Garrity handicaps the Kentucky Derby with 20 horse recaps, how race will run and a longshot pick from Japan
The biggest horse race of the year is here: it’s time for the 2022 Kentucky Derby. There has been a goodly amount of rain the past few days in Louisville, but the clouds evidently moved out this morning, and it should be dry the rest of the day. We are expecting a fast track for the race.
Here is our breakdown of all 20 colts in the field, and how we think the Derby will be run.
1-Mo Donegal, 10-1. This colt has a lot of things going for him: a good pedigree, a Hall of Fame trainer in Todd Pletcher, and steady improvement throughout his career, culminating in his last start, when he won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. But there are two things about him that cause us to eliminate him from win consideration: the smaller one is his come-from-behind running style, which will be a liability today; the larger one is the rail post, which is bad for any horse, but which is even worse for one with as little speed as Mo Donegal. We see him experiencing so much traffic trouble during the cavalry charge after the gates open that he will not be able to recover. He may turn into a good horse later this year, but we think he is a non-contender today.
2-Happy Jack, 30-1. The good news is that the last three races in which Happy Jack has run, the Santa Anita Derby, the San Felipe, and the Bob Lewis, have produced a bunch of Derby runners in recent years. He took the right path to get here. The bad news is that he was trounced in all three, beaten by over 50 aggregate lengths, and earned speed figures that say he is simply too slow to win. Non-contender.
3-Epicenter, 3-1. There are things that a handicapper looks for in a Kentucky Derby contender, and Epicenter has just about all of them. He had a good campaign as a 2-year-old; he has run often, and well, as a 3-year-old; he has improved, and run faster, as the distances he has run have grown longer; he has an excellent trainer in Steve Asmussen, and he has a pedigree that suggests he can win a race of this magnitude, and at this mile and a quarter distance. He is a legitimate win contender, but will have to overcome his inside post, which is not ideal.
4-Summer is Tomorrow, 30-1. This sprinter spent the winter and spring racing in Dubai, which is not a route that has proven successful in the Derby. And he ran mostly in sprints, so he is relatively untested at longer distances (though he did finish second in the UAE Derby, which is run at a mile and three-sixteenths). He will probably be a pace factor – we think he will be the early leader – but that will be the extent of his impact today. Non-contender.
5-Smile Happy, 20-1. This colt has just four starts, but he has run well in all of them, earning speed figures that are marginally competitive, and could be a win contender with a step forward. He finished 2 ½ lengths behind Epicenter in the Risen Star, and 2 ¾ lengths behind Zandon in the Blue Grass; those two are favorites here, so he has been keeping good company. He could win, but he seems a cut below to us, and a minor award would seem to be his ceiling. But he is not impossible, and he will be a big price.
6-Messier, 8-1. This speedy son of Empire Maker has been pointed to this race since last fall, and spent much of the last six months as the Derby favorite. He has run fast races, has good tactical speed, and has the ability to get the distance, but we just cannot get past the fact that he has been running against such small fields: in his last four races he faced five, four, four and and three rivals. It has become a pet handicapping angle of ours in recent years to bet against Southern California horses who earn big figures beating small fields, and Messier fits this like a hand fits a glove. He just might possess enough natural ability to win, but we think it is much more likely that he cracks today under pressure much greater than he has ever seen before.
7-Crown Pride, 20-1. We were in the grandstand at Hollywood Park on July 3, 2005, when a filly named Cesario won the American Oaks. This was the first time a Thoroughbred bred in Japan won a Grade 1 race in North America. Since then, the trend has only accelerated, and horses either bred or based in Japan have become major players in the world’s biggest races. In just the recent past, two Breeders Cup races were won by Japanese-breds, and on the Dubai World Cup card in March, horses from the Land of the Rising Sun dominated, winning five of the nine stakes. Our horsey friends from Japan have arrived on the world stage, and they have arrived in a big way.
One of the Japanese winners in Dubai in March was Crown Pride, who prevailed in the UAE Derby. There was a lot to like about the way he ran that day: He showed enough speed early to get good tactical position, then settled down to run comfortably during the race’s middle stages, and then rallied strongly late to pass a horse who was running loose on the lead. That kind of style will suit him very well this afternoon, as will the fact that he’s grown accustomed to facing big fields: his last three starts, he competed against 15, 13, and 12 other horses. We think that in the past 30 years, Japanese horsemen have done a lot right, while their American counterparts have done a lot wrong; an example is the fact that Crown Pride has been exercised vigorously the past few weeks, with four official workouts since April 16, while his American counterparts have been treated as though they are as fragile as glass (Taiba, for example, has had just one workout since he won the Santa Anita Derby on April 9). We think the culmination of these efforts is going to be Crown Prince wearing a blanket of roses after the 2022 Kentucky Derby is run: he is the pick, and at 20-1, he is a terrific wagering opportunity.
8-Charge It, 20-1. This Todd Pletcher trainee did not run his first start until January, but has come a long way in a short time, earning a spot here by running second in the Florida Derby, which was just his third career start. He seems to have tons of natural talent, but does not have enough experience to handle a field of this size in a race of this magnitude. In 1974, the New York Dolls released an album called Too Much Too Soon; it will probably be this horse’s soundtrack after today. We are tossing him.
9-Tiz the Bomb, 30-1. The good news: This colt has raced eight times, and has won five of them. He is durable, sound, and has the foundation it takes to win the Kentucky Derby. The bad news: Five of those eight starts were on either turf or synthetic, and in his dirt races, he was nowhere near good enough to contend here. The last time Tiz the Bomb ran on conventional dirt was in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in February, when he was trounced, losing by over 20 lengths. We see a similar result today. Non-contender.
