What Horses You can Bet on to Win the Kentucky Derby Starting to Come into Focus
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.
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.
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.
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).
Probable 2022 Kentucky Derby Field
|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|
|7||Crown Pride||Koichi Shintani||100||$671,544|
|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|
|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|
|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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