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Home / Articles / Jeff's Top 5 Kentucky Derby Win Contenders

Jeff's Top 5 Kentucky Derby Win Contenders

By: Jeff Hochman     Date: May 3, 2022
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Here are my Top 5 choices for Saturday's Grade 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

#3 Epicenter (7/2), trained by Steve Asmussen & ridden by Joel Rosario

After finishing sixth at first asking, this 3-year old son of Not This Time has been first or second in all five starts (4-1-0) with career earnings of $1,010,640. Has posted four straight 97 Equibase speed figures and still has room to improve. Easily won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in front-running fashion in his final prep. I don't think the extra distance will be a problem. The progeny of Not This Time are winning 23% (+6% ROI) in all dirt routes over the past five years. Looks like rain Friday and than not as heavy on Saturday. Epicenter has a win on an off track at Churchill Downs. Major player & my top pick. See below.

#6 Messier (8/1), trained by Tim Yakteen & ridden by John Velazquez

Previously trained by Bob Baffert. You know the story. Finished second by 2 1/4 lengths in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, earning a solid 99 Equibase speed figure. The horse that finishes second in the Santa Anita Derby usually outruns his odds in this race. Has finished first or second in all six career starts, earning $435,600. That's hard to ignore. Has never run at Churchill Downs and nary a start on a wet track. Win Contender!

#10 Zandon (3/1), trained by Chad Brown & ridden by Flavien Prat

Has finished in-the-money all four career starts (2-1-1) with earnings of $713,000. Zandon broke his maiden at first asking in a MSW race at Belmont Park and than ran second in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. This 3-year old colt by Upstart made his 2022 debut running second in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fairgrounds than shipped to Keeneland to win the Grade 1 Blue Grass on an off track listed as good. He earned a career-best 107 Equibase speed figure and owns the fastest late-pace speed figure of the bunch (120.5). Naturally, a bounce could happen but this horse is very talented and Brown/Prat combo win 27% together. Zandon has a sustained running style and must navigate through traffic turning for home. Prat is one of the best at his craft and is no stranger winning grade 1 races. Win Contender!

#12 Taiba (12/1), trained by Tim Yakteen & ridden by Mike Smith

Moved to the Yakteen barn just like Messier so they could earn points for this race. If you like Messier, than you have to like this son of Gun Runner, who are bred to run all day and all night. Two wins from two career starts, including the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby earning a 102 Equibase speed figure. Should be on or near the lead with a clean break. Owns the fastest early pace (114.7), fastest middle pace (103.2), and 7th fastest late speed figure (101). No starts on an off track is a concern. Also, Taiba has only run in California and didn't start as a 2-year old. Since 1937, the record of horses in the Kentucky Derby without a race at age two is 1-for-58. UGH! Maybe this angle is due to lose. "Money" Mike Smith got that nickname for a reason. Win Contender!

#5 Smile Happy (20/1), trained by Kenneth McPeek & ridden by Cory Lanerie

Why is this horse 20/1? Certainty has the bloodlines to win this type of race. This 3-year old son by Run Happy (maybe you heard of him) has been first or second in all four career starts (2-2-0) with earnings of $549,810. Smile Happy broke his maiden in his first start at Keeneland last October and followed with a win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. He made his 2022 debut finishing 2nd in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fairgrounds. Finished 2nd to Zandon in the Grade 2 Blue Grass in his final prep, earning a career-best 104 Equibase speed figure. He's live here and his chances go way up on a wet track. If the track is wet, you will want to play this horse across-the-board. The Dam (Pleasant Smile) has produced numerous winners (5-for-56) on off tracks, and we know the Run Happy horses have embraced wet tracks. His works in the morning have been eye-popping and should be rolling late. Owns the 3rd fastest late-pace speed figure (111.5) in the field. Live Longshot!

How to bet the 2022 Kentucky Derby:

Play #3 Epicenter (7/2) to Win, Place, and Show

Play #6 Messier (8/1) to Place and Show

Play #5 Smile Happy (20/1) to Show

$0.50 Trifecta Box (3, 5, 6, 10, 12)

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