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Analyzing the Kentucky Derby Contenders

Date: 05/03/2022

Using historical trends and the past performances for the 22 Kentucky Derby entrants by points, we have weighted several factors to develop the following ranked list. Each horse was given points for his conformation to a Derby winners profile. Of course this does not guarantee that the horse with the most points will win, but it does give you a good idea who to eliminate from the winning position. It follows that if a horse doesn't fit the winner's profile, he may still finish in the money, much like how handicappers might bet anti-bias horses on the bottom of exotics. We also recommend checking workout patterns in the final week since these are a good indicator of who is ready. Preferably you're looking for horses that have at least two workouts over the Churchill Downs surface and at least one bullet work, and also consider post positions once drawn, as some positions are known to be unfavorable such as the rail and the 17, however the 20-stall gate which debuted in 2020 may change this over time, as the gap between post 14 and 15 is gone and post 1 is positioned slightly further off the rail than before.

With so many late drop-outs this year, the cutoff to make the main body of the field is a measly 22 points (Ethereal Road), while second also-eligible Rattle N Roll had 20 points. Also worth noting, no horse took advantage of the European or Japanese road points; Japanese-trained Crown Pride drew in by winning the UAE Derby (G2) which is part of the main Championship Series.

As observed the last several years, we have an unusually tight group under our analysis, suggesting that the points system is more effective at weeding out pretenders compared to the former graded earnings scheme. We will use the Derby points ranking list as our tiebreaker when horses scored equally in the analysis, rather than merely calling it a tie between x number of horses, this will be noted when this tiebreaker was used. We are looking for 100+ BRIS speed figures this year, and 90+ figures last year (2-year-old races). For horses with foreign races in their past performances, the Racing Post ratings were converted to BRIS figures using Steve Roman's equivalency chart (Dr. Roman has "retired" from racing and his website is no longer available). Dr. Roman's departure from the business will affect this analysis in future years as the "chefs" list will no longer be updated; this is seen by the lack of dosage profile points as the final list of chefs drop further back in the pedigrees. This is the first year in recent memory that every horse in the field qualified on Dosage (Index 4.00 or less, Center of Distribution 1.00 or less); given the reduction in accuracy we may soon remove this from the analysis. The Jockey Club discontinued its Experimental Free Handicap (renamed the "Top 2-Year-Old Rankings" for its final edition) marking the end of the Dual Qualifier angle which made use of the handicap in combination with Dosage.

For more information on the trends and statistics used in this analysis, check out my article on Handicapping the Derby, the book Betting the Kentucky Derby by Dean Keppler, and Triple Crown Handicapper by Jim Mazur. This is an older article on angles from American Turf Monthly. This is the most over-analyzed race on the planet, so there are lots of trends and angles you can use. You can get free past performances for the Derby contenders here and here (look for Mo Donegal) from BrisNet.com.

Here are the contenders presented in order of preference.


Mo Donegal winning the Wood Memorial
Mo Donegal tops this year's analysis and is the only horse to sweep the scoresheet. He made the required number of starts at 2 and 3, including a stakes start as a juvenile, winning the Remsen (G2), and the required stakes win at 3, taking the Wood Memorial (G2), which counts as a sharp prep within the optimal 4 week layoff window. On BRIS speed his 111 in the Wood and 93 in the Remsen score both points, and he comes from off the pace which is the preferred runstyle for the Derby. He drew the rail at 10-1 morning line and will have Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Zandon is the 3-1 morning line favorite and ranked a close second. He comes here off a win in the Blue Grass (G1) which is a 4 week layoff, and scored a 103 figure that day. He also finished a close second in the Remsen (G2) to end his juvenile campaign scoring a 93, so clearly he's fast enough. He also rallies from off the pace, which is favorable given the long Churchill stretch run. However he is short on foundation, having only 2 starts this year. He drew post 10 for trainer Chad Brown and jockey Flavien Prat.

The next 2 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:


Epicenter at Churchill Downs on 4/30
Epicenter qualified on number of starts at both 2 and 3, won the Gun Runner Stakes at 2 with a 90 BRIS figure, and comes to Louisville off his Louisiana Derby (G2) win where he scored a 101, both satisfying pars. The Louisiana Derby is 6 weeks out (we want 3 or 4 weeks), and he races close to the pace instead of rallies. The 7-1 second choice drew post 3 with Joel Rosario aboard for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Tiz the Bomb is dismissed at 30-1 morning line but ranked quite high here. He comes here off his Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) win where he scored a 101 BRIS figure, and finished his juvenile campaign with a second place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) with a 96 figure. He tends to come from off the pace, which is favored here. On the downside he raced a whopping 5 times as a juvenile (we are looking for 2 or 3 starts only), and is coming here off a 5 week layoff. He drew post 9 with regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. getting the call for trainer Ken McPeek.

