What Horses You can Bet on to Win the Kentucky Derby Starting to Come into Focus

What Horses You can Bet on to Win the Kentucky Derby Starting to Come into Focus
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The winningest trainer in thoroughbred racing history hasn’t won the Kentucky Derby, but might never have a better chance than this year.

Less than three weeks before the first jewel of the Triple Crown, trainer Steve Asmussen has the likely Kentucky Derby betting favorite in Epicenter. With all the prep races complete, the Derby field, limited to 20 starters, has come into focus.

Still to be determined is which horses on the bubble might earn their way into the field, with the current cutoff at 30 points. Right now, Happy Jack is No. 20 on the list and the final horse in the field, with Pioneer of Medina (25 points) the first horse outside looking in.

What we know for sure is Asmussen’s Epicenter is No. 1 on the Derby points leaderboard (164 points) after impressive victories in the Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby. The bay colt is already at Churchill Downs preparing for the first Saturday in May.

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Derby elusive for Asmussen

Asmussen, 56, has won nearly 10,000 races in his training career, but the Kentucky Derby isn’t one of them. The Hall of Famer, who has won the Preakness twice and the Belmont Stakes once, has started 23 horses in the Kentucky Derby with his best finish a second with Nehro in 2011 and Looking at Lee in 2017.

What makes Epicenter so formidable was his nearly 3-length victory in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, a key race which has produced three next-out winners. Epicenter was geared down at the finish and earned a solid speed figure.

Epicenter might not be the only Asmussen horse in the Kentucky Derby. Morello has earned a spot in the field after winning the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. But the chestnut colt lost a little luster after a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Wood Memorial, his first loss in four career starts.

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Familiar face missing

Several of the sport’s leading trainers will be well-represented in Derby 148 — with one notable exception. Six-time winner Bob Baffert is suspended from Churchill Downs through next year’s race after 2021 winner Medina Spirit was disqualified for a positive drug rest.

Still, his presence will be felt. Two horses in the field were formerly trained by Baffert and transferred to the barn of his former assistant Tim Yakteen in late March. One of those horses, Taiba, is particularly intriguing.

The Kentucky Derby is restricted to 3-year-olds. Based on race history, Derby winners begin their careers at age 2 and enter the first Saturday in May with a solid racing foundation. Taiba fits neither of those categories. He did not race at age 2 and won the Santa Anita Derby on April 9 in only his second career start.

Until Justify (trained by Baffert) in 2018, no horse won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882. According to the Daily Racing Form, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby in only his third career start since Leonatus in 1883.

Yakteen will likely have a second entry in the Derby in Messier, who finished second behind Taiba in the Santa Anita Derby.

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Cox has chance for repeat

Trainer Brad Cox, who won the Kentucky Derby last year when Mandaloun finished second and was placed first nine months later when Medina Spirit was disqualified, will have three chances to repeat. The most accomplished of the trio is Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife. He also has Lexington Stakes winner Tawny Port and Louisiana Derby runner-up Zozos.

Two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Todd Pletcher holds another strong hand and could have as many as three entries. Mo Donegal won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Charge It was second in the Florida Derby. Pletcher’s Pioneer of Medina is 21st on the Derby points list and needs only one defection to join the field.

Trainer Chad Brown also has a potential pair in Zandon and Early Voting. Zandon rallied dramatically from last to win the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and could challenge Epicenter for betting favoritism in the Kentucky Derby. Early Voting has enough points, but Brown thus far is non-committal on the Wood Memorial runner-up, saying he wants more time before making a final decision.

Trainer Ken McPeek has two solid contenders in Tiz the Bomb and Smile Happy. The Derby’s two foreign entrants are the 1-2 finishers from the UAE Derby: Crown Pride (Japan) and Summer is Tomorrow (UAE).

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Probable 2022 Kentucky Derby Field

Rank Horse TrainerPoints Earnings
1 Epicenter Steve Asmussen 114 $940,000
2 Zandon Chad Brown 164 $663,500
3 White Abario Saffie Joseph, Jr. 112 $769,650
4 Mo Donegal Todd Pletcher 112 $561,500
5 Tiz the Bomb Ken McPeek 110 $1,012,610
6 Cyberknife Brad Cox 100 $752,000
7 Crown Pride Koichi Shintani 100 $671,544
8 Taiba Tim Yakteen100 $450,000
9 Simplification Antonio Sano 74 $482,150
10 Smile Happy Ken McPeek 70 $499,410
11 Tawny Port Brad Cox 60 $351,000
12 Barber Road John Ortiz 58 $589,700
13 Un Ojo Ricky Courville 54 $655,00
14 Early Voting Chad Brown 50 $277,500
15 Morello Steve Asmussen 50 $220,000
16 Messier Tim Yankteen 40 $390,000
17 Zozos Brad Cox 40 $200,000
18 Summer Is Tomorrow Bhupat Seemar 40 $200,000
19 Charge It Todd Pletcher 40 $188,000
20 Happy Jack Doug O’Neill 30 $52,000
Also Eligible
21 Pioneer of Medina Todd Pletcher 25 $116,000
22 In Due Time Kelly Breen 24 $113,800
23 Etheral Road D. Wayne Lukas 22 $231,000
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