Ranking Each of the 2022 Kentucky Derby Horses
Ranking Each of the 2022 Kentucky Derby Horses
With such a large field, setting morning line odds can be a tall task. As a result, 14 of the 20 horses are currently sitting between 20-1 and 30-1, which does not give the average viewer much sense of the variation existing within the field. In an effort to provide more clarity, I am ranking each entrant from 20 to 1 in terms of how likely I believe they are to win the Kentucky Derby. To be clear, I am not ranking based on quality or where I believe they will finish the race, but their likelihood of winning. This is an intriguing field because there is so much variability between the fourth most likely winner and the 14th most likely winner.
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20: Happy Jack (30-1)
Universally considered the worst Kentucky Derby horse of the year and perhaps the worst we have seen in the last several years. Since Happy Jack broke his maiden, he has not finished within 10 lengths of the winning horse in his three subsequent races. 10 lengths!
19: Ethereal Road (30-1)
A late addition to the field, Ethereal Road may attract some sentimental bets because his trainer D. Wayne Lukas is an icon of the sport, but on the track, he's been thoroughly outclassed. His lone bright spot was second place at the Grade II Rebel behind Un Ojo, which was a very slow race.
18: Classic Causeway (30-1)
At one point, Classic Causeway looked like a real Derby contender but then he fatigued badly down the backstretch of the Florida Derby while being pressured by Simplification. His trainer did not want to run him in the Kentucky Derby but appears to have gotten overruled by ownership. He breaks beautifully and should be near the lead early but have a hard time seeing him within 20 lengths as they cross the wire.
17: Summer is Tomorrow (30-1)
The import from the United Arab Emirates is likely going to be the early speed. The Meydan track in the UAE is known for carrying speed pretty well but it is hard to see the same thing happening at Churchill Downs, particularly since he was out-finished in the UAE Derby by fellow Derby entrant Crown Pride.
16: Barber Road (30-1)
A true closer that might have some speed to run into, Barber Road is a nice horse but every speed metric we have indicates he is far too slow to win. I could easily see him finishing in the Top 10 as he will simply pass horses that are fatigued in the homestretch, but winning is a whole other story.
15: Tawny Port (30-1)
The third of trainer Brad Cox's three horses entered in the race, Tawny Port has some legitimate ability having won the Lexington Stakes in April after coming in second to Tiz the Bomb in the Grade I Jeff Ruby Stakes. Like Barber Road, he lacks the top-end speed to compete with the best in the field, but he's competitive. He will like the distance and should come charging late. He's run against the best this field has to offer so he will not be intimidated.
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14: Tiz the Bomb (30-1)
Nobody should question the quality of Tiz the Bomb who finished second at the 2021 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, but the surface is a big unknown. He's a Grade II winner on the turf and he won both of his Derby prep races on synthetic at Turfway Park. His efforts on dirt leave quite a bit to be desired including an ugly seventh-place finish at the Grade III Holy Bull. His overall quality will keep him competitive but it's hard to see him having any chance at the winner's circle.
13: Pioneer of Medina (30-1)
The final entry into the field after Early Voting decided to forgo the Derby, Pioneer of Medina is a nice horse who is certainly usable in deeper exotics. He finished fourth at the Grade II Risen Star after getting loose and galloping around the track prior to the race. Todd Pletcher will have him ready to run but he may get shuffled back in the dash to sit off the early pace and lacks the late kick necessary to win.
12: Crown Pride (20-1)
The UAE Derby winner will have a substantial cheering section when they go off on Saturday. The Japanese horse is an easy one to root for given the role Japanese racing as been on over the last six months. His trainer, Shintani Koichi, trains differently than American trainers so it has caused some debate among those watching his workouts at Churchill Downs. He seems to have taken to the track nicely and I expect him to run well, but history is against him as no qualifier from the UAE Derby has finished better than fifth in the Kentucky Derby.
11: Mo Donegal (10-1)
Mo Donegal is a great horse with a great jockey aboard in Irad Ortiz Jr. However, he drew the No. 1 post position which has not yielded a winner in over 35 years. Working to his advantage is that he is a closer but there is a bit of difference between getting pinched at the start and sitting seventh or eighth versus sitting 17th or 18th. He's going to have a ton of traffic to weave through and while Ortiz Jr. may prove up to the task, it would take a huge effort for him to even finish in the money.
10: Smile Happy (20-1)
For a long time, Smile Happy was considered the early Kentucky Derby favorite based upon his win of the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club over fellow Derby runners Classic Causeway and White Abarrio. However, he is three-year-old campaign has been defined by coming up short. He finished second behind Epicenter at the Grade II Risen Star and second to Zandon at the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes. He's a very good horse who I expect to be a player late but has not shown the ability to assert himself over the best in the field.
9: Charge It (20-1)
Charge It is a boom or bust horse. He feels as likely to win as he does finish 18th so perhaps it's fitting that he's roughly in the middle of my rankings as I'm splitting the difference. The Todd Pletcher trainee is inexperienced and was still dealing with the gate issue the last time out while finishing second at the Grade I Florida Derby. The raw speed and talent are there but it is just a matter of whether he puts it all together for this race. He should like the distance but a lot of his success will be on what type of trip his jockey, Luis Saez, can carve out for him and whether he can get him to relax throughout the race.
