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Kentucky Derby predictions and picks for Saturday at Churchill Downs. Horse racing handicapper Matthew DeSantis gives us a huge breakdown for Saturday's races at Churchill Downs, including his Kentucky Derby predictions and picks.
ANALYSIS

2022 Kentucky Derby Predictions: Free Picks For World's Biggest Race

Saturday, May 7 is the 148th edition of the Kentucky Derby. The Fastest Two Minutes In Sports is one of the most-watched events on the sports calendar and attracts diehard and casual fans alike. However, the Kentucky Derby isn't the only big race taking place at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Get Matthew's picks and analysis for all seven graded stakes races, including the Grade I Kentucky Derby.

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2022 Kentucky Derby Predictions

Race 5

  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Name: Churchill Distaff Turf Mile - Grade II
  • Age: 4-years-old and up fillies and mares
  • Surface: Turf

After the downpour that hit Louisville on Thursday and Friday, the turf track will have some significant give to it no matter its classification. Interestingly, that may set up perfectly for the favorite, Speak of the Devil (2-1), who is the latest Chad Brown European import making his North American debut. Brown's imports are winning an astonishing 39% of races in those debuts and European horses often prefer softer ground, which is more common overseas. Additionally, she should have some nice pace to run into in this field with Lady Speightspeare (5-2) and In Italian (3-1) leading the way.

Brown's other horse, In Italian, is coming off a nice win at the Grade III Honey Fox last time out and has managed to wire the field in each of her three career victories. This will be a step up in class and she will be pressured throughout. At 3-1, I'm not a huge fan of using her underneath as I think the race shapes up for stalking horses and closers. Similarly, Lady Speightspeare at 5-2 is not that appealing. After winning everything at Woodbine, she has been solid, but not spectacular in her races in the United States. The cutback to a mile should suit her nicely, but I like others more.

Two that I like more are Wakanaka (6-1) and She Can't Sing (10-1). I think the race sets up nicely for Wakanaka (6-1) who should like the mile distance and has a nice turn of foot to make up ground late, particularly behind an honest pace. She finished second to In Italian last time out but should get a better race setup this time and keeps Jose Ortiz aboard. She Can't Sing seems to be rejuvenated with the latest move to the turf and keeps getting faster. She should sit a nice stalking trip and get the first jump at the leaders.

Race 5 Picks

  • Win: Speak of the Devil (2-1)
  • Place: Wakanaka (6-1)
  • Show: She Can't Sing (10-1)

Race 7

  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Name: Pat Day Mile - Grade II
  • Age: 3-year-olds
  • Surface: Dirt

The Pat Day Mile marks the return of Jack Christopher (2-1). He was the most anticipated colt during his two-year-old campaign after scoring dominant victories in his maiden and the Grade I Champagne Stakes. However, ahead of the 2021 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he scratched due to shin issues that required surgery. Trainer Chad Brown has been bringing him along slowly but clearly has seen a lot from him to bring him back in such a spot. He's been working out like gangbusters and nobody in the field can hold a candle to his speed. His MAIDEN speed figure is the best in the field. His best speed figure is 10 points clear of anyone else. If he fires, he's the easiest horse to single in Pick 4 or Pick 5 sequences. From a tactical perspective, I would expect him to sit off the early speed of Kavod (20-1) and then explode going into the turn.

As for the rest of the field, I like the progression Major General (9-2) made last time out. He stumbled badly at the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby and was a non-factor. However, he came back for a strong second in the Grade III Lexington behind Kentucky Derby starter Tawny Port. He had been on the bench for awhile and the third start in his form cycle should result in a strong showing. I also look for Pappacap (6-1) to be a useful horse in exotics. He's only run poorly once at the Grade II Risen Star, but has been an honest runner every other time out. His Gun Runner blood lines should like the track surface after all the rain in Louisville on Friday and cutting back to a one-turn mile should suit him nicely. I would avoid My Prankster (4-1) who is facing tougher competition and coming off a poor performance.

