Horse Racing

Kentucky Derby 2022 Weekend Analysis

Once again, all eyes will be on the Twin Spires as twenty three-year-olds take a stand to see who will join the hall of immortals as a Kentucky Derby winner. Legacies are abound in this wide open edition, a race that will cap off a huge fitfteen stakes weekend.

This year, contenders come from all over with different levels of experience. Many, may fall to the favorite, Zandon, after an impressive victory in the Blue Grass at Keeneland just a few weeks ago, or perhaps go to the bayou for Epicenter, the strong Louisiana Derby winner. Perhaps the young Taiba will get revenge for Medina Spirit, flying the same silks as winner of the Santa Anita Derby. Two international contenders join the fray too – with Crown Pride and Summer Is Tomorrow joining after contending in the UAE Derby. Or perhaps the ageless D. Wayne Lukas will grab himself one more garland of roses with Ethereal Road, who hasn’t shown all the ability in the world, but might be peaking at the right time. This wide-open Derby cements a huge weekend of racing at Churchill Downs, where Mint Juleps will be flowing, hats will be showing, and races will be the prime occasion. With that, here is my analysis of the Kentucky Derby contenders and selections for the full slate of races.

Kentucky Derby Contender Profiles

1 | Mo Donegal (Irad Ortiz, Jr. / Todd Pletcher / 10-1)
Uncle Mo-Callingmissbrown (Pulpit) | Wood Memorial (1st), Holy Bull (3rd), Remson (1st)

  • Solid breaker out of the gate; doesn’t mind the rail spot
  • Bit small in size
  • Big closing kick; gets better as he gets older
  • Much better coming off the pace – should not be placed too close to the lead
  • Jockey change from Joel Rosario back to Irad Ortiz Jr might not be the best move
  • Stuck going wide and in traffic during Holy Bull – just didn’t have a shot; still coming on super strong late
  • Wants the inside path
  • Super-fast with push button speed
  • Have trouble saying win contender, but must have in all exotics
  • Just barely edged Zandon as a 2yo in the Remson – both very game and both very close

2 | Happy Jack (Rafael Bejarano | Doug O’Neill | 30/1)
Oxbow-Tapistry (Tapit) | Santa Anita Derby (3rd), San Felipe (3rd), Robert B. Lewis (5th)

  • Inconsistent starter and doesn’t always break well
  • Short stride and very small
  • Doesn’t have a clear running style that he favors
  • Just a lot of steps slower than the rest of the field – no chance

3 | Epicenter (Joel Rosario | Steven Asmussen | 7/2)
Not This Time-Silent Candy (Candy Ride) | Louisiana Derby (1st), Risen Star (1st) Lecomte (2nd)

  • Professional out of the gate
  • Settles in nicely
  • Longstrider and calm in the stalking spot
  • Just easily cruises down the stretch
  • Beat some tiring horses in the LA Derby
  • Takes a bit down the stretch to get into stride
  • Might not do well in too much traffic
  • Has not been working out well leading into the Derby
  • Such a solid cruising speed when leading
  • Impressive in victory at Fair Grounds
  • Looks to get better as the races get longer

4 | Summer Is Tomorrow (Mickael Barzalona | Bhupat Seemar | 30/1)
Summer Front-Always Tomorrow (Badge of Silver) | UAE Derby (2nd)

  • Runs very free on the lead
  • Might go too fast to early
  • More of a sprinting type; pedigree suggests mile at most
  • Likely speed in the Derby
  • So professional and definitely a mature horse – can see the War Front in him
  • Stamina was the issue in the UAE Derby – will be the issue in the Derby

5 | Smile Happy (Corey Lanerie | Kenneth McPeek | 20/1)
Runhappy-Pleasant Smile (Pleasant Tap) | Blue Grass (2nd), Risen Star (2nd), Kentucky Jockey Club (1st)

  • Had a wide trip all the way around in the Blue Grass
  • Needed everything he had in the Blue Grass and faced trouble for a great finish
  • Was still a bit young at Keeneland
  • Has a short stride
  • Getting better with each run – not too far off from the leaders
  • Not a win contender, but an exotics contender for sure
  • Will be one in the mix late – never runs a bad race; not one to doubt.

