Download the App Image

Ranking the 2022 Kentucky Derby Field 1-20, From Favorites to Longshots

Ranking the 2022 Kentucky Derby Field 1-20, From Favorites to Longshots article feature image
Credit:

Andy Lyons/Getty Images. Pictured: Kentucky Derby favorite Zandon works out at Churchill Downs.

Editor’s note: Ethereal Road was scratched from the Kentucky Derby early Friday and replaced by Rich Strike for Saturday’s $3 million race.


Twenty horses are set to enter the starting gate for Saturday’s 148th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Derby hopeful Zandon, who won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course last time out, is the current 3-1 favorite ahead of the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

So, what about the other 19 contenders taking part in “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports?” Well, I’ve taken the time to rank all of them from 1-20 to give more insight into their respective backgrounds and where they sit in the pecking order of this massive field.

Post time for this year’s Derby is set for 6:57 p.m. ET, with TV coverage running from 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Earlier races from Churchill Downs will air on USA Network from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET as well.

That said, let’s take a look at my rankings heading toward the annual “Run for the Roses” at Churchill Downs.

2022 Kentucky Derby Field Rankings

No. 10 Zandon (8-1)

Jockey: Flavien Prat | Trainer: Chad Brown

Career Record: 4 starts (2 wins | 1 second | 1 third)

Pedigree: Upstart — Memories Prevail (Creative Cause)

Running style: Stalker/closer

Analysis: The Derby favorite put in a breathtaking run under jockey Flavien Prat in the Blue Grass, working his way through a ton of traffic (aka tired horses) and exploded down the lane to roll past runner-up Smile Happy. He took huge leap in the data as well, earning  107 Equibase Speed Figure after posting consecutive 93s in his three previous stakes events.

Prat knows how to get a trip in these monster Derby fields, winning the 2019 event via disqualification under Country House. He rode Hot Rod Charlie to second in last year’s race following the late Medina Spirit’s DQ from the win.

The deserved Derby favorite.

No. 12 Taiba (5-1)

Jockey: Mike Smith | Trainer: Tim Yakteen

Career Record: 2 starts (2 wins)

Pedigree: Gun Runner — Needmore Flattery (Flatter)

Running style: Close to Pace/Stalker

Analysis: The lightl-raced son of 2017 Breeders’ Cup champion Gun Runner won the Santa Anita Derby in just his second career start last time out. Prior to that, Taiba crushed the field in a six-furlong maiden sprint on March 5 at Santa Anita.

Tim Yakteen takes over the trainer duties, as former boss Bob Baffert serves his two-year suspension at Kentucky tracks.

The big concern is that Taiba hasn’t faced a field remotely this size. In fact, he has gone against only 11 horses combined in the Santa Anita efforts. Now, he’s about to take on 19 others at a distance he’s never run at. That said, I’ve made the mistake leaving Baffert-connected charges off my Derby tickets. That’s not happening this time. Major win candidate at a price.

No. 3 Epicenter (5-1)

Jockey: Joel Rosario | Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Career Record: 6 starts (4 wins | 1 second | 0 third)

Pedigree: Not This Time — Silent Candy (Candy Ride)

Running style: Pacesetter/Close to Pace

Analysis: The Louisiana Derby winner would have likely been the favorite, had he not drawn the No. 3 post position. I really have nothing bad to say about the contender going out for trainer Steve Asmussen, who’s chasing his first Derby win.

If he can get position early, he could give them the slip and wire the field.

Pictured: Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will ride Wood Memorial winner Mo Donegal. Photo credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images

No. 1 Mo Donegal (8-1)

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr. | Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Career Record: 5 starts (3 wins | 0 second | 2 thirds)

Pedigree: Uncle Mo — Callingmissbrown (Pulpit)

Running style: Closer

Analysis: Of all the horses in the field, I was most disappointed for the Wood Memorial winner. The talented son of Uncle Mo wound up in the unfortunate No. 1 post, which hasn’t produced a winner since 1986 when Ferdinand won.

However, two things working for Mo Donegal are the fact his two stakes wins came at 1 1/8 miles, which is just a furlong shorter than the Derby distance. He also gets Ortiz Jr., the three-time Eclipse Award winner, in the saddle. If there’s anyone who can navigate this post (other than Calvin “Bo-rail” Borel), it’s him.