Race 7 Picks

  • Win: Jack Christopher (2-1)
  • Place: Major General (9-2)
  • Show: Pappacap (6-1)

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Race 8

  • Distance: 7 furlongs
  • Name: Derby City Distaff Stakes - Grade I
  • Age: 4-years-old and up fillies and mares
  • Surface: Dirt

If you experience deja vu while watching this race, I don't blame you. The nearly identical field ran against each other last month at the Grade I Madison. In that race, under muddy conditions, the Brad Cox horse, Just One Time (3-1), came storming from off the pace under a brilliant ride from Flavien Prat. Just One Time has become a personal favorite as she was running in allowance races at Penn National last fall and is now a Grade I winner. You do not see that type of trajectory very often. Can she pull off the repeat? On the plus side, you know she can beat this field, she's got Prat aboard again, and she clearly likes some moisture in the dirt. However, it's hard to imagine any horse beating the same Grade I company twice in a row.

The recent scratch of Lady Rocket means there will not be a blistering pace up front as Edgeway (4-1) and Center Aisle (15-1) will take command. As they are unlikely to create a hot pace for Just One Time, Bells the One (5-1), or Obligatory (7-2), I think the winner will come from closer to the pace. Therefore, I am looking at Kimari (9-2) who was the morning line favorite at the Madison and finished a competitive third that day. You may get a different impression of that effort depending on which speed figures you consult, but I think it's fair to say that Kimari should be at her best in the third start off the layoff. Her trainer, Wesley Ward, had an uneven Keeneland meet despite a strong win percentage, but tends to have a strong stable of sprinters. While I think Just One Time and Bells the One are going to come running late, I think Kimari will have enough to hold them off this time around.

Race 8 Picks

  • Win: Kimari (9-2)
  • Place: Bells the One (5-1)
  • Show: Just One Time (3-1)

Race 9

  • Distance: 1 1/16 miles
  • Name: American Turf Stakes - Grade II
  • Age: 3-years-old
  • Surface: Turf

A turf race with pace on paper does not always play out that way, but it does feel like you will have several horses vying for the lead in the American Turf Stakes. Dowagiac Chief (10-1), Coinage (6-1), and Portfolio Company (9-2) should all be on the pace. Dowagiac Chief does not appear to have the class to wire the field at this level. Coinage is a nice horse with good value but has struggled to win at over a mile, particularly when on the lead. Meanwhile, Porfolio Company is coming off a six month layoff since the Breeders' Cup and has only one career victory.

I would like Main Event (5-1) more if he did not seem like a "need the lead" type of horse and sadly he lacks the early tactical speed to get there. He is perfect at the distance so he has the stamina, but I'm not sure he has the appropriate turn of foot to make up ground late. As a result, I ended up on the favorite, Sy Dog (7-2), who is a perfect in his three career races. He should get ample speed to run into and had beaten some of this competition in his previous outings. Most promisingly, he won last time out on wet turf while coming back from a lengthy layoff. His trainer, Graham Motion, is not great second back but does have strong win rates with previous winners last time out.

If you're looking for value, consider using Royal Spirit (15-1) on your tickets. He's returning to turf and nearly won the Grade III Kitten's Joy two back while besting Coinage. He is four for five hitting the board in turf races and can handle going over a mile. I came back to Main Event to close out my top three. He may need the lead to win, but he has made up ground late to hit the board in a previous race. I can see a similar thing happening here considering the pace.

Race 9 Picks

  • Win: Sy Dog (7-2)
  • Place: Royal Spirit (15-1)
  • Show: Main Event (5-1)

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Race 10

  • Distance: 7 furlongs
  • Name: Churchill Downs Stakes - Grade I
  • Age: 4-years-old and up
  • Surface: Dirt

The Churchill Downs Stakes is a loaded dirt sprint. Morning line favorite Jackie's Warrior (5-2) will go to the lead and hope to wire the field, but he will have a talented group chasing him. Aloha West (7-2) is a great sprint horse but has not run since last November's winning effort in the Breeders' Cup. His trainer, Wayne Catalano has a lusty 0% win rate when bringing horses back from that long of a layoff.

