The Kentucky Derby is America’s most well-known horse race, and it’s coming up this Saturday. Twenty 3-year-olds will go 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs in the annual Run for the Roses, and the winner will be on the road to horse racing’s Triple Crown.
More than $100 million is bet on the Kentucky Derby each year, so there’s lots of cash up for grabs. Here’s my strategy for attacking the race.
Two primary Kentucky Derby “key horses”
I’ve been high on No. 3 Epicenter for quite a while. He’s won his last two races in commanding fashion, and his victory in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby showed me something. Instead of getting to the front, he sat off the speed, was tipped out, and finished with a flourish. This distance shouldn’t bother him, and I think he’s squarely the one to beat.
The other runner in the race that intrigues me is No. 6 Messier. He was second to stablemate Taiba (more on him later) in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, but I think Messier has more room to improve. He may have needed that race off a bit of a freshening and a forced trainer switch, and that race wasn’t the long-term goal anyway. This one was, and for that reason, I think he’s one to fear.
Others to consider
A few other runners aren’t without significant chances either. No. 10 Zandon and No. 5 Smile Happy ran 1-2 in the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland, and Zandon was installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite.
Zandon can win, but closers in the Kentucky Derby often need a lot to go their way. Any small fly in the ointment can present a major problem: a slower-than-expected pace or a troubled trip. He’s not a key horse for me, and I think he may be a bit of an underlay, but I need to at least include him underneath.
Smile Happy, meanwhile, didn’t have the best of trips at Keeneland. He was wide around both turns and close to the pace on a day where closers did very well. Like Zandon, the Kentucky Derby represents Smile Happy’s third start off the bench. Combined with better racing luck, that could mean a career-best effort at a nice price.
Finally, I’ll also include No. 8 Charge It, whose first two-turn effort came in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. He ran in spurts that day, but I can forgive that given his inexperience. He’s bred to want as much ground as he can get. Consider this: When fellow Todd Pletcher trainee Mo Donegal scratched from the Fountain of Youth, that horse (already a graded stakes winner) was immediately injured and rerouted to the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Charge It, at the time just a maiden winner, was already set to go in the Florida Derby. To me, that screams how highly Pletcher has thought of this horse for quite a while.
If these runners win, I lose
My two bet-againsts are No. 12 Taiba and No. 15 White Abarrio. Both horses will take money, but I can’t endorse either runner at their likely prices.
Taiba’s win in the Santa Anita Derby was impressive. He earned a second straight triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure that day, and he’s done absolutely nothing wrong. However, he’s only raced twice, and I like none of what I’ve seen in either of his two workouts ahead of the Kentucky Derby. If he wins the Derby with just two prior efforts, it will be the first time since 1883.
Meanwhile, White Abarrio has two victories at Gulfstream Park this season, including the Florida Derby. Of the perceived contenders, though, this is the one I think wants no part of the 1 1/4-mile trip. His pedigree is a major concern, and he ran the Florida Derby’s final furlong in more than 14 seconds. That’s slow, and while his tactical speed is an asset, I think this trip is a bridge too far.
How to bet on the 2022 Kentucky Derby
I’ll focus on exactas that emphasize Epicenter and Messier. Most of my tickets will have them above my secondary runners, but I’ll also have some smaller “saver” combinations.
- $3 exactas: 3, 6 w/3, 5, 6, 8, 10 ($24)
- $1 exacta box: 3 w/5, 6, 8, 10 ($8)
- $1 exacta box: 6 w/3, 5, 8, 10 ($8)