No. 16 Cyberknife (14-1)

Jockey: Florent Geroux | Trainer: Brad Cox

Career Record: 6 starts (3 wins | 2 seconds | 0 third)

Pedigree: Gun Runner — Awesome Flower (Flower Alley)

Running style: Stalker/Close to Pace

Analysis: The Arkansas Derby winner is one of my live longshots. Another son of Gun Runner, he has been training well and could be sitting on a career effort for trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux. Cyberknife has three wins in six career starts, never finishing worse than second in five races.

If you remember, the pair teamed up with Mandaloun in last year’s Derby for a second-place finish. The horse was eventually declared the winner when Medina Spirit was disqualified. So, getting the win that was nice, but you know the duo would love to win the Derby the old-fashioned way. Live contender.

No. 5 Smile Happy (14-1)

Jockey: Corey Lanerie | Trainer: Ken McPeek

Career Record: 4 starts (2 wins | 2 seconds)

Pedigree: Runhappy — Pleasant Smile (Pleasant Tap)

Running style: Stalker/closer

Analysis: I’ve been all over the son of former Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Runhappy since the late November when he won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club on this same track. Since then, he has produced runner-up efforts in the Risen Star (G2) and Blue Grass (G1) on the Derby trail.

If you go back and watch the Risen Star, you’re probably going to come to the conclusion (like I did) that he should have defeated Epicenter at Oaklawn Park. I was critical of the ride he got from jockey Corey Lanerie, whom you could tell wasn’t pleased with his own performance in a post-race interview.

However, Lanerie and Smile Happy rebounded nicely in the Blue Grass despite being caught by a charging Zandon in deep stretch. I actually think he asked Smile Happy for more too early, but it was a risk worth taking and took a special foe to defeat him at Keeneland.

Lanerie nearly delivered me what would have been my biggest Derby futures winner ever when he rode Lookin At Lee up the rail to a second-place finish in the 2017 Derby, so I trust him at this track, where he’s a regular rider.

Pictured: Kentucky Derby hopeful Smile Happy works out Thursday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

No. 8 Charge It (13-1)

Jockey: Luis Saez | Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Career Record: 3 starts (1 win | 2 seconds)

Pedigree: Tapit — I’ll Take Charge (Indian Charlie)

Running style: Stalker/Close to Pace

Analysis: If you look up “green” in the unofficial horse-racing dictionary, you might see a photo of the very athletic son of champion sire Tapit. Despite having just two starts, Pletcher’s horse actually went off as the Florida Derby favorite before finishing second to White Abarrio.

However, jockey Luis Saez had his hands full throughout the Gulfstream Park event. Charge It could not stay focused, lugging in or drifting out the final two furlongs of the race. Yet, he still managed to that runner-up effort. And I firmly believe had the horse had another race under his belt, he would have won.

Pletcher is chasing his third Derby win, with the most recent victory coming via Always Dreaming in the 2017 race.

For all you NHL fans out there, Always Dreaming is co-owned by Vincent Viola, who owns the Florida Panthers.

No. 9 Tiz the Bomb (25-1)

Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr. | Trainer: Ken McPeek

Career Record: 8 starts (5 wins | 1 second)

Pedigree: Hit It a Bomb — Tiz the Key (Tiznow)

Running style: Closer

Analysis: One of three contenders I have sizable futures wagers on, the standout hasn’t done much wrong other than a disappointing seventh-place effort in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream early on the Derby trail. He rebounded nicely from that defeat, highlighted by his win in the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park to book his ticket in the field.

Obviously, I want this horse to hit the winner’s circle, but he clearly likes the turf and synthetic surfaces more. The Jeff Ruby was on Tapeta (synthetic), so I really think the only hope he has at winning this race is if the Churchill Downs track comes up lightning fast on race day and mimics those kind of surfaces.

No. 6 Messier (7-1)

Jockey: John Velazquez | Trainer: Tim Yakteen

Career Record: 6 starts (3 wins | 3 seconds)

Pedigree: Empire Maker — Checkered Past (Smart Strike)

Running style: Close to Pace

Analysis: Another former Baffert horse now in Yakteen’s stable, Messier looked poised to win the Santa Anita Derby after outlasting even-money favorite Forbidden Kingdom heading for home.

But the horse tired badly around the eighth pole and just stopped as Taiba flew by him. Sure, they ran the first quarter in 23 1/5 seconds and the half mile in 46 3/5 seconds, but he could not have asked for a better trip going 1 1/8 miles.

