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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351 Responses to “2022 Kentucky Derby Handicapping Analysis”

  1. Liam says:

    Back a few years ago, I played a hunch in the Derby, exacta box(s) with horses in which their sire was trained by the same trainer. Maximum Security, out of New Years Day, and Country House out of Lookin at Lucky were trained by Baffert. There were a couple other combos from Pletcher and another that escapes me now. I played them but unfortunately got DQ’d out of a decent price exacta. This years Derby I played the same combo’s except for the one that counted. Strike it Rich sire, Keen Ice and Epicenter sire, Not This Time were trained by by Dale Romans. Needless to say I’ve been kicking myself.

  2. TommyMc says:

    On Saturday, Belmont runs The Peter Pan which is the traditional prep for The Belmont four weeks later. We can usually count on one or two runners out of The Peter Pan to show up for The Belmont. Rudolphe Brisset brings back We the People who was so disappointing in The Arkansas Derby. We the People was mentioned in Steve Haskin’s Knocking on the Door section as late as week#10. We the People won his first 2 starts very impressively. So impressively that he went off at 2-1 in The Arkansas Derby. A very solid 2nd choice to Secret Oath in the race that was won by Cyberknife at 5-1. In that Arkansas Derby, Ace-jockey Flavien Prat got We the People trapped 5-wide going into the first turn causing him to back off and spotting the field about 5 lengths. The trouble is that he didn’t appear to do much running after that and finished 7th. The Arkansas Derby was probably too much for him in only his 3rd start. I’m not sure where that leaves him going into The Peter Pan. At first glance, there are no monsters in The Peter Pan. Trainer Brisset stays aggressive with the horse after the bad race in Arkansas and Flavien Prat rides him back. We might see the horse that won his first 2 starts so impressively.

    • TommyMc says:

      One thing that I’ve noticed is that the Oaklawn horses are not running very well away from Oaklawn. With the exception of the filly Secret Oath. There was another one last Saturday in the 13th race at Churchill. The race after The Derby. Life Is Hard, who was so impressive at Oaklawn, went off as the 7-2 favorite and ran up the track to finish 8th.

    • Davids says:

      Besides We the People, Rodolphe Brisset is also running Western River; the Tapit full brother to Creator, the 2016 Belmont Stakes winner. Moreover, Richard Mandella is running Set Sail who has shown flashes of ability.

      There may not be any “monsters” going into the Peter Pan Stakes but there could quite easily be a handful of “monsters” coming out of the Pan Pan Stakes that will run right past what we’ve seen in the Kentucky Derby, come the Belmont Stakes renewal.

      • Davids says:

        As speculated, a “monster” has leapt right out of the Peter Pan straight into the Belmont Stakes fire. Moreover, one may suggest that We the People ‘is’ now the one to beat come June, 11.

  3. TommyMc says:

    Epicenter has been confirmed for The Preakness. I think that 6-week break before The Derby will payoff there. All he needs is a decent post position and a realistic pace. If he and Early Voting can keep from running a sub 22-second first quarter like was run in The Derby, they could run one-two all the way around the track. In The Derby, the pacesetters looked like quarterhorses as they ran down the stretch the first time.

  4. TommyMc says:

    I’ve watched the Derby replay several times now. I still can’t figure out what the World Class rider aboard Crown Pride was thinking pushing that suicidal pace. Joel Rosario on Epicenter immediately recognized a “hot pace” and took back. I didn’t like Crown Pride going into the race and none of my losing bets included him. But, I think Crown Pride could have been involved in the finish with a mid-pack trip. He’s a real good horse.

    • TommyMc says:

      Epicenter was valiant in defeat and was best of the rest. He ran a terrific race. Zandon appeared to be heading to victory, but Epicenter was able to hold him off. Did Zandon “hang” a little bit? Maybe. Maybe the mile and a quarter is just a “bridge too far” for him. He ran his race and was 3rd best on the day. But, nobody was holding off the rocket coming up the rail. I enjoyed Rich Strike’s run much more on the replays and after I cooled off about my failed Derby wagers. He’ll be easy to root for in The Preakness.