6 | Messier (John Velazquez | Tim Yakteen | 8/1)
Empire Maker-Checkered Past (Smart Strike) | Santa Anita Derby (2nd), Robert B. Lewis (1st), Los Alamitos Futurity (2nd)

  • Former Bob Baffert trainee
  • Muscular – looks to be putting on muscle well between races
  • Strong on the front end, but not a need to speed type
  • Beat a tired group two back in Robert B. Lewis
  • Pressured pace well but was too tired late to win last out
  • Should improve coming into the Derby and will be a horse to watch
  • Can stalk pace well and pounce late
  • Not great finishing skills

7 | Crown Pride (Christophe Lemaire | Koichi Shintani | 20/1)
Reach The Crown-Emmy’s Pride (King Kamehameha) | UAE Derby (1st), Hyacinth (6th)

  • Coming in from Japan via the UAE Derby
  • Would likely have been 4 for 4 had the Hyacinth not started on turf
  • Getting better as races get longer
  • Always puts in a good effort
  • UAE Derby was deceivingly weak, as he passed and beat lots of tiring horses
  • May show more if challenged in a duel late, but yet to be tested
  • Strong runner down the stretch
  • Not always the cleanest breaker – may not like the course if wet
  • Looks a bit overmatched here, but has been putting in good workouts
  • An international horse will win the Derby in the near future, just won’t be him

8 | Charge It (Luis Saez | Todd Pletcher | 8/1)
Tapit-I’ll Take Charge (Indian Charlie) | Florida Derby (2nd)

  • Needs a bit of asking to break well
  • Has good stalking speed
  • Improving in each start
  • Still pretty young and green – should do better here
  • On the up and training really well
  • Going to be in the mix late – just have to wonder if he is toughened enough for this spot
  • Not too much late speed; that might be his kryptonite here

9 | Tiz the Bomb (Brian Hernandez, Jr. | Kenneth McPeek | 30/1)
Hit It a Bomb-Tiz the Key (Tiznow) | Jeff Ruby Steaks (1st), John Battaglia (1st), Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (2nd)

  • Has done very little over conventional dirt; mostly a turf and synthetic type – like his sire
  • Is a mirror image of his sire, Hit It a Bomb
  • Doesn’t have the highest of cruising speeds early
  • Has been beaten by many in this field already
  • Coming out of a weak Jeff Ruby
  • Workouts have been sup-par
  • Would be better suited elsewhere

10 | Zandon (Flavien Prat | Chad Brown | 3/1)
Upstart-Memories Prevail (Creative Cause) | Blue Grass (1st), Risen Star (3rd), Remson (2nd)

  • Long striding horse – able to overcome distances quickly
  • Strong turn of foot late; battle tested and able to shake off contact
  • Dangerous closer with or without a fast pace
  • Has been getting better with each race – see if he got better than Epicenter
  • Should keep improving with second straight Flavien Prat ride
  • Has best late kick in the field
  • Not sure a win contender, but will be closing late to try and grab a piece

11 | Pioneer of Medina (Joe Bravo | Todd Pletcher | 30/1)
Pioneerof the Nile-Lights of Medina (Eskendereya) | Louisiana Derby (3rd), Risen Star (4th)

  • Smooth runner – very fluid stride throughout
  • Still green – has issues switching leads around turns and heading down the stretch
  • Held well in Louisiana Derby on a speed favoring track
  • Has been putting in good works at Churchill Downs – may have a liking for the track
  • Always puts in a solid effort; will be around in the exotics mix in the end

12 | Taiba (Mike Smith | Tim Yakteen | 12/1)
Gun Runner-Needmore Flattery (Flatter) \ Santa Anita Derby (1st)

  • Former Bob Baffert trainee
  • Hard to make heads or tails beating a weak group in California
  • Very young but not showing any greenness
  • Improving and continuing to look better
  • Will be intriguing
  • Wish there was more to see against better company; just beat such weak horses

13 | Simplification (Jose Ortiz | Antonio Sano | 20/1)
Not This Time-Simply Confection (Candy Ride) | Florida Derby (3rd), Fountain of Youth (1st), Holy Bull (2nd)

  • Beautiful out of the gate – such a fluid stride up to stalk the pace
  • Passed tired horses and look better due to an on-track incident in Fountain of Youth
  • Might not have the stamina to make the race
  • Consistent runner who never runs a bad race – always in it in the end
  • Has potential here and, while not a win contender, must play in exotics

14 | Barber Road (Reylu Gutierrez | John Ortiz | 30/1)
Race Day-Encounter (Southern Image) | Arkansas Derby (2nd), Rebel (3rd), Southwest (2nd)