That tells me Messier is distance compromised, because if he can’t finish off a win in a tiny field of five foes, how’s he going to take care of 19 others going another furlong in a much more taxing race?

No. 14 Barber Road (41-1)

Jockey: Reylu Gutierrez | Trainer: John Ortiz

Career Record: 8 starts (2 wins | 4 seconds | 1 third)

Pedigree: Race Day — Encounter (Southern Image)

Running style: Closer

Analysis: You have to admire this horse’s efforts. Purchased as a $15,000 weanling (he’s made north of $650,000 so far), Barber Road has eight career starts and finished out of the money only once.

I don’t think he’s a win candidate for trainer John Ortiz due to his bad case of “seconditis,” but he’s a must-use horse in all your Show (third place) and exotic wagers. Expect him to pass a bunch of tired horses heading for home.

Pictured: Florida Derby winner White Abarrio trains for the Kentucky Derby on Thursday at Churchill Downs. Photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

No. 15 White Abarrio (11-1)

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione | Trainer: Saffie Joseph Jr.

Career Record: 5 starts (4 wins | 1 third)

Pedigree: Race Day — Catching Diamonds (Into Mischief)

Running style: Stalker

Analysis: You’ve got to love the story behind trainer and Barbados native Saffie Joseph Jr., who has worked his way through the claiming-ranks game in South Florida to become one of the preeminent horsemen in North America.

White Abarrio dominated the winter meet at Gulfstream, winning the Holy Bull (G3) before his triumph in the Florida Derby. He has four wins in five career starts, but my concern stems from his stats regression. He had a 102 Equibase Speed Figure in the Holy Bull, but dipped to a 99 in the Florida Derby.

When comparing those numbers from Zandon (107), Tiz the Bomb (105) and even Messier from his 107 speed figure two races back in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3), that’s not going to cut it in this field. He needs a lot to go his way to find the winner’s circle.

No. 13 Simplification (40-1)

Jockey: Jose Ortiz | Trainer: Antonio Sano

Career Record: 7 starts (3 wins | 1 second | 2 thirds)

Pedigree: Not This Time — Simply Confection (Candy Ride)

Running style: Stalker

Analysis: The son of Not This Time looked good winning the Fountain of Youth (G2) on March 5 at Gulfstream Park, but got caught in deep stretch by White Abarrio and Charge It to finish a game third in the Florida Derby as the favorite.

I love that he gets Jose Ortiz in the irons, so he will have a good spot breaking from the No. 13 post heading into the clubhouse turn. Worth a play in your longer exotic wagers.

No. 7 Crown Pride (17-1)

Jockey: Christophe Lemaire | Trainer: Koichi Shintani

Career Record: 4 starts (3 wins | 0 seconds | 0 thirds)

Pedigree: Reach the Crown — Emmy’s Pride (King Kamehameha)

Running style: Stalker

Analysis: The Japanese shipper was brilliant taking down the field in the UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. Traditionally, the Asian champions don’t fare well in the Derby, though, with the best finish coming from Master Fencer (sixth place) in the 2019 “Run for the Roses.”

Jockey Christophe Lemaire, who’s making his first start in the Derby, should have no issues getting position out of the gate, but I just feel he’s a class below the top horses in field. Use in your exotics, especially in superfecta wagers.

Pictured: Japanese horse Crown Pride works out for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images


No. 20 Ethereal Road (SCRATCHED)

Jockey: Luis Contreras | Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Career Record: 7 starts (1 win | 1 second | 1 third)

Pedigree: Quality Road — Sustained (War Front)

Running style: Closer

Analysis: Initially on the outside looking in, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas was able to get his horse in the field after Rebel Stakes (G2) winner Un Ojo defected after suffering a bruised front left in training.

The 86-year-old Lukas is seeking his fifth Derby win in his decorated career, but the last one came more than two decades ago when the late Chris Antley and Charismatic won the first jewel of the Triple Crown.

Ethereal Road is nowhere near the caliber of the majority of this field, but his late closing style could see him finish inside the top 12 overall.

