts to his credit.  He may end up being a superstar and future Breeders Cup winner, but this is just too tall of a mountain for a horse with so little experience.   

 Live Longshots

 #16 Cyberknife, #18 Tawny Port, #19 Zozos - Brad Cox has been arguably the best trainer in the country the last couple of years.  He trained Breeders Cup Classic winner Knicks Go and won the Eclipse Award for best trainer in 2021.  Oh, yeah, Cox also won last year's Derby after Medina Spirit was disqualified and his Mandaloun was declared the Champion (Mandaloun was my Kentucky Derby pick last year, and we cashed our across-the-board wager).  And unlike Bob Baffert (CA) and Chad Brown (NY) Cox is from right here in Louisville.  And yet he will have three runners in the Derby who are all likely to be 20-1 and higher.  The most obvious of the three -- from a betting perspective -- is Cyberknife.  The son of red-hot sire Gun Runner won the Arkansas Derby and will be piloted by Florent Giroux and is still being completely overlooked in the big race.  If Cyberknife is flying under the radar, then Cox's other two runners, Tawny Port and Zozos are in an underground bunker.  You will likely get 40-1 or higher on those runners. 

 #8 Charge It - No discussion of Derby longshots would be complete without a mention of Todd Pletcher.  The Hall of Fame trainer sends out three runners today.  And while one of them will be overbet from a poor post-position (Mo Donegal) and the other one (Pioneer of Medina) just looks too slow, Charge It offers some intriguing value.  The son of super sire Tapit hit the gate at the start of the Florida Derby and then came running late to finish second to White Abarrio.  He's been all the rage on the race track in the mornings with many saying that no horse looks better coming up to the big race.  Top Jockey Luis Saez won the Kentucky Oaks aboard Secret Oath so he knows how to win big races here.

Good luck, as always,
Al McMordie

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