The two horses that intrigue me are both coming out of the Grade I Carter Handicap: Mind Control (5-1) and Reinvestment Risk (7-2). They were both soundly beaten in that race by Speaker's Corner who may have the best one-turn horse in North America. Reinvestment Risk appears to be hitting his best stride after taking long layoffs in 2020 and 2021. Meanwhile, Mind Control appears to be a different horse once he moved to the Todd Pletcher barn. Since that move he's posted his highest career speed figures and Grade II victory. His race at the Carter was the first time back in over six months and Pletcher's horses are winning at a nearly 30% clip second back from a layoff.

As for the rest of the field, Prevalence (6-1) may be a little outclassed in this field after winning the Grade III Commonwealth last time out as the horse he beat, Long Range Toddy (30-1), is a considerable long shot in this field. Finally, Cezzane (4-1) is a nice horse who should love the seven furlongs and appears to have taken nicely to the surface at Churchill Downs based upon his workouts. Ultimately, I'm going to fade Jackie's Warrior, in part because I am not sure he is the same horse he was last summer and in part because his trainer is on an epic cold streak. I like Reinvestment Risk and Mind Control to come from off the pace and nab the champion ahead of the wire.

Race 10 Picks

  • Win: Reinvestment Risk (7-2)
  • Place: Mind Control (5-1)
  • Show: Jackie's Warrior (5-2)

Race 11

  • Distance: 1 1/8 miles
  • Name: Turf Classic Stakes - Grade I
  • Age: 4-years-old and up
  • Surface: Turf

The turf showcase before the Kentucky Derby features three Chad Brown runners: Public Sector (5-1), Tribhuvan (5-1), and Adhamo (9-2). All three are legitimate contenders but I only see one of them hitting the board. The race should feature a brisk pace between Tribhuvan, Bizzee Channel (30-1), and Calvary Charge (12-1). Calvary Charge essentially wired the field at this distance two back at the Grade III Fair Grounds Stakes, but he will face more pressure. However, he reminds me of a horse like Shifty She who even when he's on the lead can hang on for a piece of the board. The one Brown horse I like to run well is Public Sector (5-1). If you purely look as speed figures, he's a clear cut below the rest of the field, but if you watch his races, he has incredible late speed. In his last race at the Grade I Hollywood Derby, he was bottled up inside late and couldn't get unleashed, but once he did he made up five lengths on the field in a matter of strides and would have won if the race was an extra 300 yards.

The other horse who will benefit from the race setup is Santin (6-1). He drew the far outside post, but he did that at the Grade I Hollywood Derby last year and finished second by a neck to Beyond Brilliant. Most significantly, his trainer, Brendan Walsh, is adding blinkers and should keep Santin closer to the lead and with less work to do running for home. He had a troubled trip two back and still nearly beat several runners in today's race and last time out finished second in a race with an odd pace setup. Outside of Chad Brown, I tend to trust Brendan Walsh about as much as any trainer on turf and Santin's turn of foot can be devastating.

Race 11 Picks

  • Win: Santin (6-1)
  • Place: Public Sector (5-1)
  • Show: Calvary Charge (12-1)

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Race 12 Prediction (The Kentucky Derby)

  • Distance: 1 1/4 miles
  • Name: Kentucky Derby - Grade I
  • Age: 3-years-old
  • Surface: Dirt

The 148th Kentucky Derby is one of the most wide open in recent memory. There is no overwhelming favorite and you could make a compelling case for as many as ten horses to win the race. As I often do, I like to start with how I believe this race will shape up in the early going. Summer is Tomorrow (30-1) and Classic Causeway (30-1) seem like a sure bet to break for the lead immediately. Summer is Tomorrow has sprinter speed, which could lead to a fast pace. Meanwhile, Classic Causeway breaks about as beautifully as any horse in the field and should get a nice early position. The problem with Classic Causeway is that he lacks the stamina and top-end speed to be a real threat and may start to fatigue in the middle of the backstretch.