  • Drop back closer, makes move on backstretch
  • Needs constant urging to keep interested
  • Doesn’t have the same get up speed on the backstretch and around the far turn as other closers
  • Passes tired horses late to make his races look better than they are
  • Needs a lot to get his speed up to full capacity late
  • Just a cut below this group; might be better at shorter

15 | White Abarrio (Tyler Gaffalione | Saffie Joseph, Jr. | 10/1)
Race Day-Catching Diamonds (Into Mischief) | Florida Derby (1st), Holy Bull (1st), Kentucky Jockey Club (3rd)

  • Takes a bit of urging to get going out of the gate, then smooths into a good spot near lead
  • Showed lots of early speed while at Gulfstream Park
  • Ran alongside a speed favoring bias in last two
  • Looks to be a horse for course at Gulfstream; just not impressive performances
  • Needs to be up towards the lead to have a chance
  • Toss here

16 | Cyberknife (Florent Geroux | Brad Cox | 20/1)
Gun Runner-Awesome Flower (Flower Alley) | Arkansas Derby (1st), Lecomte (6th)

  • Runs very free at the front and has lots of energy
  • Definite improvement with blinkers off
  • Has been getting better since the Lecomte
  • Beat a relatively weak field in Arkansas Derby
  • A live threat, but not a huge contender
  • Training well at Churchill Downs
  • Looks really nice in the mornings – lots of speed
  • Could be in the mix if he gets a clean trip

17 | Classic Causeway (Julien Leparoux | Brian Lynch | 30/1)
Giant’s Causeway-Private World (Thunder Gulch) | Florida Derby (11th), Tampa Bay Derby (1st), Sam F. Davis (1st)

  • Just got caught in too early of a pace in Florida Derby and didn’t care for Gulfstream
  • Hard to bet after such a poor performance
  • Quick early – gets out of the gate the best of this field
  • Hard to get past when he sets an easy lead; doesn’t love dueling
  • Never challenged in Tampa Bay Derby and left to lead clear
  • Biggest challenge of his career by far
  • Just a cut below the top contenders

18 | Tawny Port (Ricardo Santana, Jr. | Brad Cox | 30/1)
Pioneerof the Nile-Livi Makenzie (Macho Uno) | Lexington (1st), Jeff Ruby Steaks (2nd), Risen Star (5th)

  • Has natural gate speed
  • Smart but wide trip in the Lexington
  • Ran bit green last time and lugged late but was enough to pass tired horses
  • Going to need to put up a huge improvement to win here
  • Is a flat runner down the stretch
  • Has not been working out well at Churchill Downs
  • Just not coming into this race with a lot of promise

19 | Zozos (Manuel Franco | Brad Cox | 20/1)
Munnings-Papa’s Forest (Forestry) | Louisiana Derby (2nd)

  • Sharp breaker
  • A developing runner for Brad Cox; continues to get better
  • Lot of controlling speed in his races; wants to get to the lead
  • Needs to improve by about 5 lengths to get a win here, but is getting close
  • Peaking at the right time
  • A live longshot with a huge chance to upset if left alone on the lead
  • Doesn’t mind coming from outwide, although this will be a huge test from the 19 hole
  • Dangerous

20 | Ethereal Road (Luis Contreras | D. Wayne Lukas | 30/1)
Quality Road-Sustained (War Front) | Lexington (4th), Blue Grass (7th), Rebel (2nd)

  • Even out of the gate, doesn’t do too much
  • Made big moves to get in striking distance in Lexington, just used too much going wide
  • Was flat late last out to be unable to make up enough distance on leaders
  • Needs to improve a lot over last few races for a chance
  • Best performance game against far weaker
  • Has good late speed at times, but so inconsistent hard to get a read
  • Just doesn’t seem to be ready for this test

Friday Card Analysis and Selections

Race 5 | Modesty Stakes (Grade III)
(7) Curly Ruth | (8) Bleecker Street | (6) Hendy Woods