The next 2 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:


Messier winning the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita
Smile Happy won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) as a juvenile with a 98 BRIS figure in his 2nd start, and comes to Louisville after finishing second in the Blue Grass (G2) with a 101. He is short on foundation having only 2 starts this year, and also failed to win a stakes, finishing second also in the Risen Star (G2). Finally, although he runs similar to stablemate Tiz the Bomb he tends to be closer to the pace. The 20-1 shot will have regular rider Corey Lanerie in post 5 for trainer Ken McPeek.

Messier won the Robert B. Lewis (G3) and then finished second in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) where he ran his career best 108 BRIS figure, clearly a sharp prep 4 weeks out. As a juvenile he won the Bob Hope (G3) and ran a 100 in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2). However he usually runs on or close to the lead, has only 2 starts this year, and raced 4 times as a juvenile. Regular rider John Velazquez gets the call from post 6 aboard the 8-1 shot for trainer Tim Yakteen.

The next 7 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

White Abarrio

White Abarrio at Churchill Downs on 5/3
won the Florida Derby (G1) which gives him a sharp prep but 5 weeks out in only his 2nd start this year, and his career best 97 figure when winning the Holy Bull (G3) is short of par. As a juvenile he did race 3 times including a 3rd in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), running a 91 there so he met par as a 2 year old. Finally he tends to press the pace rather than rally. The 10-1 shot drew post 15 with Tyler Gaffalione riding for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.

Crown Pride represents Japan off his win in the UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai, a sharp prep but 6 weeks out and only his second start at 3. The Racing Post rating for that effort is 112 which converts to 100 BRIS which meets par. He did race twice both in stakes as a juvenile however those races were not rated by Racing Post. He also presses the pace rather than rally. The 20-1 shot drew post 7 with new jockey Christophe Lemaire riding for trainer Shintani Koichi.

Simplification comes here off a 3rd place effort in the Florida Derby (G1), a sharp prep but 5 weeks out in his 4th start this year. His best figure this year is the 95 winning the Fountain of Youth (G2), short of par, however his career best figure was a 103 when he broke his maiden as a juvenile. He did not compete in stakes last year but did race 3 times as a juvenile, and he generally stalks or presses the pace. The 20-1 shot drew post 13 with Jose Ortiz riding for trainer Antonio Sano.

Tawny Port won the Lexington (G3) giving him a sharp prep 3 weeks out, after he finished 2nd in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) with a career best 99 figure, 1 point short of par. He only raced once as a juvenile with a figure of 79. He is capable of rallying from off the pace. The 30-1 outsider drew post 18 with Ricardo Santana Jr. riding for trainer Brad Cox.


Barber Road at Churchill Downs on 5/2
Barber Road has not won since breaking his maiden, and comes here off a 2nd place finish in the Arkansas Derby (G1), which this year was scheduled 5 weeks out. His best figure this year was a 92 in the Southwest (G3), short of par, however he did run a 93 as a juvenile when second in the Lively Shively Stakes. We will credit him for being a closer as that has been his style this year, however he has never won from off the pace; his 2 career wins (both last year) were front-running efforts. The 30-1 outsider drew post 14 with regular jockey Reylu Gutierrez riding for trainer John Ortiz.

Summer Is Tomorrow is the second horse in this race trying to break the UAE Derby (G2) jinx, having finished second to Crown Pride in that race, a sharp prep 6 weeks out with a Racing Post rating of 106 (BRIS 97), short of par. He did win the Al Karama Stakes, satisfying that requirement. As a juvenile he raced three times with a best rating of 85 (BRIS 84), also short of par. He is a confirmed front-runner and should be on the pace yet again. The 30-1 outsider drew post 4 with Mickael Barzalona riding for trainer Bhupat Seemar.