After those two things get complicated, but their quick starts will cause issues for some notable horses. Steve Asmussen's Epicenter (7-2) is breaking to the inside of Summer is Tomorrow and as a result may get crossed in front of going into the first turn. Being inside and saving ground is not a bad thing, but to this point in his career, Epicenter has never faced any adversity and largely had perfect trips. Being covered up inside in a 20-horse field while getting mud kicked up in your face is not an ideal experience. A similar issue will confront Brad Cox's Cyberknife (20-1) and Saffie Joseph Jr.'s White Abarrio (10-1) as they are to the inside of Classic Causeway. Both horses have had pretty ideal trips to this point, but suddenly getting crossed in front of and potentially shuffled further back than they'd like is not a winning recipe.

The biggest question in the race is who will get position behind the early speed. Well over half the field would prefer to get a stalking trip, but mathematically that simply is not going to happen. Taiba (12-1) with Mike Smith aboard will likely be aggressive. Much as been written about the talented former Bob Baffert trainee who is making only his third career start on Saturday. Taiba has all the talent in the world, but being up front with a strong pace may be too much for an inexperienced horse going a new distance.

The strong pace up front sets up things well for morning line favorite Zandon (3-1) who is coming off an impressive win at the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes. Trainer Chad Brown is looking for his first Kentucky Derby win, but he's won plenty of big races so his ability to get Zandon ready is not in question. He hopped at the start two back and was off slow at the Blue Grass, which is concerning. His jockey, Flavien Prat, was able to expertly overcome that, but having a similar scenario play out in the Derby would be catastrophic for his chances. If Prat can get Zandon away okay breaking from the #10 post and carve out a mid-pack trip, he should have plenty of pace to run into at the end.

The biggest closer in the field is Mo Donegal who drew the dreaded inside #1 post position. Some do not view this as a detriment since the new starting gate gives more room to the #1 position starter and Mo Donegal's running style is not predicated on getting to the lead. However, what those people miss is that his winning run at the Wood Memorial was made possible because of a strung out 8-horse field. On Saturday he'll have to content with more than twice as many horses and unless the leaders run a 45 second half mile it's hard to imagine a pace scenario where he can make up so much ground.

So, who do I like? Messier (8-1) and Simplification (20-1). Messier is the other former Bob Baffert horse now being trained by Tim Yakteen. He finished second to Taiba last time out at the Santa Anita Derby, but got too caught up chasing Forbidden Kingdom on the front end that he wore himself out. Prior to that, Messier had nearly a spotless record and has posted some of the best speed figures in the field. He should be sitting just off the pace and has a great post position (6) to be able to do it. He's never finished worse than second in his career and I believe John Velazquez will have him well positioned come the top of the stretch when the leaders start to give way.

As for Simplification, he's been my long shot play for weeks. He has versatility to win from on the lead or sitting further back. He's faced adversity in the Grade III Holy Bull where he blew the break and had to come from the back of the pack for the first time in his career. He showed incredibly resilience finishing second that day to White Abarrio. He easily won the Fountain of Youth Stakes and then was a little too close to the early pace in the Florida Derby and gave way late. His jockey, Jose Ortiz, is among the best in the business. I think his post position (12) and tactical speed will ensure that he can slot in wherever he wants. Does he have enough to win? Maybe. I think he's a horse you have to include on your tickets for value.

Ultimately, I believe the pace up front will be strong, but not overwhelming. Deep closers like Mo Donegal (10-1) and Barber Road (30-1) may pick up some pieces but not enough to hit the board. Meanwhile, I trust Flavien Prat on Zandon to carve out the right trip and get this horse on the board. However, I think the winner of the race will be a horse sitting just off the pace, which is why I like Messier and Simplification. Both can handle the distance, have solid speed figures, and will have the race set up nicely for them. This race could go 100 different directions, which is what makes it fun. No matter who wins, it's sure to be a memorable Run for the Roses.

Race 12 Picks (The Kentucky Derby)

  • Win: Messier (8-1)
  • Place: Simplification (20-1)
  • Show: Zandon (3-1)

Article Author

Horse Racing

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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