10-Zandon, 3-1. This is another colt who has shown a lot of talent in a small sample size, having hit the board in all four of his career starts. The last of them was the Blue Grass at Keeneland, which he won, making him one of the favorites here. He seems to possess the ability to win, and he has an excellent trainer in Chad Brown, but he is no cinch, and at a short price, we think he is probably a play-against, especially since his closing style will likely put him at a tactical disadvantage.
11-Pioneer of Medina, 30-1. In 2003, all the Derby buzz was on a horse named Empire Maker, who earned favoritism by winning the Wood Memorial. But Empire Maker did not win the Kentucky Derby: Funny Cide, who had run second to him in the Wood, did. Funny Cide was not as good a horse as Empire Maker, but he was able to turn the tables on his rival with the aid of a good trip in the Derby.
The form of Pioneer of Medina reminds us of this race 19 years ago, as he was beaten in each of his last two starts by Epicenter. He probably won’t win, but we think him a legitimate if marginal contender, as he’s earned good speed figures, and has the looks of a horse who is developing rapidly, and may run better today than has yet. If you like Epicenter – and there are plenty of reasons to like Epicenter – then you have to like Pioneer of Medina at least a little bit. He also seems almost certain to get overlooked in the betting, and therefore be a big price, and could be a good play on that basis alone. He is also a good longshot to use underneath in trifectas and superfectas.
12-Taiba, 12-1. Some are comparing Taiba to Justify, who in 2018 became the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old. We think that these comparisons are absurd, for while Taiba has run very fast, beating maidens on March 5, and then winning the Santa Anita Derby a month later, he had marshmallow-soft trips both times, and is going to find the going much, much tougher today. At 15-1, he might be worth betting just on the off chance that he is a freak; considering that his price is likely going to be a third of that, we think he’s the biggest underlay in the field, and an absolute throw-out. If he wins, we lose - it is that simple.
13-Simplification, 20-1. This colt did win the Mucho Macho Man in January, and the Fountain of Youth in March, so there is some ability there. The problem is that in between those races, he was beaten decisively by White Abarrio, whom he must face again today. The horses who raced in Florida this spring did not, as a group, overly impress us, and he was not the best of the lot, so we are passing. He would not be the most inexplicable winner in Kentucky Derby history, but we do not like his prospects.
14-Barber Road, 30-1. The Run for the Roses is a grand spectacle, one of this great nation’s greatest sporting traditions. We hope the human connections of Barber Road enjoy all of it, because soaking up the ambience is likely to be the highlight of their day, for Barber Road has no chance. He is a complete and utter non-contender, and a complete throw-out.
15-White Abarrio, 10-1. There are conflicting signs with this colt. On one hand, he won the Holy Bull and the Fountain of Youth, and ran reasonably fast doing so. On the other hand, we’re not sure that he beat much in either of those races, as the 3-year-olds who wintered in Florida looked to us to be a weak bunch. He is a contender based on speed figures alone, and his advantageous post position is an asset, but we prefer others.
16-Cyberknife, 20-1. This colt, who won the Arkansas Derby with a late charge, has had issues dealing with distractions on the racetrack, on several occasions running crookedly during races. That issue does not figure to get better in front of 150,000 fans, and running into the wall of sound Derby runners hit when they turn for home. He would be a marginal contender if he had a better temperament; with his issues, we are tossing him. Non-contender.
17-Classic Causeway, 30-1. Classic Causeway will probably be a factor early, as he has good speed, and jockey Julien Leparoux figures to use it. But he will not be a factor late: we predict a repeat of his last, when he led the Florida Derby for a half-mile before finishing last. Non-contender.
18-Tawny Port, 30-1. This Brad Cox trainee earned a spot here by winning the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, the last Kentucky qualifying race. That was a nice win, but getting into the race is probably going to be his biggest achievement, as he looks too slow to win. Non-contender.,
19-Zozos, 20-1. Zozos is another colt who is light on experience, having run just three times. But he has progressed rather rapidly in those three starts, going from a maiden win in January to an allowance win in February to a very good runner-up finish to Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby. He has worked sensationally well leading up to this race, and is a win contender. One could do worse than back him at a generous price.
21-Rich Strike, 30-1. Rich Strike was on the also-eligible list, and only drew into the field when another runner, Ethereal Road, scratched on Friday. His presence won’t affect the race much, though, because he has no chance to contend, let alone win. He is the biggest toss in the field for us, a complete throwout who has a far better chance of finishing last than of hitting the board.
Here is how we see the race being run: Summer is Tomorrow will gun for the early lead, with Classic Causeway right behind him; a bit further back will be a group including Epicenter, Messier, Charge It, Taiba, White Abarrio, and Zozos. Crown Pride will be behind this vanguard group, behind the early speedsters but in front of a large group of colts hoping to make up ground late. The early fractions will be fast, but not destructively so; they will compromise the chances of the early leaders and the deep closers, but will play right into the hands of Crown Prince, who should be in the middle of the pack early.
After about a mile, the pacesetters, Summer is Tomorrow and Classic Causeway, will throw in the towel, and start to back up. The stalkers will advance, as will the horses behind them. The closers will start to move forward too, but will find that they were too far back early to reach contention.
We see Crown Pride hitting the front with about a furlong to go, staying there in front through the wire, with some combination of Zandon, White Abarrio, Epicenter and Pioneer of Medina behind him. We will say they finish in that order, and after the horses cross the wire, in Tokyo, where it will be early Sunday morning, the corks will start popping.
We will be betting Crown Pride to win. Enjoy the race.