by Jon White
January 13, 2022
Now that it is early 2022 and many horseplayers begin looking down the road to the first Saturday in May, this seems to be a good time for my first Kentucky Derby Top 10 of 2022.
1. TIZ THE BOMB. Trainer: Kenny McPeek. Sire: Hit It the Bomb.
A longshot sometimes is referred to as a “bomb.” Well, I am going ahead and putting a “bomb” in the No. 1 spot.
For horseplayers, getting a bomb home is a good thing.
Take the unidentified Kentucky horseplayer who put together a $1,080 ticket last Friday for Gulfstream Park’s Rainbow Pick Six ticket. It ended up being the only winning ticket, paying $1.2 million.
In a story for the Paulick Report written by Ray Paulick, the anonymous horseplayer explained that his typical approach when playing a pick five or pick six is to “try and find a single or go skinny on a leg or two, then hit the ‘all’ button when I can and hope for a couple of bombs.”
The horseplayer said his $1,080 ticket was about twice as much as he would typically play. In this case, splurging on a more expensive ticket paid off handsomely to the tune of over a million bucks.
How much of a bomb for the Kentucky Derby is Tiz the Bomb at this point? In Ron Flatter’s Las Vegas future-book odds story posted Monday on the website horseracingnation.com, Tiz the Bomb was listed at 100-1 at Circa, while William Hill did not even have any odds for him listed.
Smile Happy was the second choice to Corniche at both Circa and William Hill. Smile Happy was 16-1 at Circa. He was 20-1 at William Hill.
McPeek trains both Tiz the Bomb and Smile Happy. The two colts were entered in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last Nov. 27. The morning-line favorite at 3-1 was Tiz the Bomb, while Smile Happy was 12-1.
Even though Tiz the Bomb was the morning-line favorite in the Kentucky Jockey Club and Smile Happy was 12-1, Tiz the Bomb currently is a considerably bigger price for the Kentucky Derby than Smile Happy.
Adding validity to the thought that there should not be such a huge disparity in Kentucky Derby odds between Smile Happy and Tiz the Bomb, they worked four furlongs TOGETHER last Saturday at Gulfstream and each had an IDENTICAL time of :48.90.
When deciding which of the McPeek-trained duo to put in the top spot for my first Kentucky Derby Top 10 of the year, I opted for the Tiz the Bomb, who was the mouth-watering price of 100-1 on Monday, according to Flatter.
In the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar on Nov. 5, Tiz the Bomb ran an excellent race in defeat when he finished second to razor-sharp European shipper Modern Games. Ninth at the eighth pole when five lengths off the lead, Tiz the Bomb closed energetically to lose by 1 1/2 lengths. After that, Tiz the Bomb was scratched from the Kentucky Jockey Club due to what was reported to have been an infection in his left foreleg.
By going toe to toe with Smiley Happy in their team drill last Saturday, Tiz the Bomb demonstrated that he is doing just fine at this time after his Kentucky Jockey Club hiccup.
Tiz the Bomb “definitely will be tried on the Derby trail,” McPeek said in a Jan. 12 Daily Racing Form story written by Marty McGee.
The last time Tiz the Bomb raced on dirt, he won an Ellis Park maiden special weight race at one mile by 14 1/4 lengths last July 2. His Beyer Speed Figure was a modest 68, but I’m not going to judge him harshly for that. Once Tiz the Bomb had a sizable lead in the stretch, do you expect jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. to ride the colt aggressively for the purpose of getting a better Beyer? Of course not. Indeed, in Tiz the Bomb’s past performance line for that race, it says that he won “in hand.” A horse who wins while not being asked for his or her best is something Beyer Speed Figures do not take into account.
2. SMILE HAPPY. Trainer: Kenny McPeek Sire: Runhappy.
It’s very easy to like this colt. He is two for two, winning each time by a healthy margin.
In his career debut at Keeneland on Oct. 29, Smile Happy was sixth early and won a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight race by a widening 5 1/2 lengths at odds of 3-1.