8: Zozos (20-1)
This may seem high for some people but I really like this Brad Cox runner and believe, like Charge It, he's only getting better. After breaking his maiden and dominating the field in his second race, he stepped up in class and finished a strong second behind Epicenter in the Grade I Louisiana Derby. His speed figures are improving each time out and I do not believe we have seen the best of this horse yet. Cox is one of those trainers that always has his horses ready to fire and while breaking from post No. 19 does him no favors, it should allow him to stay out of trouble and slot in where he wants.
7: White Abarrio (10-1)
The winner of the Grade I Florida Derby is trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. who is 0-9 at Churchill Downs over the last year. That said, White Abarrio has answered the bell with authority in each of his two prep races winning the Grade III Holy Bull and the Grade I Florida Derby. He has produced consistent speed figures and is a horse I would use in exotics. I'm a little worried about his post position as Classic Causeway, who is to his outside, will likely break nicely and clear in front of him that could shuffle him back further than he would like.
6: Cyberknife (20-1)
The final of the three Brad Cox horses, Cyberknife has a terrible performance at the Grade III Lecomte back in January but followed those up with dominating wins with the latest coming at the Grade I Arkansas Derby. As mentioned earlier, Cox is a trainer I refuse to be against and his horses often come up big in the biggest moments. Similar to White Abarrio, I am worried about Cyberknife breaking next to Classic Causeway, but I trust Florent Geroux to get him placed well heading into the first turn. Finally, Cyberknife is one of three Gun Runner progenies in the race, so he's got the pedigree for a big performance.
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5: Simplification (20-1)
Easily my hottest take and where my rankings deviate from many others. I truly believe Simplification is a special horse who just has not had the opportunity. He's an honest runner who has faced adversity after blowing the break at the Grade III Holy Bull and gathering himself to finish second. He came back and easily won the Grade II Fountain of Youth and then encountered a weird race setup in the Grade I Florida Derby where he finished third to Charge It and White Abarrio. He has the versatility to go near the lead or sit further off the pace and he also has Jose Ortiz aboard for the ride who is a jockey I trust to give him the right ride.
4: Epicenter (7-2)
The second favorite, according to the odds, is a little further down my rankings because of his post position. He drew post No. 3, which is not a dealbreaker but I'm worried by the fact Summer is Tomorrow is direct to his outside. Summer is Tomorrow will sprint to the lead and cross in front of Epicenter pretty quickly, which suddenly might force the Grade I Louisiana Derby winner inside and get pinched against the rail. Yes, he showed the ability to win from off the pace last time out, but those were under ideal conditions. Getting mud slammed into your face while being covered up inside between horses would be a whole new experience. His talent is undeniable and he is one of the elite horses in his crop, but I think it is going to be tougher for him to win than some experts believe.
3: Taiba (12-1)
The most controversial horse in the Derby, Taiba is looking to make history as the first Kentucky Derby winner to do so in only his third career race. Only four previous horses have come to Churchill Downs with two races under their belt and none have won. However, this former Bob Baffert trainee who is now under the guidance of trainer Tim Yakteen has thoroughly dominated his two career starts. He broke his maiden by over seven lengths and then followed that up with a massive class jump to the Grade I Santa Anita Derby where he pulled away from stablemate Messier. Much like Charge It, Taiba probably has the highest variability in the field. He could win and be the next great horse from California. He could also get a rough trip and not respond well to the size of the field and track conditions and finish well back. However, he's the only horse to have two 100+ Beyer Speed Figure races to his credit, so there's that.
2: Messier (8-1)
Messier feels like he's been overlooked due to the amount of attention Taiba has received. On his own merits, Messier is a multiple graded stakes-winning colt who has never finished worse than second. At the previously mentioned Santa Anita Derby, he got too focused on his adversary Forbidden Kingdom and did the dirty work of weakening the leader, which allowed Taiba to blow by both of them. Messier, like Epicenter and others, has the versatility to sit off the pace or go to the lead. He has been training beautifully leading up to the race and his speed is unquestioned. Bob Baffert might be banned from Churchill Downs, but he knows how to get horses ready for this race. His former assistant, Yakteen, is now trainer Messier and knows the drill.
1: Zandon (3-1)
Perhaps it is boring to say the morning line favorite is the most likely to win the race but he has so much going in his favor. Zandon's odds are favorable. He drew the No. 10 post, which has produced among the highest percentage of winners of any post position. In my opinion, he has the best jockey in North America, Flavien Prat, aboard for the ride. Finally, in a race where there is likely to be a considerable pace upfront, he should be able to carve out a nice trip sitting well back and launching for home. Unlikely other closers like Mo Donegal and Barber Road, I expect Zandon to be sitting mid-pack, which means he will not have to weave through as many horses as some of his counterparts. The relative ease with which Zandon blew past Smile Happy last time out at the Grade I Blue Grass was incredibly impressive. The horse should relish the distance and his trainer Chad Brown has this horse ready to fire based on his sharp works at Churchill Downs.
Check back on Thursday for Matthew's Kentucky Oaks selections and Friday for his Kentucky Derby picks.
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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.