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The 12th Annual Casual Kentucky Derby Preview

The Casual Derby Preview is back!

Welcome to the 12th Annual Casual Kentucky Derby Preview!

It’s great to be back with you previewing the Run for the Roses on the First Saturday in May.

In this column you will find the tried and true handicapping analysis of the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports that has netted its followers thousands of dollars over the last decade.

Before we get to the analysis of the ponies, some ground rules. In this space as in years past I’m going to narrow the 20 horse field down to a group of 6 for a real casual $1, 6-horse trifecta box ($120) of Casual Destiny and Hope and Freedom and America.

With that in mind, below is the most casual analysis of the 2022 Kentucky Derby field you will likely find anywhere else, from someone who has actually watched all of these horses run in all of their prep races. No, really. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. Indeed, after all these years my life still has very little meaning.

Away we go!

1. MO DONEGAL (10-1)

Any horse that pops a 111 speed figure is going to get my attention, and MD’s run in the Wood Memorial did just that. A closer, MD weaved through a number of horses to down the stretch to win, and he’ll need to replicate that style from the 1 post. I would normally toss the 1 post and the Wood winners rarely win here, but Churchill’s new starting gate doesn’t pin the 1 against the rail any longer and I think it will benefit MD to save some ground around the track in what should be a speedy race at the outset.

Verdict: Include

2. HAPPY JACK (30-1)

Happy Jack is going to want to let the speed out in front of him and try to make up distance in the stretch, and he was able to that to some extent in the San Felipe and the Santa Anita. The problem is that in both of those races he finished 3rd and there are much better horses here. Don’t think he has a chance here unless the race falls apart.

Verdict: TOSS.

3. EPICENTER (7-2)

Epicenter is one of the favorites here, a class horse that has nothing wrong in prep in Louisiana and is worthy of his contender status. The 3 post isn’t ideal as he will have to handle some pace coming from his right, but he was able to rate in the Louisiana Derby and should be OK here. I don’t love him at this price, however.

Verdict: Include.

4. SUMMER IS TOMORROW (30-1)

Summer is an import from the UAE Derby and I suspect will zoom to the lead from the 4 post and bring the field around the first turn. Just as in the UAE Derby, he will get run down by other horses and I don’t see him being able to hit the board at this distance. His pace out front will dictate how this race is run.

Verdict: TOSS

5. SMILE HAPPY (20-1)

Smile ran a big race in the Blue Grass (101 Beyer) to finish 2nd to the hard-charging Zandon. Mid-pack style should be OK from the 5 post, but he had a great trip in the Blue Grass and had every chance to win it. Will have to improve here to hit the board.

Verdict: TOSS

6. MESSIER (8-1)

A visually impressive horse, Messier has perhaps the best cruising speed of any horse in this race, with three consecutive Beyers in the 100s and his 108 in the Santa Anita being the third best in this field. The 6 post sets up nicely for him so there’s really no reason to think he won’t be in contention down the stretch. The issue with MESSIER is that he was simply beaten by the lightly raced Taiba in the Santa Anita and the only horse he’s beaten in this field in his career is HAPPY JACK. Full disclosure I am a NY Rangers fan and have a picture in my office of Mark Messier holding the Stanley Cup. I am anti the Rangers ‘Goal Song’ however, as it is lame and the direct cause of the Rangers’ Cup drought since the song’s debut in ’95.

Verdict: Include.

7. CROWN PRIDE (20-1)

The winner of the UAE Derby rarely does anything notable in this race, but this horse from Japan is an intriguing one. SUMMER IS TOMORROW led the horses around this field at a hot pace similar to what he will do in the Derby, and CROWD PRIDE was able to rate nicely off the pace and win going away down the stretch. 7 post is a good one for him.

Verdict: Include

8. CHARGE IT (20-1)

Mid-pack runner was passed by WHITE ABARRIO at the top of the stretch in the Florida Derby but still made a nice charge to grab 2nd. Could be a factor with decent closing speed if hot pace zaps everyone else.

Verdict: Include.

9. TIZ THE BOMB (30-1)

Won the Jeff Ruby going away and the 101 speed figure is nothing to sneeze at. Don’t see him wining but could hit the board at what will likely be a good price. Hasn’t raced against much class, however.

Verdict: Include.

10. ZANDON (3-1)

The Blue Grass winner comes to Churchill off of a 103 Beyer performance. A visually impressive horse, Zandon is a closer that should be running well down the stretch out of the 10 post.

Verdict: Include.

11. PIONEER OF MEDINA (30-1)

Middling Todd Pletcher trained horse that hasn’t shown me anything of note in his preps that would convince me he’ll be a factor here.

Verdict: TOSS

12. TAIBA (12-1)

Impressive run to win the Santa Anita Derby over MESSIER in just his 2nd race, TAIBA is now 2 for 2 with Beyers of 100 and 111. In the Santa Anita he was able to challenge the pace early but rated nicely around the track, turned on the jets before the top of the stretch and dispensed of MESSIER who had every chance to win the race. Previously trained by Baffert, could be a superhorse. Could also not be.

