Early Kentucky Derby Odds: Epicenter Leads the Way

We are over a week away from the Kentucky Derby, but it's never too early to start lining up potential bets. Matthew DeSantis breaks down where you can find value in the different tiers to hit it big on the first Saturday in May.
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Early Kentucky Derby Odds: Epicenter Leads the Way

The 2022 Kentucky Derby is a fun race for handicappers and a great race for bettors. There is no clear favorite and while people may have horses they like, most of those horses also come with some question marks. The 148th edition of the Derby is the most wide-open we have seen in years as evidenced by several last-minute changes to the field that just took place this week. More changes may be on the way after Monday, May 2 when the post draws are announced, but in the meantime, let's take a look at some of the current odds via Circa Sports and talk through how to approach the different tiers of horses.

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Kentucky Derby Odds: The Favorites

Epicenter Kentucky Derby Odds: +495 (Bet $100 to win $495)

Messier Kentucky Derby Odds: +595 (Bet $100 to win $595)

Taiba Kentucky Derby Odds: +630 (Bet $100 to win $630)

Zandon Kentucky Derby Odds: +635 (Bet $100 to win $635)

Epicenter is a worthy favorite in Kentucky Derby Odds who has done everything he has been asked having won four of his last five races. His only loss during that stretch was a second at the Grade III Lecomte where he finished second to Call Me Midnight. How did he respond? By wiring, the field at the Grade II Risen Star, which includes Kentucky Derby starters Smile Happy, Zandon, and Tawny Port. He then avenged his loss to Call Me Midnight with a dominant performance at the Grade I Louisiana Derby in which Call Me Midnight could do no better than sixth. The most impressive thing about Epicenter is that he has won on the lead and he's won sitting off the pace and launching his bid at the top of the stretch. He's the safest bet of the four favorites and unless he gets a terrible post draw, he seems primed to turn in a solid performance even if he does not win.

The other three favorites in Kentucky Derby Odds come with more question marks. Messier, the former Baffert trainee, is now under the guidance of Tim Yakteen and is therefore eligible to run for the roses. He finished second to his stablemate, Taiba, at the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. He's never finished worst than second in his career and has two graded stakes victories to his credit. Ideally, he should sit just off the pace but there are going to be a lot of horses vying for that position. At the Santa Anita Derby, he stalked and pressured frontrunner Forbidden Kingdom and perhaps did the dirty work to allow Taiba an easy trip. If he pushes the pace too much it could be detrimental to his chances.

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Speaking of Taiba, he's easily the most controversial horse in the field. Another former Baffert runner now in the Yakteen barn, he will only be making his third career start when he runs at the Kentucky Derby. Only four horses in the 147 previous editions of the race have done that and none of them have won. Additionally, he has been absent from the workout track after his eye-popping performance at the Santa Anita Derby. He recorded a workout on Thursday at Santa Anita before shipping to Churchill Downs. Since 2000, only Fusaichi Pegasus has won the Derby without ever having stepped foot on the Churchill Downs surface before the race. That said, he checks all the boxes. From a pedigree standpoint, Taiba's sire, Gun Runner, has three offspring in the 2022 Derby and another in the Kentucky Oaks. Additionally, Taiba's two races have turned back 100+ Beyer Speed Figures. He might be a monster, but he also might come up small in such a big spot given his relative lack of experience.

Zandon, the winner of the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes, has had an interesting journey to being among the Kentucky Derby odds favorites. Trainer Chad Brown is best known for his turf horses, but cannot be discounted on any surface. Zandon has only won two races, his maiden, and the Blue Grass. In between, he finished a controversial second to fellow Derby starter Mo Donegal at the Grade III Remsen and third behind Epicenter and Smile Happy at the Grade II Risen Star. However, his Blue Grass performance was so impressive it catapulted him into favorites status. Unlike the first three, Zandon is a closer, which can be a dangerous proposition at the Kentucky Derby. With 20 horses in the field, it takes a miracle trip to weave your way through traffic and still have enough to finish for home. We may all remember the amazing ride Calvin Borel gave to Mine That Bird at the 2009 Kentucky Derby, but that's the exception rather than the rule. Zandon is a classy horse but also a risky bet because he will be dependent on pace and trip.

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Kentucky Derby Odds: The Mid-Tier

Mo Donegal Kentucky Derby Odds: 12-1 (Bet $100 to win $1200)

Smile Happy Kentucky Derby Odds: 12-1 (Bet $100 to win $1200)

White Abarrio Kentucky Derby Odds: 14-1 (Bet $100 to win $1400)

Charge It Kentucky Derby Odds: 15-1 (Bet $100 to win $1500)

Cyberknife Kentucky Derby Odds: 16-1 (Bet $100 to win $1600)

I believe there is a good chance the winning horse may come out of this group of horses. Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has two horses in this group, Mo Donegal and Charge It. Mo Donegal won the Grade II Wood Memorial in April in an impressive fashion. Like Zandon, Mo Donegal is a pure closer and he will be reliant on a fast pace up front and a great trip. He's got the raw talent but until the Wood, he never seemed to put together a great race. Personally, I am a bigger fan of Charge It who is still learning having only run in three previous races including a second-place at the Grade I Florida Derby. Much like Taiba, Charge It is still learning and while the Derby might be too big of a spot for him, he should get a great trip sitting off the lead and has the speed to contend with anyone in the field.