In a race formerly put on each year at Arlington Park, the Modesty pits some great up-and-coming mares trying the medium route on turf. This field of nine has a lot of talent, and many of these foes have seen each other in their last few. While much money will be on the undefeated Bleecker Street and Chad Brown, my favoritism heads to Curly Ruth, who enters this race after a win over Fluffy Socks and Pass the Plat at Keeneland in a very tough allowance. She was one of the only pace horses to be able to stay up, sustaining her stride against an onslaught of fast paced closers. Speed tends to have the advantage at Churchill Downs in these routes, and I think that will hold here. Of course, I can’t leave Bleecker Street off my tickets – the must use favorite who will look to make the step up to better company. While she is undefeated, and its hard to knock a horse that has done nothing but win, her company she’s been keeping has been less and Chad Brown has kept her away from other top horses for a long time; I wonder how she will contend with the step up. I’m also going to throw Hendy Woods in the mix, who Mark Casse has brought in Jose Ortiz to ride – she is a tough one, but the daughter of Uncle Mo has seen her best efforts in races where she is able to stay close to the pace, and that is where I believe Ortiz will keep her.

Race 6 | La Troienne Stakes (Grade I)
(2) Shedaresthedevil | (6) Pauline’s Pearl | (1) Jilted Bride

Plain and simple handicapping for me in the La Troienne. Shedaresthedevil continues to be one of the most dominant mares out there, but her last two haven’t gone the way that most have hoped. I do think that she improves here off her Azeri – she won’t get nearly the pace pressure she had in this condition and should be able to set an easy lead on the front end. Without much to contend with forcing her to move too quick too early, I think she cruises home. But, Pauline’s Pearl might have been the most impressive horse coming out of the Azeri – she lost almost all chance at the start and really needed to struggle to get into position. She did and she pounced on it, coming up just short to Ce Ce. Hard to keep her off any ticket. As for a bit of a price to mix it up, Jilted Bride has been on an improve lately and should do well in this pace setup. She won’t be enough to win, but definitely going to be put in a spot to finish well and stay up for exotics.

Race 7 | Alysheba Stakes (Grade II)
(5) Olympiad | (6) Fulsome | (2) Weyburn

I find it really hard to get around the early speed in the Alysheba with Olympiad. Likely lone speed here, there is a huge chance for him to go wire-to-wire in this field. This son of Speightstown is really growing into his own, having excelled at Gulfstream and Fair Grounds this spring. With three straight wins against progressively better company, Olympiad is coming in with such great form and ability. He is currently my early Breeders’ Cup Classic horse and should crush grouping. Whether he is closing or taking more forwardly placed runs, Olympiad has a high engine and is a complete workhorse. Meanwhile, Brad Cox sends just one of his barn beasts here with Fulsome, the last out winner of the Oaklawn Mile in his first start of the year. This son of Into Mischief may too be winning at the Breeders’ Cup when this year is all said and down – he continues to grow and get better with each start and has such a versatile running style that he is able to sweep by any field from last to first. We didn’t get to see the most of him last year, and still hasn’t been giving his full potential. While he might do better at a longer distance, hard to pass up an opportunity to bet him at 8/1 – don’t think we see that ever again this year. As for the third here, Weyburn intrigues me – he runs good and bad races depending on the day. He has the ability to win, but his consistency is still a question. Last out, he showed a lot of improvement from three to four, and that is enough for me to give him the shot here.

Race 8 | Edgewood Stakes (Grade II)
(5) Dolce Zel | (9) New Year’s Eve | (2) My Philly Twirl

One of my favorite races of the weekend each year is the Edgewood – our first real chance to see the future star turf fillies. This race has given us some of the most exciting turf fillies in recent years, with Stephanie’s Kitten, Catch a Glimpse, La Coronel, Concrete Rose, and Gift List all finding their way to the winner’s circle in this one. Unfortunately, with the impending rain, this looks to be a super soft turf course for this race (if it stays on)… but that does bode well for Chad Brown trainee Dolce Zel, who will relish the softer going above all else. She’s been really solid in her first two starts in North America, easily cruising to a win in the Florida Oaks and then finishing a solid second in the Appalachian last out. She is the fresher of the Chad Brown’s and should take to this going. Underneath, I plan to use New Year’s Eve and My Philly Twirl, each for different reasons. I don’t think we saw all of what New Year’s Eve is capable of last out and the adding blinkers should help. She has gotten better each run, even in a loss last out, and has a lot of late speed. I’m giving her another shot here. As for My Philly Twirl, she should be the prevailing pace early, and if no one goes to press her faster, she could go wire-to-wire. I’ll also add, not to ignore McKulick – while I will leave the daughter of Frankel be in this start, as I think she needs one race before showing her best, she isn’t a horse to forget – everything we have seen from her points to her being a future star for the Chad Brown stable.