That was followed by a similarly dominant triumph at the same distance in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill when 9-2. Fifth early, he prevailed by 3 1/4 lengths.
After being credited with an 82 Beyer Speed Figure in his debut, he improved to a 90 in his Grade II victory.
Smile Happy is scheduled to make his 2022 debut in Gulfstream’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on Feb 2.
3. CORNICHE. Trainer Bob Baffert. Sire: Quality Road.
Corniche was the 14-1 Kentucky Derby future book favorite at Circa on Monday. He was the 6-1 favorite at William Hill.
There are two main reasons I don’t have Corniche ranked No. 1.
First, the word is Corniche currently is in Kentucky at WinStar Farm. He has not had a recorded workout since his 1 3/4-length win in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar on Nov. 5 to remain undefeated in three career starts.
Keep in mind the first work at 3 in 2015 for the Baffert-trained American Pharoah came on Feb. 2, three furlongs in :36.20 at Santa Anita. American Pharoah went on to sweep the Triple Crown.
Using American Pharoah as something of a guideline, it seems to me that Corniche probably needs to have his first recorded workout of 2022 no later than mid-February or so if he is to be able to run in a 1 1/4-mile race on May 7. If Corniche does not have a workout before then, his Kentucky Derby status would be quite doubtful.
Second, there is the situation in which Baffert has been banished from Churchill Downs. Furthermore, horses trained by Baffert are ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
A press release issued last June 2 stated in part: “Churchill Downs Incorporated (“CDI”) announced today the suspension of Bob Baffert for two years effective immediately through the conclusion of the 2023 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs Racetrack. The suspension prohibits Baffert, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Bob Baffert’s Racing Stables, from entered horses in races or applying for stall occupancy at all CDI-owned racetracks. This decision follows the confirmation by attorneys representing Bob Baffert of the presence of betamethasone, a prohibited race-day substance, in Medina Spirit’s bloodstream on the day of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby in violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols and CDI’s terms and conditions for racing.”
It should be pointed out that, at this time, Medina Spirit is still the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has not disqualified him. In fact, the KHRC has not even held a hearing or issued any penalties with respect to this matter.
Getting back to Corniche, prior to the BC Juvenile, the $1 million auction purchase won a 5 1/2-furlong Del Mar maiden race by 4 1/4 lengths at first asking on Sept. 4. He then took Santa Anita’s Grade I American Pharoah Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths at 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 1 as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup.
All three of Corniche’s victories have been accomplished in front-running fashion. His Beyer Speed Figures so far: 98, then 85, then 91.
4. PAPPACAP. Trainer: Mark Casse. Sire: Gun Runner.
Corniche and Pappacap met twice last year. Pappacap finished second both times, losing the American Pharoah by 3 1/4 lengths and BC Juvenile by 1 3/4 lengths.
Interestingly, to Pappacap’s credit, he did receive a better Thoro-Graph number than Corniche both times they met. In terms of Beyer Speed Figures, a higher number is better than a lower one. The opposite is true for Thoro-Graph.
Beyer Speed Figures are a useful tool. If I didn’t believe that, I would not refer to those figures as frequently as I do. But I also believe Thoro-Graph numbers are superior to the Beyers. That’s because Thoro-Graph takes more factors into account that the Beyers. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”
The winner of a race will never get a lower Beyer Speed Figure than the horse who finished second, the horse who finished second will never get a lower Beyer than the horse who finished third, and so on down through the order of finish.
In the case of the Thoro-Graph numbers, a horse who finishes second, or even lower, can get a better number than the winner. This is one of the things I love about Thoro-Graph. I consider a Thoro-Graph number to be a much better evaluation of a horse’s performance than a Beyer. Thoro-Graph’s approach reflects the reality that the winner is not necessarily the horse who ran the best race.
Corniche’s Thoro-Graph numbers were 7 for the American Pharoah and 4 1/2 for the BC Juvenile. Pappacap received a 6 1/2 for the American Pharoah and 4 1/4 for the BC Juvenile.
Gearing up for Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 22, Pappacap worked four furlongs in :48.60 there last Saturday.