No. 18 Tawny Port (67-1)

Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr. | Trainer: Brad Cox

Career Record: 5 starts (3 wins | 1 second)

Pedigree: Pioneerof the Nile — Livi Mackenzie (Macho Uno)

Running style: Stalker

Analysis: It took an 11th-hour win in the Lexington Stakes — the last Derby prep race of the season — for the Cox trainee to land his spot in the starting gate. The son of Pioneerof the Nile has won three times in five career starts, so I wouldn’t discount his chances to maybe sneak into the top-four finishers.

No. 11 Pioneer of Medina (47-1)

Jockey: Joe Bravo | Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Career Record: 6 starts (2 wins | 1 second | 2 thirds)

Pedigree: Pioneerof the Nile — Lights of Medina (Eskendereya)

Running style: Pacesetter/Close to Pace

Analysis: Another entrant part of the Pletcher contingent, I can’t find any way the son of Pioneerof the Nile wins. Like Ethereal Road, he didn’t have enough points to make the field on his own, but snuck in when trainer Chad Brown opted to point Early Voting to the Preakness Stakes, held in two weeks at Pimlico Race Course.

No. 17 Classic Causeway (68-1)

Jockey: Julien Leparoux | Trainer: Brian Lynch

Career Record: 6 starts (3 wins | 1 second | 1 third)

Pedigree: Giant’s Causeway — Private World (Thunder Gulch)

Running style: Pacesetter

Analysis: The huge buzz in south Florida this winter wasn’t surrounding White Abarrio, Simplification and Charge It. Instead, it was all around the son of Giant’s Causeway.

But, oh, how the mighty have fallen.

After romping to wins against lesser company in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) at Tampa Bay Downs, he took on tougher foes in the Florida Derby and tired badly to finish a disappointing 11th place. We’ve already seen the best of this horse.

Pictured: Jockey Manny Franco will ride Zozos in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Photo credit: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 19 Zozos (39-1)

Jockey: Manny Franco | Trainer: Brad Cox

Career Record: 3 starts (2 wins | 1 second)

Pedigree: Munnings — Papa’s Forest (Forestry)

Running style: Close to Pace

Analysis: The final part of the Cox trio entered here could have issues getting this distance. His sire, Munnings, was a champion sprinter, so his bloodlines don’t scream “1 1/4 miles” in any way, shape or form.

With Cyberknife and Tawny Port boasting better chances of winning, I would not be surprised if Zozos goes out to the lead and tries to wear down the likes of Epicenter and Messier, potentially setting things up nicely for one of Cox’s other contenders.

No. 2 Happy Jack (22-1)

Jockey: Rafael Bejarano | Trainer: Doug O’Neill

Career Record: 4 starts (1 win | 2 thirds)

Pedigree: Oxbow — Tapistry (Tapit)

Running style: Closer

Analysis: The Doug O’Neill charge finished third behind Taiba and Messier in the Santa Anita Derby, but he was far enough back for me to not warrant any consideration of him being anywhere near the lead coming down the stretch.

No. 4 Summer Is Tomorrow (42-1)

Jockey: Mikael Barzalona | Trainer: Bhupat Seemar

Career Record: 7 starts (2 wins | 3 seconds)

Pedigree: Summer Front — Always Tomorrow (Badge of Silver)

Running style: Pacesetter/Close to Pace

Analysis: Another member of the Japanese contingent, he wound up a game second to Crown Prince in the UAE Derby. I fully expect him to be among the early frontrunners and could be biggest problem for Epicenter in the first quarter mile when it comes to position.

And talk about distance compromised, his two wins came in races that were seven furlongs or less. Remember, he’s now being asked to go 10 furlongs against some of the world’s finest 3-year-old colts.

Don’t be surprised if he finishes last in this race.


2022 Kentucky Derby Current Odds

*Updated odds via TwinSpires

POST POSITION  HORSE ODDS
1 Mo Donegal 8-1
2 Happy Jack 22-1
3 Epicenter 5-1
4 Summer Is Tomorrow 42-1
5 Smile Happy 15-1
6 Messier 7-1
7 Crown Pride 17-1
8 Charge It 13-1
9 Tiz The Bomb 25-1
10 Zandon 8-1
11 Pioneer Of Medina 47-1
12 Taiba 5-1
13 Simplification 40-1
14 Barber Road 41-1
15 White Abarrio 11-1
16 Cyberknife 14-1
17 Classic Causeway 67-1
18 Tawny Port 67-1
19 Zozos 39-1
20 Rich Strike 99-1

How would you rate this article?