The bracing uncertainties of there being no runaway favorite for this afternoon’s $3-million 2022 Kentucky Derby illuminate the robustness of the three-year-old Class of ‘22, as well as that of equine America, and that gives faithful Derby players many ways to cut the complex pie of their exotics. But there’s still a blistering race to be run to settle things, and, gifted as the young athletes may be, exactly none of them has done anything like this before — not at this distance, not among this number of competitors, not before this kind of crowd, and certainly not faced with this array of talent. Usually, on race day at Churchill, the questions get shaved back a bit. This May, the questions are running and reaching like so much honeysuckle. Put it this way: When Mike Tirico opens the NBC coverage at 2:30 p.m. Eastern today, everybody’s going to be on their toes.
Predictably, Zandon, the razor-thin morning line favorite, very much did not hold his ground in the track odds yesterday, sliding from 3-1 to 8-1, just a shade behind his rival Messier, three stalls to the inside, at 7-1. Which meant, what again, exactly? Well, not much, except that Zandon was now equivocated in the track hivemind with Mo Donegal, the alleged powerhouse “locomotive” on the rail, also at 8-1. Epicenter still has a beast of a post position to overcome, sliding from 7-2 to 5-1, which meant, in the occasionally topsy-turvy language of the Churchill money, he actually clawed back up some kind of ladder to momentary co-top-favorite status with… who else but the almost completely unknown actor Taiba, the two-race, Bob-Baffert-trained Santa Anita phenom, also at 5-1.
Momentarily, anyway, Taiba’s the co-favorite. Run that by us again, please? No two-race horse has won the Derby since…Leonatus, in 1883.
What this grand tumble tells us is first, that things won’t stay this way today as post time does its crazy march, and second, there will be some very funky handicapping required for this Derby.
Note: Until post time at 6:57 p.m. ET, we’ll rigorously update the Churchill odds in this space. Before we call in the Bluegrass Wise Man to help us through the maze of race day, here’s the odds refresher.
Post Position, Horse, Trainer, Jockey, (Morning Line), Live Odds
1. Mo Donegal, Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz Jr., (10-1), 8-1
2. Happy Jack, Doug O’Neill, Rafael Bejarano, (30-1), 21-1
3. Epicenter, Steve Asmussen, Joel Rosario, (7-2), 5-1
4. Summer Is Tomorrow, Bhupat Seemar, Mickael Barzalona, (30-1), 42-1
5. Smile Happy, Kenny McPeek, Corey Lanerie, (20-1), 14-1
6. Messier, Tim Yakteen, John Velazquez, (8-1), 7-1
7. Crown Pride, Koichi Shintani, Christophe Lemaire, (20-1), 17-1
8. Charge It, Todd Pletcher, Luis Saez, (20-1), 13-1
9. Tiz the Bomb, Kenny McPeek, Brian Hernandez Jr., (30-1), 25-1
10. Zandon, Chad Brown, Flavien Prat, (3-1), 8-1
11. Pioneer of Medina, Todd Pletcher, Joe Bravo, (30-1), 47-1
12. Taiba, Tim Yakteen, Mike Smith, (12-1), 5-1
13. Simplification, Antonio Sano, Jose Ortiz, (20-1), 40-1
14. Barber Road, John Ortiz, Reylu Gutierrez, (30-1), 40-1
15. White Abarrio, Saffie Joseph Jr., Tyler Gaffalione, (10-1), 11-1
16. Cyberknife, Brad Cox, Florent Geroux, (20-1), 14-1
17. Classic Causeway, Brian Lynch, Julien Leparoux, (30-1), 67-1
18. Tawny Port, Brad Cox, Ricardo Santana Jr., (30-1), 67-1
19. Zozos, Brad Cox, Manny Franco, (20-1), 39-1
20.Ethereal Road, D. Wayne Lukas, Luis Contreras, SCRATCH
21. Rich Strike, Eric Reed, Sonny Leon, (99-1), 99-1
(Source: Churchill Downs/May 7, 2022)
To help us slash a path through this year’s odds jungle, here’s the ever-sharp Bluegrass Wise Man ™, reached trackside yesterday after the Oaks celebrations.
We started the week talking about Taiba, whose inexperience makes him one of the more entertaining front runners. Let’s go at him again. You watched the money talk Friday. What happened?
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Calm down, dammit. Long way to go to post time. But to answer your question, it’s part what’s been happening in training, part Santa Anita, and yes, part Baffert. But a really big part of this early shift is “Big Money” Mike (Smith). There is no more experienced jockey. Period. He’s a Hall-of-Famer for a reason. The reason is he can take a claimer and beat a million-dollar colt. Now he’s on a really good colt from Baffert. Big Money Mike has me worried, okay? I was planning on “forgetting” Taiba in my exotics.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: It’s possible to worry about Big Money Mike, or his horse, without changing every bet you make. In some form or fashion I’m going to bet Mo Donegal, Epicenter, Zandon, Crown Pride, Tawny Port and Cyberknife. I still like Cyberknife a little, and I’ve been hearing good things about the Japanese horse Crown Pride, who I think NBC will be doing something on during their broadcast. Likely a trifecta, with those 6. They didn’t school Crown Pride in the paddock and have been kept him on his Japanese regime. Different sort of training, may just work.
I see Epicenter leaving himself with too much to do to even hit the board, either because he gets crushed, or because the traffic wastes so much of his energy threading through that he has nothing left past the mile pole.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: I see Epicenter being close enough that he will not have excuses if he gets away cleanly. You could be right that he gets crushed but I think we have the new 20 stall gate, which isn’t as long as the old double gate. If he breaks clean and quick, he will be fine. On the rail, Mo Donegal could get slammed but he will go to the back.