Ken McPeek's Smile Happy was the Kentucky Derby favorite for months but has turned in consecutive second-place finishes at the Grade II Risen Star and the Grade I Blue Grass. He's a good horse but may just be a cut below the best. At the Risen Star, he had a rough trip and could not track down front running Epicenter. However, in the Blue Grass, he had the perfect trip sitting off the speed of Emmanuel and then launching to the lead at the top of the stretch only to get passed, with relative ease, by Zandon. Look elsewhere for value.

White Abarrio and Cyberknife are the tales of two different trainers. White Abarrio, trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., won the Grade I Florida Derby and has looked tremendous at Gulfstream Park this winter and spring. However, Joseph Jr. is 0-9 over the last 12 months running horses at Churchill Downs and while he's had some success outside of Florida at tracks like Belmont and Aqueduct, he's struggled mightily in Kentucky. On the other hand, Cyberknife's trainer, Brad Cox, wins everywhere and while Cyberknife's victory at the Grade I Arkansas Derby was against a pretty lackluster field, discounting Cox is just foolish. In a vacuum, I like White Abarrio more than Cyberknife, but from a betting perspective, I'd much rather have the latter on my tickets than the former.

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Kentucky Derby Odds: The Long Shots

Zozos Kentucky Derby Odds: 23-1 (Bet $100 to win $2300)

Tiz the Bomb Kentucky Derby Odds: 26-1 (Bet $100 to win $2600)

Simplification Kentucky Derby Odds: 26-1 (Bet $100 to win $2600)

Crown Pride Kentucky Derby Odds: 34-1 (Bet $100 to win $3400)

Barber Road Kentucky Derby Odds: 40-1 (Bet $100 to win $4000)

Early Voting Kentucky Derby Odds: 40-1 (Bet $100 to win $4000)

Classic Causeway Kentucky Derby Odds: 40-1 (Bet $100 to win $4000)

Tawny Port Kentucky Derby Odds: 75-1 (Bet $100 to win $7500)

Un Ojo Kentucky Derby Odds: 100-1 (Bet $100 to win $10000)

Happy Jack Kentucky Derby Odds: 100-1 (Bet $100 to win $10000)

Summer is Tomorrow Kentucky Derby Odds: 100-1 (Bet $100 to win $10000)

I will not go through each horse but there are two horses from this group that must be included in exotics and are legitimate win contenders: Zozos and Simplification. Zozos is Brad Cox's other horse and he might just be better than Cyberknife. He ran poorly at the Grade II Risen Star but bounced back with a dominating allowance victory and then a strong second place behind Epicenter at the Grade I Louisiana Derby. Cox has proven time and again his ability to get his horses to race for a big moment and Zozos feels like he could run huge in this race.

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Meanwhile, Simplification is one of my favorite horses in this race. He won the Grade II Fountain of Youth and has shown the versatility I spoke about with Epicenter. He's won wiring the field and coming from off the pace. He should look to sit behind the early speed and make a move around the fourth turn. He's got raw speed as evidenced by a 92 Beyer Speed Figure in his second career start and while he finished third at the Grade I Florida Derby, I think the race setup did him no favors as he inherited the lead down the backstretch from a badly fatigued Classic Causeway. If you're looking for a horse with big odds who can win the race, Simplification is my suggestion.

As for the others, Barber Road is a deep closer who will be entirely dependent on a fast pace he is unlikely to get. Early Voting, trained by Chad Brown, might not even run as Brown has been cryptic about whether he will enter him in the race. Crown Pride is the Japanese horse who qualified after winning the United Arab Emirates Derby, which is typically not a winning formula for a Kentucky Derby winner. However, Japanese horses have been on fire over the last six months and Crown Pride fired off an impressive four-furlong workout this week at Churchill Downs.

What Comes Next

The post positions will be drawn on Monday and that will have a huge impact on the Kentucky Derby odds. Horses drawing on the far inside are unlikely to get a good trip and their Derby hopes could be dashed before they start. We have not had a Derby winner from post positions one through three in 24 years. Meanwhile, post positions 5, 10, and 15 each have produced over a 10% win rate while post position 17 has never produced a Kentucky Derby winner.

Check back next week for more articles and analysis of the Kentucky Derby odds, Friday's Kentucky Oaks, and the other races on those cards.

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Matthew DeSantis is a horse racing handicapper with a fondness for lightly raced horses with improving speed figures. You can find him at the track playing surface changes and second off the layoff.

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