Kentucky Derby 2022 Contenders: Epicenter Leads the Field

Chris Adams

The Kentucky Derby prep races are wrapping up. With only a couple chances left to earn points, it is time to start identifying contenders and pretenders.

No Messier?

Messier currently has 0 Kentucky Derby Points, but could be a major player.
Messier romps at Santa Anita. Image courtesy of Blood Horse.

This list does not include Messier who currently has a 107 Equibase Speed Figure to his name. The colt currently has 0 Kentucky Derby points but was transferred out of the Bob Baffert barn. This means he will now have the chance to get to the Derby by winning the Santa Anita Derby. His current speed figure is among the top in the three year old crop.

Kentucky Derby Top 5 Point Earners

The number in parenthesis after the horse’s name is the total number of Derby points earned to this point. The top 20 will be offered spots in the gate with the next group being named as also eligibles. Some horses may pass on the Derby which could then draw in horses from further down the list.

Epicenter (164)

Epicenter has 164 Kentucky Derby points
Epicenter rolls to victory. Image courtesy of Blood Horse.
  • Trained by Steve Asmussen
  • Top Speed Figure: 97 Equibase Speed Figure

This runner gave arguably the most impressive Kentucky Derby prep of the season thus far when he rolled late to take the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. Assmussen holds the unfortunate distinction of most Derby runners without a victory. Perhaps this is the year he can break through.

White Abarrio (112)

White Abarrio has 112 Kentucky Derby points
White Abarrio scores in the Florida Derby. Image courtesy of Daily Racing Form.
  • Trained by Saffie Joseph
  • Top Speed Figure: 102 Equibase Speed Figure

White Abarrio was impressive in the Florida Derby. The problem is that the race didn’t come up that fast and trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. is a beast at Gulfstream Park. His horses have failed to achieve the same success on other circuits. I am not convinced this one is a Derby winner.

Tiz the Bomb (110)

Tiz the Bomb has 110 Kentucky Derby points
Tiz a Bomb wins on turf which will likely be the preferred surface of this runner. Image courtesy of America’s Best Racing.
  • Trained by Ken McPeek
  • Top Speed Figure: 109 Equibase Speed Figure

If ever there was a “Derby Fever” horse this might be the one. Through it all the connections have been talking about shipping this one to Europe to run on turf. All of the sudden this one picks up some Derby points on synthetic surfaces and is a Derby radar horse. This one is a Derby pass for me.

Cyberknife (100)

Cyberknife has 100 Kentucky Derby points
Cyberknife won the Arkansas Derby. Image courtesy of Blood Horse.
  • Trained by Brad Cox
  • Top Speed Figure: 100 Equibase Speed Figure

I’m not sure how strong the Arkansas Derby was. Nevertheless this horse had a really weird trip and still won convincingly at Oaklawn Park. Cox is the reigning Eclipse Award winning trainer and this one is the kind of horse that is progressing at the right time. In the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby, players would be wise to follow the narrative on this runner to decide if he’s continuing the progression. If so, he’s a major threat.

Crown Pride (JPN) (100)

Crown Pride has 100 Kentucky Derby points
Japanese horse Crown Pride wins the UAE Derby. Image courtesy of Blood Horse.
  • Trained by Koichi Shintani
  • Top Speed Figure: N/A

Following the Saudi Cup, I wrote about the rise of Japanese runners. This horse was included in that mix. Horses from Japan have proven that they deserve to be in on the conversation. I really like that this one is already at Churchill and getting familiar with the surroundings and the track surface. Unless there is a lot of negatives out of the barn leading up, this one will be all over my tickets on Derby day.

In the Kentucky Derby Gate

Simplification (74)

  • Trained by Antonio Sano
  • Top Speed Figure: 99 Equibase Speed Figure

Had the chance to establish himself in the Arkansas Derby and just didn’t look good fading from the early pack. That may not be everything as speed hasn’t really held at Oaklawn, but this one feels like a cut below the runners that will end up in the gate.

Classic Causeway (66)

  • Trained by Brian Lynch
  • Top Speed Figure: 104 Equibase Speed Figure

I was all in on this runner in the Arkansas Derby. I thought this horse would be written off due to the low speed figure earned in the last race. He got everything I wanted at Oaklawn and just couldn’t do any running late. This one is a major toss for me in the Derby.

Slow Down Andy (60)

  • Trained by Doug O'Neill
  • Top Speed Figure: 95 Beyer Speed Figure

This runner won the Sunland Derby and did beat Messier last year, but I just don’t trust this one. The Risen Star was the most legitimate field he faced and he was a far cry from winning that race finishing 6th.

Barber Road (58)

  • Trained by John Ortiz
  • Top Speed Figure: 96 Equibase Speed Figure

I think this one is going to be the buzz horse into the Derby. Handicappers will point to the huge closing kick this one has showed in the last two races. The problem I have is that the Kentucky Derby has been a front runners game largely since the introduction of the points system. I don’t want my eggs in the basket of a horse that needs to come from out of it to win.