      • TommyMc says:

        While it would be terrific to see Rich Strike win The Preakness and put himself in position for a “Triple Crown” try on June 11th in New York, I doubt that he will get the same pace setup that he got in The Derby. Maybe he’ll be good enough to swallow up the field no matter what the pace is. Rich Strike will still be on a rising numbers pattern. Could he “bounce” after jumping all the way up to a 101 BSF. Sure. But, unlike most people, I always feel like the 2-weeks between The Derby and the Preakness negates the “bounce factor”. Strike while the iron is hot. Rich Strike! Don’t forget that Early Voting, who Chad Brown has rightly been pointing to The Preakness, was unable to hold off Mo Donegal in The Wood Memorial despite a perfect “lone-F” trip. As a fan, I would love to see Rich Strike do it again. But, I’m not sure where my wagering dollars will be going yet. If Epicenter runs back in The Preakness, he might be a “sure thing” sitting just off of Early Voting on a more reasonable pace. Oh! Wait! I forgot that there are no sure things in Horseracing. I’ll wait to see which horses are entered and for post positions before making a commitment.

        • TommyMc says:

          If Epicenter doesn’t run, Early Voting could get another chance. Steve Haskin has liked the horse and an improving Chad Brown horse is always easy to like. I also like that Chad Brown and Klaravich Stables fought off “Derby Fever” and pointed to The Preakness. I’ll never forget how heavily Taiba was bet in The Derby. Without the Mattress Mac money on Epicenter, would Taiba have gone off favored? That was more than “casual” money being bet on Taiba. He was bet like a “good thing”. I doubt that Taiba having the best last race BSF of 103 attracted that kind of wagering action. My observation was that Taiba was all “keyed up” before the race. Probably disturbed by that huge raucous crowd. That crazy pace might not have suited him. Can Tim Yakteen get Taiba to recover in just 2 weeks from his bad experience in The Derby? IDK.

          • TommyMc says:

            Now comes word that Kenny McPeek will NOT run Smile Happy back in The Preakness. But, fear not. McPeek reaches deep into his bag of tricks and pulls out Creative Minister to represent his barn in The Preakness. Creative Minister has 2 wins and a second in 3 starts including an impressive daylight win on The Derby undercard. He’s improving. I’m not sure what kind of number he earned for his Saturday Churchill win, but, if it was only an 88 or 89 BSF, he will need to improve “bigtime” again to win The Preakness. Of course, he would also be coming back in just 2 weeks. Without Epicenter or Zandon, he might have a shot.

      • Lynda King says:

        TommyMc, the opinion in the TDN article that I mentioned below is that Zandon simply got outkicked in the deep stretch by Epi. From my vantage point watching the race here at home on NBC Sports, I would agree.

    • Lynda King says:

      TommyMc, per the below comment you will see that I too questioned LeMarie’s ride.
      I think he made a tactical error that cost Crown Pride finishing in the top 5.
      Was hoping he would stay in the US and run in the Belmont. He certainly has the stamina and endurance and speed to have done well in the Belmont.

    • Lynda King says:

      So far UnOjo, Simplification, Skippylongstocking, and Early Voting are confirmed/highly probable for the Preakness. Taiba and Messier have both returned to California. Decision this weekend on Zandon, Epicenter being discussed. D. Wayne has not made a decision about Ethereal Road or Secret Echo. Other possibilities are Happy Jack, Rattle and Role and Creative Minister.
      Rich Strike will have the target on his back in the Preakness and there probably not be the same pace set-up in my opinion. Do not hink that the Derby took much if anything out of Richey and he had plenty left over after the race.

  5. William Witt says:

    Rich Strike aside, were you surprised, Steve, that Zandon could not get by Epicenter ? Mo Donegal came on like gangbusters to finish 5th. Ortiz had him parked on the rail in the final turn with a wall of horses ahead of him. He decided to take him outside and, according to the form, was 10w before the rider could set him down. If Ortiz had waited, maybe he gets through on the rail as the patient jock from the old River Downs did and Mo bests RS and gets the Roses. But that’s a could’ve been. I was watching him as you mentioned keying on Mo Donegal because of his sensational closing fractions to catch the leader on a speed biased track. You weren’t far from the truth done in by the traffic problems of a 20 horse field and Ortiz’s judgment that his only chance was to swing wide.

    • Lynda King says:

      Excellent article today on Thoroughbred Daily News, “TDN Derby Rundown” that includes comments from most of the jockeys.

  6. Matthew W says:

    In a year where there were many entrants that had few races…$163 winner was the 2nd most raced with 7 previous..

    • Davids says:

      I thought, after the race, the number of races each runner had raced in beforehand could be relevant in the result. Epicenter, a January colt, had run in one less race than Rich Strike. Zando, a March colt, had run in 3 less races than the winner.

  7. Lynda King says:

    I have one bad taste in my mouth after the race yesterday and each time I have watched the replay my disappointment turns into anger.