Race 9 | Eight Belles Stakes (Grade II)
(2) Pretty Birdie | (6) Gerrymander | (8) Matareya

Speed is the name of the game for Pretty Birdie. She is going to get the lead and it may be all over for the rest of this pack. This Norm Casse trainee is all speed and a gate-to-wire type that shouldn’t be forgotten. She is really hard for me to get past if she can get to the front early and maintain a clear advantage. I don’t see anyone trying to stop her. However, rain could be the thing that ends her chances, and a muddy track might be her undoing. If the pace does fall apart, watch out for Gerrymander to pick up the pieces – this one for Chad Brown can rate if needed and should improve on the cut back in distance. Finally, Matareya for Brad Cox and Godolphin is full of class and definitely towers over this field coming off an 8.5 length win in the Beaumont. She has been strong and deserves respect. I will add – don’t leave Wicked Halo off the tickets if it is still muddy – she’s proven over an off track and fits really well with the top horses in this race.

Race 10 | Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes (Grade II)
(3) Caravel | (12) Johnny Unleashed | (8) Gear Jockey

I really find it hard to get past the Queen Stakes victory from Caravel last out at Turfway Park. That race showed a completely different Caravel that looked impressive and smooth from gate-to-wire. While she might not be the best horse in this field. ,I see great improvement by hear from four to five and think she could be sitting on a huge race here. Her versatility will help her, and she is just one tough horse to pass once she gets on the lead. This could be her spot as she switches to the Brad Cox barn for 2022. However, she will need to deal with a sprinter that is really coming on to his own in Johnny Unleashed – Eric Foster had him ready for a phenomenal race last out to finish second behind never-in-doubt Golden Pal. I’ll be playing him and third place finisher in that race, Gear Jockey, as I do think the Shakertown is a live race moving forward.

Race 11 | Kentucky Oaks (Grade I)
(4) Nest | (1) Secret Oath | (6) Yuugiri

The fillies take a run for the lilies to culminate Oaks Day… and it’s a stacked field in this edition of the Kentucky Oaks. There are a bunch of different ways to go here, but I am taking a stand with the possible favorite Nest. Her Ashland was by far the most impressive race I’ve seen out of this field – she cruised easily over the field and didn’t look back, showing a lot of speed late. Each race she finds no issue going by and finishing with ease. She continues to get better, and she has seemed to take to the Churchill Downs surface well in the mornings. The D. Wayne Lukas trainee, Secret Oath, is hard to pass up on, after seeing what she did earlier this year. While I don’t find the Arkansas Derby to be that tough of a race, and it was hard to see her not win there, this daughter of Arrogate did face some early breaking trouble that set her back and made it difficult to make a run. I think, if she breaks well, she returns to prior form – her Honeybee was impressive and smooth as she cleared off that race that came back well in the Fantasy. Lukas is sure to have her in top form. Speaking of that Fantasy Stakes, the winner Yuugiri looks to be the horse to get the clear lead, and while I don’t think she wins, I find it hard to see her falling outside the top three – she always finds a way to hold on and get a piece of it. Other horses to watch are defending Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champion Echo Zulu on her second start of the year, Gulfstream Park Oaks one-two Kathleen O and Goddess of Fire, and an intriguing one for me, UAE Oaks winner Shahama. She is perhaps the most interesting of the bunch – I think Shahama has enough class and skill to cruise to victory in this start – her UAE Oaks was one of the best races of the field and showed us only a fraction of her skill. I’m just a bit worried about how she breaks and not sure how she will do off the layoff and travel.

Saturday Card Analysis and Selections

Race 5 | Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (Grade II)
(7) In Italian | (1) She Can’t Sing | (2) Flower Point

The next star Chad Brown turf champion could very well be in this field with In Italian. As impressive as she has been on the front end, it is even more impressive with her turn of foot late. Her speed down the stretch that she has shown in her last three is among the best and puts her clearly on top of this field. She should be a clear single on everyone’s tickets on Saturday. For some value underneath, I’ll take the two inside horses, She Can’t Sing and Flower Point. Both have been improving and are coming into this race in really good form. I love both jockey switches and believe both are live to pounce and put-up strong efforts off their strong turns of foot.

