2022 Kentucky Derby Handicapping Analysis

Here is one final look at the Derby, in what looks to be a very competitive and confusing race. There are so many factors involved you just have pick out a couple of horses and stick with them otherwise it’s going to get way too complicated. Here is my analysis of the race, and good luck to everyone. ~ Steve Haskin

2022 Kentucky Derby Handicapping Analysis

By Steve Haskin



I believe this year’s Kentucky Derby is top heavy, with a great deal of depth down to the top seven or eight. I can’t look past one or two longshots as win candidates, so this looks more like an exotics race. There may be too many horses to box in the trifectas unless you can narrow it down to five horses you’re high on, so it is best to find one or two you really like to win and key them in the trifectas with as many as you wish.

If you read my Derby Sleeper column from October 18 you will understand why I am too committed to Zandon to go off him now. In addition, he fits the Kentucky profile in all categories and no one has worked better than him. And you sure can’t knock post 10, which gives him a number of options to be placed wherever Flavien Prat wants him.

I don’t bet favorites in the Derby, so my wagers would only include him in all exotics. But Zandon, after the long journey from that maiden race back in October, is my pick, with another of my early favorites right there. I want to see Zandon no farther back than midpack, so he needs to break sharper than he did in his last two races. We know he has early speed from his first two races. He was able to sit right off the pace in the Remsen. Of course now that he’s had three two-turn races you just have to hope he hasn’t gotten into the habit of taking way back and can use that tactical speed we know he has. But it is reassuring to know that if he is farther back he has the ability to weave his way through traffic, as he demonstrated in the Blue Grass.

The other horse I alluded to whose reputation has suffered recently, going from the Derby favorite most of the year and my No. 1-ranked horse for 10 weeks to 20-1 on the morning line is Smile Happy. Although I admit on the surface he does not look as strong as he did going into the year or even after the Risen Star, I still think he is on an upward spiral and could be ready to peak on Derby Day. Some feel because he could not handle Zandon in the final furlong of the Blue Grass and being a son of Runhappy he is suspect at 1 ¼ miles. But he has one of the strongest and most classic female families I have ever seen. And Runhappy is not exactly bred to be a sprinter, being by a Kentucky Derby winner, out of a mare by a Belmont and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.

There are several factors regarding his performance in the Blue Grass Stakes that must be addressed. First, you have to remember he was given a pretty easy race in the Risen Star, with Corey Lanerie never asking him to run until it was way too late. That is because of an issue he had last year and they didn’t want to do too much with him going 1 1/8 miles off a layoff. Then in the Blue Grass he drew post 10 and got hung five-wide on the first turn. Lanerie then moved him up early down the backstretch to stay close to the loose on the lead Emmanuel. He was able to put Emmanuel, a very talented horse, away and open a clear lead at the eighth pole. After all that, I can’t be down on him for getting passed by Zandon. Despite getting beat 2 ½ lengths he got the same Thoro-Graph number as Zandon. He came out of the race a bit tired, drinking a lot of water, which means he really needed this this race and should be much fitter now.

I have had Smile Happy and Zandon ranked 1,2 almost every week and I am still high on both horses, with Zandon obviously having made greater strides in the last month. The three who also look like strong win candidates are Epicenter, Mo Donegal, and Messier. White Abarrio could be a big overlay, with Simplification a forgotten horse. The two longshots who could win this race are Tiz the Bomb and Crown Pride, although the latter is getting big buzz with his stunning works and overall appearance. As for Taiba, I have no clue what to do with him. He is the fastest horse in the field, but I just cannot bet a horse with two lifetime starts and only one work in the past four weeks. If he is a freak, which is very possible, then he surely can win, which would turn the whole process of handicapping the Derby upside down, leaving no boundaries. I love the way he moves over the track and you can see the great extension he has to his stride. He is one horse you have to go by your gut feeling.



Most everyone is looking good in the morning, but the ones who have stood out to me are Zandon, Crown Pride, and Charge It. I also love the way White Abarrio looks out there every morning but he hasn’t done any serious training at Churchill so it’s difficult to get a good line on him other than his works at Gulfstream have been terrific. At Churchill he’s done everything right and is really into the bit in his gallops and just makes a great overall appearance.

Zandon’s work was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, the way he glides over the track with long fluid strides and does everything smoothly and on his own. He is all class in everything he does.

Crown Pride’s training has caught everyone’s eye and his routine isn’t anything we’ve seen before. The bottom line with him is that he is loving the track and his works and gallops have been flawless. He final work on Wednesday – a half in :46 3/5 – was sensational the way he was striding out with a final quarter in a brilliant :22 and change. In his last two works you had to love the way he finished and how strong he was on the gallop-out. In short, this horse is for real, and the way the Japanese horses have dominated all over the world you have to take him very seriously.

Charge It has been a bit under the radar, but he is another who is loving this track. He is very light on his feet, has a big beautiful stride and does things effortlessly. I was taken with his mechanics in his maiden victory and was surprised to see him race so greenly in the Florida Derby. But it was only his third career start and he should only improve in the Derby. My only negative with him is having three career starts, so, like Taiba and Zozos, inexperience is a big factor as well having history against him.