    Crown Pride had an excellent chance of being in the money.

    His running style has been a stalker.

    Why on God’s Green Earth did Christophe Lamaire get into that speed duel (the fastest first half in the history of the Derby) with Summer is Tomorrow then Messier?

    Was it to get bragging rights that Crown Pride out ran Messier and Summer is Tomorrow?
    Was it arrogance? (Lemaire was the world’s top jockey in 2020, knocking Frankie Dettori out of that spot)
    Was it stupidity?

    Maybe Lemaire should take some lessons from Sonny Leon before he rides a horse in the United States again.

    If Crown Pride was my horse or if I had been his trainer, Lemaire would have gotten a piece of mind after that exhibition and I would not have been “nice”.

    Have not heard how Crown Pride came out of the race, only that he was shipping to Chicago today to head for home.

    One sure way to ruin a horse is to expect him to deliver everything he has in the first half of the race at those blistering fractions.

    • arlingtonfan says:

      Could it have been that Crown Pride was simply too “on the muscle” and wouldn’t relax for Lemaire? The pre-race commentators noted that in the paddock, CP looked like he wanted to run over White Abarrio, who was walking in front of him much of the time.

      • Lynda King says:

        I watched the pre-race and the walk over and will say yes that Crown Pride was on his toes but he was not the only one. Epicenter was on his as well. The “commentators” said that Taiba was on his as well but I did not see it that way. Taiba was clinging to his pony like a vine, foamy saliva was pouring out of his mouth. I saw no such signs from Crown Pride, he was not sweating etc.
        Crown Pride has raced in big fields and before crowds much bigger and louder than the Derby was. He has not, to my knowledge ever had a problem relaxing.
        I am, not by the way, the only person who has commented on the ride Lemaire gave the colt. They are as confused by it as I am.

    • Davids says:

      Lynda, your scalding of Christophe Lamaire might be a little unfair if Crown Pride was in the state that arlingtonfan has described. There is not much the jockey can do but strangle the horse back which is, arguably, more detrimental than letting the horse fly.

      At least the owners felt good for 60 seconds of the race rather then being disappointed through the full 2 minutes.

      • Lynda King says:

        Davids, I have watched the replay of the race three times (focusing on Crown Pride) and large screen and in slow motion.
        Crown Pride’s ears were flicking back and forth waiting on instruction from Lemaire. He was not running with ears pinned back nor was he fighting Lemaire. Lemaire’s body language does not speak of trying to settle Crown Pride rather encouraging the colt to run full out. That is most clearly evident when Messier challenged Crown Pride.

        • Davids says:

          Lemaire is a big time rider, being at one time the Aga Khan’s first jockey, perhaps they were the instructions – just go? Mind you, many big time jockeys have made mistakes. I basically only saw flashes of the walkover and then bang the start and haven’t replayed the race close up. The disappointment of Zandon not overwhelming the field was heavy but that’s the Kentucky Derby.

        • arlingtonfan says:

          I just watched the replay again, and I see what you mean about his ears flicking back and forth and the fact that he’s not fighting Lemaire. Hmm. I was so struck by his behavior in the paddock that I figured he must have been too keyed up to listen to his rider. But that doesn’t seem to be it.

  8. TommyMc says:

    Rich Strike earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure for his upset Derby win yesterday. Not very fast IMO. I would expect 104-108 for The Derby winner. A fast early pace. They must have come home pretty slow.

    • Mike Relva says:

      Numbers mean ZERO for me. He prevailed!

    • EddieF says:

      TommyMc, I think your recollection of the 104-108 range is from another time!

      Medina Spirit 102

      Maximum Security 101

      Justify 103

      Always Dreaming 102

      Nyquist 103

      American Pharoah 105

      California Chrome 97

      Orb 104

      I’ll Have Another 101

      Animal Kingdom 103

    • Blake says:

      What? 101 is solid. He certainly came home faster than Zandon and Epicenter didn’t he?!

      • ChiefsCrown says:

        I read on another site his speed (mph) for the last 1/16th mile was clocked @ 44 and change vs. Epicenter and Zandon’s 40 and change.
        Rosario never looked left to see Rich Strike coming on the rail, probably thought he had the race in the bag.

  9. Jiffy says:

    In the past 20 years we’ve had four Kentucky Derby winners that paid more than $100.00. That’s 20 per cent of the winners during that time. Maybe that’s something to think about.

    • EddieF says:

      Nah…I wouldn’t bet on horses like Mine That Bird or Rich Strike even if I knew they were going to win! 🙂