Race 6 | Knicks Go Stakes
(7) South Bend | (11) Necker Island | (8) Injunction

A new race to the Derby Day Card, the Knicks Go serves as an older horse one-turn mile, the same route we shall see in the Pat Day Mile later in the day. This route tends to play towards horses-for-courses and South Bend has shown a liking to this route of ground. In a wide-open race, I’ll take the horse with familiarity. His last two fair races (take away the sloppy Commonwealth) showed a lot of class for this horse and a repeat of either of those races is enough to win. Necker Island offers me some value and a horse that clearly wants to get back to “shorter” distances. This one-turn mile fits and he is coming out of a live race in the Oaklawn Mile. I don’t love the wide post but shouldn’t be too detrimental. I’ll also play a bit of a longshot in Injunction, the likely speed (and only speed). He should get a clear lead and that might be enough to just escape this field. He is a bit outclassed, but I will give him a long look, especially the way this field is shaping up with a lack of pace.

Race 7 | Pat Day Mile Stakes (Grade II)
(11) My Prankster | (3) Pappacap | (6) Tejano Twist

Continuing on the trend of one-turn miles is the Pat Day Mile and once again Churchill Downs preps us with a very wide-open race. I will be taking a stand against Jack Christopher here, who I think will need time to get back to top company, and instead head to a very quick son of Into Mischief and My Prankster. This horse for Todd Pletcher has checked all of the boxes for me and puts in effort after effort each race that is enough to take care of this field. I’ll give him a pass based on trip last out in the Lafayette, where he looked to be much the best but with a troubled trip that took him out of win contention. Going back to his two one-turn races at Gulfstream and he has all the ability to take the field gate-to-wire. His speed figures sit amongst the best and his ability to preserve energy for the stretch-run is getting where it needs to be. I’ll also be playing with Pappacap, who now gets a cut back in distance coming off the Kentucky Derby trail and should relish this route of ground. The move to Flavien Prat will help, and he is coming out of solid company. While he hasn’t been able to repeat on his juvenile year success, I think the cutback will be to his liking. I will also include a nice price in Tejano Twist, who might have one of the best form lines in the field, if you take away his last race. He is one of the fastest closing horses in this field around one-turn and will look to run down who ever is in the lead late.

Race 8 | Derby City Distaff Stakes (Grade I)
(6) Bell’s The One | (2) Just One Time | (7) Edgeway

This edition of the Derby City Distaff looks to be a duel between Lady Rocket and Just One Time – two speedy filly sprinters that might be going nose to nose in the early part of this race. I would not be shocked if it is just a two-horse race where these two sprint away from the field. Even so, I hope the pace is hot to give Bell’s The One a huge chance to swoop in and steal one as the closer. She has been a monster at Churchill Downs, finishing in the top two in 7 of her 8 starts here, and she is coming off a valiant effort in trying to gun down Just One Time last out in the Madison. I think this race sets up similarly, but with better track conditions, and will leave Corey Lanerie and Bell’s The One charging down the lane late to nab whoever ends up front near the wire. She will look to repeat here 2020 success, where she won this race from coming from the clouds. Of course, if it isn’t her, then maybe its Just One Time taking the pace and holding on over Lady Rocket. Brad Cox has a speed demon in this daughter of Not This Time, who has been doing just about everything right in her career. Her last two races have been above and beyond what any other starter in this race has been able to do in their careers and puts her well into favorite territory here. And if you are looking for a slight price, Edgeway offers some value. She has been working really well in the weeks leading up to this race as she comes across the country from Santa Anita to take on this one. John Sadler wouldn’t be sending her here if he didn’t think she had a chance. She already has a good second place finish over this course and distance last year in the Dogwood, and she always puts her best food forward on these trips out of town. John Velazquez piloted her perfectly last out in the Las Flores and keeps the ride on her for this one.

Race 9 | American Turf Stakes (Grade II)
(6) Portfolio Company | (4) Red Danger | (2) Main Event

Finding a horse in this turf affair for three-year-olds is far from easy. I landed with a returning juvenile star, Portfolio Company, who hasn’t started since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He could very well be a growing star this year and the return is in a great spot. Chad Brown always has his horses ready to go well and the last we saw of him would be enough to win here. I’ll be tying in two shippers from Gulfstream Park, Red Danger and Main Event, who were visually impressive in the Cutler Bay. I’ll take Red Danger over Main Event, after a wide trip and tough start caused him to be second by a few – both look to be primed for a good performance.