The other horse who has impressed me is Tiz the Bomb, who has been extremely sharp, and for a grass/synthetic horse is really handling this track beautifully.

A brief mention must be made of Smile Happy getting a bit lathered around the neck on several mornings. That can be tricky, as it’s something you don’t like seeing, especially on cool mornings, but often it means little or nothing. It all depends on the horse. It’s been negligible and Kenny McPeek says it’s normal for him so I’m going to ignore it and assume it will not be an issue on Derby Day.



As you well know I have been referring to Thoro-Graph all year, looking for the horses who are fast and more important on a good pattern.

The only horse to get a negative number (the lower the number the better) has been Taiba in the Santa Anita Derby, and to accomplish that in his second career start is mind-boggling. If he is the freak many believe him to be and he doesn’t bounce (regress) off that number then who knows what he is capable of on Saturday. We really haven’t seen anything like him before. We’re in uncharted territory trying to handicap him.

Taiba’s stablemate Messier is on a terrific pattern. After getting a career best “1 ½” in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes he was given two months off and then paired up that number in the Santa Anita Derby when he might not have been 100 percent coming off the layoff and having to chase a fast horse in Forbidden Kingdom for most of the race. Having established that strong number he is now likely to improve off it, and it won’t take much improvement to win the Derby.

I also love the pattern my two top horses – Zandon and Smile Happy – are on, as both have shown steady improvement with each race. Zandon’s numbers have been 6 ½..4 ½..2 ¼..and 1 ½, while Smile Happy’s have been been 7 ¼..2..2 ½..1 ½. So as mentioned earlier, Smile Happy ran as fast as Zandon in the Blue Grass Stakes.

The tricky horse is White Abarrio, who has never been considered a really fast horse. But despite the absurdly slow fractions of the Florida Derby (if they are correct) he still improved from a “3” in the Holy Bull Stake to a “1,” which is the second fastest number behind Taiba. I have to admit I don’t know how good this horse is.

I’ve been mentioning Crown Pride’s exceptional training, but it must be noted in his last two starts he has jumped from a “7” in the Hyacinth Stakes on a wet track in Japan to a “2 ½” in the UAE Derby. Who knows how far he can move forward off that?

Other horses who should move forward, but would need to improve at least two points are Epicenter, Mo Donegal, Charge It, and Cyberknife.



I am not going to predict which horses will thrive on a wet track, as there a too many variables. I will only say that one horse I believe will move up in the mud is Smile Happy, as his pedigree is loaded with wet track influences.



There are number of horses who want to be on or near the lead, which should assure an honest pace. Zozos will have to break sharply and come running from post 19 to get a good position near the lead and not get hung wide, as does Classic Causeway from post 17, but the horse to watch at the break is Epicenter from post 3. He has to two closers inside him, which means he basically is breaking from the rail. With fast horses Summer is Tomorrow in post 4 and Messier in post 6, he will also have to break sharply and either outrun the other two or tuck in right behind them. He just doesn’t want to get shut off having them cut right in front of him while he is full of run. So the key is for him to be able to settle behind them without getting too rank. There is going to be a herd of stalkers all looking to get good position, so we could have quite a cavalry charge going into the first turn.



There are so many horses who can win this race you can go crazy trying to cover your bases without leaving anyone out. So I’m just going to stick with my two horses, and my first inclination not seeing the odds is to key Zandon and Smile Happy in the trifectas with Epicenter, Mo Donegal, Messier, Taiba, Tiz the Bomb, Crown Pride, Charge It, White Abarrio, Simplification, and Cyberknife. You could even add a few more like Zozos, Pioneer of Medina, and Barber Road if you really want to stretch it out, as all three can pick up a piece of it with their top effort. But 10 is sufficient for me.

My key horses in exacta and trifecta boxes are Zandon, Smile Happy, Epicenter, Messier, and Mo Donegal. The last named is one horse I have to key on because of what is so obvious, which are his sensational closing fractions of :35 2/5 and final eighth in :11 4/5 in the Wood Memorial. Yes, the track was fast but he had to overcome a strong speed-biased track to run down a fast and classy horse in the final strides. Unfortunately boxing these horses will not pay much. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with Taiba. Is he a super horse or not? The price horses underneath are Tiz the Bomb, Crown Pride, Simplification, and White Abarrio.

It’s still early, but my sure bets as of Thursday morning, just trying for big exacta payoffs, are Zandon and Smile Happy on top of longshots Crown Pride, Tiz the Bomb, Simplification and potential overlay White Abarrio.

I will also place win bets on Tiz the Bomb, Simplification, and Crown Pride, as I believe all have the talent to pull it off on their best day. I am still high on Simplification, who was really on the muscle Thursday morning and wanting to do more, and he would be my main longshot right now. And finally, if Smile Happy is anywhere near his 20-1 morning line odds I will certainly be getting down on him. I’ll even take 8-1 or 9-1. Most are not giving him much of a chance anymore, but I cannot abandon him at this late date. He may not be the horse I became enamored with last year, but I have to give him one more chance.


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