Verdict: Include.

13. SIMPLIFICATION (20-1)

Forwardly placed in the Florida Derby, SIMPLIFICATION was up there with the leaders but got run down by WHITE ABARRIO and CHARGE IT. There’s not much in his preps to suggest anything different would happen here.

Verdict: TOSS

14. BARBER ROAD (30-1)

The 2nd place finisher in the Arkansas Derby, BARBER ROAD will not be a factor in this race unless all hell breaks loose. Next.

Verdict: TOSS.

15. WHITE ABARRIO (10-1)

Beautiful looking gray/white horse had an impressive run through traffic from behind to win the Florida Derby off a win in the Holy Bull against fellow Derby runners SIMPLIFICATION and MO DONEGAL where he was near the lead all the way, WHITE ABARRIO has momentum heading into Churchill. Will be interesting to see how he is placed coming out of the 15 post, but this horse is plucky, reminds me of Derby winner ORB. Watch out if he gets a good trip and is clear at top of the stretch.

Verdict: Include.

16. CYBERKNIFE (20-1)

Cool name! The Arkansas Derby champ looks like a good horse but speed figures don’t jump out at me, not sure he has enough to contend here coming out of the 16 post. Defeated EPICENTER in the Lecomte in January at a mile and a 16th and held off BARBER ROAD in the Arkansas at the same distance.

Verdict: TOSS.

17. CLASSIC CAUSEWAY (30-1)

Not sure what happened with this horse in Florida Derby where he got out to the lead and just decided not to run and finished last. Too many question marks and 17 is no help.

Verdict: TOSS.

18. TAWNY PORT (30-1)

Not a fan of ports, generally.

Verdict: TOSS.

19. ZOZOS (20-1)

Decent horse but don’t think he takes to this distance enough to hit the board. Going to be tough out of the 19 for him to get where he needs to.

Verdict: TOSS

20. ETHEREAL ROAD (30-1)

This horse isn’t fast enough to contend and the 20 post is a killer.

Verdict: TOSS.

OK, let’s see what we have so far:

1. MO DONEGAL (10-1)

3. EPICENTER (7-2)

6. MESSIER (8-1)

7. CROWN PRIDE (20-1)

8. CHARGE IT (20-1)

9. TIZ THE BOMB (30-1)

10. ZANDON (3-1)

12. TAIBA (12-1)

15. WHITE ABARRIO (10-1)

9 horses! Time to cut it to our nice package of 6.

I’d love to have a longshot in there like TIZ THE BOMB but nothing really excites me about him enough. Others at higher odds like CHARGE IT are more intriguing. EPICENTER is a good horse but I don’t love that 3 post for him and he’s going to use a lot of gas early. Will he have enough left at the end after what is bound to be a difficult trip for him? I’ll take my chances on others like MO DONEGAL and TAIBA that have faster pace figures and are at better prices. Tough for me to justify taking MESSIER at 8-1 after he was defeated by TAIBA with every chance to win in the Santa Anita, but his speed should keep him in this and perhaps the Santa Anita was just an off-day. His destruction of the rest of the field in the Robert B Lewis was one of the more impressive of the earlier preps. CROWN PRIDE is too much of a mystery and the foreign imports never do anything in the Derby. I’ll take my chances leaving him out.

So there we have it, our final 6:

1. MO DONEGAL (10-1)

6. MESSIER (8-1)

8. CHARGE IT (20-1)

10. ZANDON (3-1)

12. TAIBA (12-1)

15. WHITE ABARRIO (10-1)

RACE ANALYSIS

The usual thought with the Kentucky Derby is that swift early fractions (quarter mile in less than 23 seconds, half mile in the 46 second range) are bad news for horses with a front-running style as they will fade and get run down in the stretch by horses with better closing speed. Class horses, however, are able to hold off these closers which explains why the favorites have done very well in recent years.

This year’s Derby should have strong early pace. I’d expect SUMMER IS TOMORROW, SIMPLIFICATION, and CLASSIC CAUSEWAY to be out front early and take this group around the track.

If the visuals in the prep races hold true to form, at the top of the stretch those horses will be joined by mid-pack stalkers WHITE ABARRIO, TAIBA, MESSIER, and EPICENTER while closers like MO DONEGAL, CHARGE IT and ZANDON make moves as well.

If I had to pick a trifecta/superfecta with some upside, I’ll go with:

Win: 15. WHITE ABARRIO (10-1)

Place: 12. TAIBA (12-1)

Show: 1. MO DONEGAL (10-1)

4th: 8. CHARGE IT (20-1)

5th: 10. ZANDON (3-1)

6th: 6. MESSIER (8-1)

Casual Churchill Documentation below:

2009 Derby champion Mine That Bird!

Remember, a bad day at the track is better than a good day at the office.

Enjoy the race.