Race 10 | Churchill Downs Stakes (Grade I)
(3) Jackie’s Warrior | (8) Cezanne | (6) Prevalence

Older sprinters take the spotlight in the first of three Grade One races to close out the day. Jackie’s Warrior has done little wrong in his career and will be a well-deserving favorite here. I’ve taken my stands against him enough times in my life and gotten burned… not doing that again. This is his race to lose and the tune-up in the Count Fleet was exactly what he needed. Cruises to a win here. Cezanne is another coming out of the Oaklawn Mile race that I just love. I may be wrong about that race but thinking highly of this former Baffert trainee as he switches to the Pletcher barn. This looks to be a nice spot for him and has been training superbly since the barn switch. Should improve on the cutback to 7 furlongs. And Prevalence for Godolphin rounds out my top three here – after back-to-back wins, including a win in the Commonwealth at Keeneland last, this son of Medaglia d’Oro is getting hot at the right time. His last trip to Churchill Downs didn’t treat him so well but hoping this will be a kind journey under the twin spires. Speed figures for him are near the top of this field.

Race 11 | Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic Stakes (Grade I)
(4) Tribhuvan | (6) Shirl’s Speight | (2) Bizzee Channel

One of my favorite horses from last year, Tribhuvan, finally returns to the races for 2022 and in a great spot. This trip and distance is right in his wheelhouse as he looks to avenge his well beaten trip in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Tribhuvan is a tough plodder type that takes command on the front and shuts everyone down. There is no one in this field that can go with him. I’ll box him with the likely favorite Shirl’s Speight – who is by far the fastest horse down the stretch in this field, and longshot Bizzee Channel – who is a standout on Brisnet forms and could be a big mover in his step-up in class for Larry Rivelli. I’d also watch out for Ivar, who very much appreciates this distance and with the expected quick early pace should be well within the late charge down the stretch.

Race 12 | Kentucky Derby (Grade I)
(3) Epicenter | (19) Zozos | (1) Mo Donegal

This year’s edition of the Run for the Roses is by far one of the most wide-open in years and could come out with just about any of these twenty horses as the victor. I’ve been going back and forth all week on who will be my pick on race day, but every time I go back and watch the film, Epicenter’s races just are outstanding. I could watch his win in the Risen Star over and over again and never get bored. While I’m not as much of a fan of his Louisiana Derby – he seemed to pass just some tiring horses down the stretch – his stride in victory was sublime and the way he cruises to the lead and never looks back in his starts is something special. He is the type to take over a race early and demand attention. The layoff between the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby is a concern, but it has become a more live race in recent memory for the Derby. His workouts in the morning have looked impressive and shows him coming on in great form for this. His form cycle continues on the increase and is in good position for another great performance here. There are worries regarding the shape of the race pace, which might put him in a position to go a too-fast too-early, but he has shown to be able to rate and relax early and let others do the work, giving me the confidence that no matter what position he ends up being in at first, he will be able to come away with the right late run. If you like tactical speed, smooth strides, and just clear motion – Epicenter is your horse.

With that said, I’ll be linking him up with the runner-up from his Louisiana Derby victory, Zozos. Another horse that impressed me greatly, Zozos has been a tactical and versatile threat in his three lifetime starts. The low start total is a concern and proved to be no match for Epicenter last out, but he is improving, and I do believe that he should be able to take a step up of more than two lengths off that last effort. Zozos is a controlling type that wants to get to the lead but doesn’t need the lead. His forwardly places spot puts him as a possible best starter for Brad Cox in this field, and a developing star in the barn. His style reminds me a lot of Shedaresthedevil, and he has the pedigree to be one of the toughest horses to get past.

And finally, if this race pace falls apart, Mo Donegal will be the one charging down the lane to pick up the pieces. There has been a lot of talk of him this week, and well deserving. This tactical closer has one of the best push-button kicks in the field and continues to put up strong speed figures. He is poised to put on a good performance here. While it’s not been as often lately where closers find the success in the Derby that they once had, this year’s edition brings far more speed than normal, and that could be the key he needs to go from near the back to first down the stretch. Additional horses to must use are Zandon – a potential win contender, Smile Happy – a must play in the exotics, Crown Pride – who has just looked so classy in the mornings, Pioneer of Medina – a definite trifecta or superfecta horse, and Simplification – a hard trier who never puts in a bad effort. Grabbing any of those in the exotics will help net a huge payout for tris and supers.

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