Un Ojo (54)

  • Trained by Tony Dutrow
  • Top Speed Figure: 91 Equibase Speed Figure

Clunked in the Arkansas Derby after an upset in the Rebel. Some will point to an injury that was reported after the last race as the reason this one didn’t have its best, but maybe the answer is that he’s just not a grade 1 dirt router. The horse is gelded which would be awesome because it means we could see a Derby winner runner beyond his three or four year old season.

Forbidden Kingdom (50)

  • Trained by Richard Mandella
  • Top Speed Figure: 106 Equibase Speed Figure

If you like California speed, this might be your play. However, this runner romped over Doppelganger at Santa Anita. That runner was awful at Oaklawn against the East Coast contingent. This one could easily be the favorite especially when you consider he has thousands of casual owners via MyRaceHorse. These runners are often way over bet. I’m hesitant to endorse this one.

Morello (50)

  • Trained by Steve Asmussen
  • Top Speed Figure: 97 Equibase Speed Figure

This one is actually kind of interesting. The New York prep circuit has been most terrible in the Kentucky Derby, but this year there are some sneaky signals that this could be the year for these runners. This one is on my radar, but I will be looking for a convincing win in the Wood Memorial if this one is going to be a part of my Derby day plays.

Zozos (40)

  • Trained by Brad Cox
  • Top Speed Figure: 94 Equibase Speed Figure

This is another Brad Cox who looks alright on paper. The problem is that this one ran second to Epicenter in the last race. While this horse seems to be coming along nicely, the likelihood that he can make that kind of jump in a short time just seems like a reach.

Summer Is Tomorrow (40)

  • Trained by Bhupat Seemar
  • Top Speed Figure: N/A

If you like Crown Pride, this one also has to at least be on your radar. He set fairly quick times as the pace setter in the UAE Derby and just didn’t have the sustaining power to get the job done late. Crown Pride put him away in the last half furlong. The problem with me for this runner is that despite quick fractions the horse didn’t have a ton of pace pressure throughout. Knowing that many will press for the lead in the Kentucky Derby, I feel this one is going to fade off late and be no factor.

Charge It (40)

  • Trained by Todd Pletcher
  • Top Speed Figure: 103 Equibase Speed Figure

This is the loser that I think you want out of this weekend’s races. He took two starts to break his maiden. The Florida Derby was his third career race. In the race he ran almost the same trip as the winner except he was inside the whole time. This meant that White Abarrio tipped out first getting the third path into the lane while Charge it had to swing around to the 4th. In the lane Charge it responded like a shot to urging, but wandered right up the tail of White Abarrio while closing. He then shifted back out and came again. If this one gained some professionalism from the start, he may be the likeliest Derby winner we saw all weekend.

Tawny Port (40)

  • Trained by Brad Cox
  • Top Speed Figure: 102 Equibase Speed Figure

This one ran second in the Jeff Ruby behind a turf horse. Hard pass for me despite the impressive connections.

Smile Happy (30)

  • Trained by Ken McPeek
  • Top Speed Figure: 100 Equibase Speed Figure

Smile Happy will look to run in the Blue Grass ahead of the Derby. It will take something special for the son of Runhappy to turn the tables on Epicenter who he faced in his last race at Fair Grounds. It is a wait and see for me on this one, but I lean pass.

Kentucky Derby Bubble

Pioneer of Medina (25)

  • Trained by Todd Pletcher
  • Top Speed Figure: 96 Equibase Speed Figure

This one just barely cracked the top 3 of the Louisiana Derby. It is hard to see this runner making enough progress to get the job done even if he makes the gate at the Kentucky Derby.

Pappacap (24)

  • Trained by Mark Casse
  • Top Speed Figure: 96 Equibase Speed Figure

If this runner was a legitimate contender, the Arkansas Derby would have been his for the taking. Despite sitting wide, the colt who I had shown some support for, did little to make me think this one can even hit the board in the Derby.

Grantham (21)

  • Trained by Mike Maker
  • Top Speed Figure: 100 Equibase Speed Figure

This one couldn’t beat Classic Causeway who didn’t exactly flatter the Tampa Bay runners on Saturday. This one is a hard pass.

Rich Strike (21)

  • Trained by Eric Reed
  • Top Speed Figure: 96 Equibase Speed Figure

This one has lost 2 straight to Tiz the Bomb who will be a career turfer. The only win to date is a maiden claiming victory. Nope.

Secret Oath (20) *Filly*

  • Trained by Wayne Lukas
  • Top Speed Figure: 100 Equibase Speed Figure

This girl ran a respectable Arkansas Derby against the colts. Even if she had won the race there was a strong possibility she was going to the Oaks instead. She will likely be the favorite in that race and I don’t expect her to even consider the Derby. If she were to get in here though she would be a great bet against because she would take a ton of narrative money. These horses get over bet because of their story, not their talent. She is talented and will be a deserving favorite in the Oaks, but not good enough to win the Derby.