Rattle N Roll is the second also-eligible. His 6th place finish in the Blue Grass (G1) was not a sharp prep, and his career best figure of 92 in the Louisiana Derby (G2) is short of par. He lacks a stakes win this year, his only stakes win being the Breeders Futurity (G1) as a juvenile where he did meet par with a 95, but in his 4th start of 2021 (we want just 2 or 3 starts at 2). He comes from off the pace. Should he draw in, the 30-1 outsider will have James Graham riding for trainer. *SCRATCHED*

The next 5 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:


Taiba winning the Santa Anita Derby
Cyberknife won the Arkansas Derby (G1) with a career best 94 figure, a sharp prep but short of par and 5 weeks out. He raced 3 times as a juvenile and ran a 93 in his debut, meeting that requirement, but did not compete in stakes company. He presses the pace rather than closing. The 20-1 shot drew post 16 with regular jockey Florent Geroux riding for trainer Brad Cox.

Taiba won the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in only his second career start, after winning his debut in March, giving him a sharp prep 4 weeks out. His 111 figure in that win is the highest in the field. With just 2 starts in 2022 and none in 2021, he's short on foundation, and he runs on the lead or pressing the pace. The 12-1 shot drew post 12 with Mike Smith riding for trainer Tim Yakteen.

Happy Jack finished 3rd in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) giving him a sharp prep 4 weeks out but short of par with a 97 BRIS figure. He lacks a stakes win at 3 and did not race as a juvenile, with all 4 starts this year at Santa Anita. He does get credit for runstyle as one of the few confirmed "Sustained" runners statistically, however given that he has finished as least 10 lengths back in his last 3 starts, can he actually "rally"? The 30-1 outsider drew post 2 with Rafael Bejarano riding for trainer Doug O'Neill.


Ethereal Road at Churchill Downs on 5/3
Ethereal Road is winless since breaking his maiden in January, and was 4th in the Lexington (G3) for his final prep, not sharp but 3 weeks out. His best figure this year is a 91, well off par, and as a juvenile (with no stakes starts) his best was also slow at 82. He is also a confirmed closer, having won his maiden rallying from 16 lengths out. The 30-1 outsider drew the outside post 20 with Luis Contreras riding for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. *SCRATCHED*

Rich Strike is the first also-eligible and will draw in if any horse scratches before 9AM on Friday. He also is winless since breaking his maiden in September in a claiming event. He was 3rd in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), a sharp prep but 5 weeks out and with a slow 95 figure to go with his 85 best as a juvenile. On the positive side he is a confirmed closer and did compete in stakes company as a juvenile. Should he draw in, the 30-1 outsider will have Sonny Leon riding for trainer Eric Reed.

Classic Causeway drew the dreaded 17, a huge knock as this historically is the worst post of all; no horse has won the Derby from the 17 and it also has the worst in-the-money rate of any. He also drew a knock for prepping at Tampa Bay despite winning both stakes there. He finished a disappointing 11th in the Florida Derby (G1), not a sharp prep and also 5 weeks out, but was his 3rd start of the year. He made BRIS par as a juvenile with a 94 in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) but just missed with a 99 in the Sam F. Davis (G3) this year. New rider Julien Leparoux gets the call aboard the 30-1 longshot for trainer Brian Lynch.

The last 3 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:


Charge It at Churchill Downs on 5/2
Zozos finished second in the Louisiana Derby (G2) giving him a sharp prep but 6 weeks out, in just his 3rd lifetime start all this year. His 98 figure at Fair Grounds is just short of par, and he lacks a stakes win this year. He raced on or close to the lead in every start. The 20-1 shot drew post 19 with new jockey Manny Franco riding for trainer Brad Cox.

Charge It finished second in the Florida Derby (G1) giving him a sharp prep 6 weeks out, but still lacking a stakes win His best speed figure was a 98 when breaking his maiden in February, after not racing at all as a 2-year-old. Finally he runs on or near the lead. The 20-1 shot drew post 8 with Luis Saez riding for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Pioneer of Medina ranked lowest when considering the tiebreaker. He lacks any stakes wins after finishing 3rd in the Louisiana Derby (G2),did not compete in stakes as a juvenile, and is the second horse this year to pick up the Tampa Bay jinx, having broken his maiden there in December. His best figure this year is a 96 at Fair Grounds while his best last year was an 85 at Gulfstream over the new synthetic track, both short of par. He did have enough starts at 2 and 3, but usually races very close to the pace. The 30-1 outsider drew post 11 with Joe Bravo riding for trainer Todd Pletcher.

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