Rattle N Roll (20)

  • Trained by Ken McPeek
  • Top Speed Figure: 100 Equibase Speed Figure

This one was rolling at the end of the 2 year old season capping it off with a win at the Breeders’ Cup. This one seems to just be the precocious type as he really hasn’t progressed in his three year old season.

Ethereal Road (20)

  • Trained by Wayne Lukas
  • Top Speed Figure: 90 Equibase Speed Figure

This horse is tricky. Of the horses out of the Rebel it is probably the one that I would like best. This one was behind Un Ojo which isn’t great, but if you like Barber Road, this one finished ahead of him. Lukas has major Derby cred so maybe this one is an interesting outsider.

Bye Bye Bobby (20)

  • Trained by Todd Fincher
  • Top Speed Figure: 94 Equibase Speed Figure

The lone win came at 6 furlongs in the Zia Park Derby. No thank you.

Island Falcon (IRE) (20)

  • Trained by Saeed bin Suroor
  • Top Speed Figure: N/A

Third in the UAE Derby this one is the least enticing as he closed into a fast pace and still could get into the exacta.

In Due Time (20)

  • Trained by Kelly Breen
  • Top Speed Figure: 100 Equibase Speed Figure

This runner finished second in the Fountain of Youth. Given the poor performance of Simplification in Arkansas this weekend, this one is probably a fade.

Dean’s List (20)

  • Trained by Todd Pletcher
  • Top Speed Figure: 93 Equibase Speed Figure

If you like Morello, this one finished just behind him in the Gotham. The trouble is that this one is pointed to the Bay Shore instead of the Wood which implies this one won’t be pointed toward the Derby anyway.

Kentucky Derby Outsiders

The following horses have earned Kentucky Derby points. Given that these horses are currently outside the top 2o they are unlikely to make the gate unless they score more points.

The list does not take into account whether or not the horses have been declared off the Derby trail.

  • Zandon (14) Trained by Chad Brown (Blue Grass)
  • Mo Donegal (12) Trained by Todd Pletcher (Wood Memorial)
  • Major General (10) Trained by Todd Pletcher (None)
  • Dash Attack (10) Trained by Ken McPeek (Lexington)
  • Doppelganger (10) Trained by Tim Yakteen (None)
  • Early Voting (10) Trained by Chad Brown (Wood Memorial)
  • Call Me Midnight (10) Trained by Keith Desormeaux (None)
  • Courvoisier (10) Trained by Kelly Breen (None)
  • Dowagiac Chief (10) Trained by Tom Amoss (None)
  • O Captain (10) Trained by Gustavo Delgado (None)
  • Happy Jack (10) Trained by Doug O'Neill (Wood Memorial)
  • Golden Code (10) Trained by Todd Pletcher (Wood Memorial)
  • Kavod (7) Trained by Chris Hartman (None)
  • Commandperformance (6) Trained by Todd Pletcher (None)
  • Life Is Great (5) Trained by Robert Klesaris (Bayshore-Non Derby)
  • Golden Glider (5) Trained by Dale Romans (Blue Grass)
  • Fowler Blue (5) Trained by Luis Mendez (None)
  • Emmanuel (5) Trained by Todd Pletcher (Blue Grass)
  • Giant Game (4) Trained by Dale Romans (None)
  • Cabo Spirit (4) Trained by George Papaprodromou (None)
  • Stolen Base (4) Trained by Mike Maker (None)
  • Tough to Tame (4) Trained by Christopher Davis (None)
  • Smarten Up (4) Trained by Alfredo Velazquez (None)
  • Ben Diesel (3) Trained by Dallas Stewart (None)
  • Red Knobs (2) Trained by Dale Romans (None)
  • Midnight Chrome (2) Trained by Tyler Servis (None)
  • Gilded Age (2)Trained by Bill Mott (None)
  • Ignitis (2) Trained by Wayne Lukas (None)
  • Volcanic (2) Trained by Mark Casse (Blue Grass)
  • My Prankster (1) Trained by Todd Pletcher (None)
  • American Sanctuary (1) Trained by Christopher Davis (None)
  • Strike Hard (1) Trained by Matthew Williams (None)
  • Galt (1) Trained by Bill Mott (None)
  • Bourbon Heist (1) Trained by Ian Wilkes (None)
  • Trafalgar (1) Trained by Al Stall Jr. (None)
  • Unbridled Bomber (1) Trained by Jim Ryerson (None)
  • Il Belator (1) Trained by Jose Bautista (None)

First Saturday In April Derby Picks

It is still far too early to lock into a Kentucky Derby pick. With a handful of preps and several workouts left before the first Saturday in may, any picks at this point should be done strictly for editorial purposes with the ability to pivot on the day as the picture becomes more clear.

Here is stable of my top 5 Derby contenders heading into the last month of prep races.

  1. Epicenter
  2. Crown Pride
  3. Charge It
  4. Cyberknife
  5. Morello
  6. Ethereal Road

Continued Kentucky Derby Coverage

Follow all of the races in the month-long lead up to the Kentucky Derby with the Betting News free handicapping tools.

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