Pappacap was ranked No. 1 on T.D. Thornton’s Thoroughbred Daily News’ Derby Top 12 for Jan. 4.
5. MESSIER. Trainer: Bob Baffert. Sire: Empire Maker.
A sparkling 6 1/2-length winner of a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Santa Anita on Oct. 22, Messier then took Del Mar’s Grade III Bob Hope Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths at seven furlongs on Nov. 14.
Pounded down to 1-2 favoritism in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 11, Messier was not able to get the job done. He had to settle for second to 5-1 Slow Down Andy.
Messier regained the lead briefly in the final furlong when Slow Down Andy goofed off while racing greenly. I felt that after Slow Down Andy’s antics caused him to relinquish the lead, Messier should have stayed in front the rest of the way, but he didn’t.
Still, the Los Alamitos Futurity was only Messier’s fourth career start. Not only was it his first race going farther than seven furlongs, the Los Al oval is a bit of a quirky one. One reason for that is its exceedingly long stretch run. Not every horse does well on that particular oval, especially the first time they race on it.
Messier also figures to benefit from now having a 1 1/16-mile race under his belt. Considering Messier’s sire is Empire Maker, winner of the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, I continue to believe Messier can prove successful in the future when going 1 1/16 miles or longer.
At Santa Anita on Jan. 2, Messier worked four furlongs in a sharp :47.00, followed by a five-furlong workout in 1:01.20 on that same track last Saturday.
By the way, Flavien Prat has been Messier’s pilot in his last three races. Prat rides many winners these days for Hall of Fame trainer Baffert. However, in light of Messier’s defeat in the Los Al Futurity, is it possible that when the colt makes his next start, a different rider will be handling the reins? I would not rule it out.
The combo of Hall of Famer jockey John Velazquez and Baffert has been extraordinarily successful early in the Santa Anita meet, winning nine of the first 13 races in which they collaborated. That deserves a great big wow! And so a switch to Johnny V. when Messier makes his next appearance under silks does not seem all that far-fetched.
6. CLASSIC CAUSEWAY. Trainer: Brian Lynch. Sire: Giant’s Causeway.
Classic Causeway has the look of a 3-year-old who could be a major player on the Kentucky Derby trail and quite possibly in the Run for the Roses itself.
When unveiled in a seven-furlong Saratoga maiden special weight race on Sept. 4, Classic Causeway darted immediately to the front and went on to win by 6 1/2 lengths. He posted a robust 90 Beyer Speed Figure.
Classic Causeway then had the bad luck to get the outside post in Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity on Oct. 9. Breaking from the 13 hole in a 1 1/16-mile race on that main track is no picnic.
In an obvious attempt to mitigate the unenviable post-position draw, Classic Causeway was hustled early by jockey Jose Ortiz. Classic Causeway did manage to move close to the inside rail just before reaching the clubhouse turn, but he seemingly paid the price for expending so much energy early. He weakened in the stretch and finished third to Rattle N Roll and Double Thunder.
When Classic Causeway made his final 2021 start in the Kentucky Jockey Club, he had a new rider and quite a different post position. This time he broke from post 1 with Joel Rosario in the saddle.
Rated when racing fourth early, two to three lengths off the lead, Classic Causeway moved up willingly to engage for the lead turning for home when racing three wide. Smile Happy, who had been fifth early, had rallied and now likewise was battling for the lead at that point.
Classic Causeway and Smile Happy continued their tussle while racing side by side from the top of Churchill’s long stretch to just inside the eighth pole. Smile Happy then drew away to win by 3 1/4 lengths. But Classic Causeway continued on about his business to finish 2 3/4 lengths clear of White Abbario in third.
Even though Classic Causeway did not prove a punctual 7-5 favorite, his runner-up effort when coming from off the pace for the first time was far from discouraging.
The Feb. 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream is expected to be Classic Causeway’s first race in 2022.
Classic Causeway, whose maternal grandsire is 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch, worked five furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:00.75 at Palm Meadows on Wednesday.
7. OVIATT CLASS. Trainer Keith Desormeaux. Sire: Bernardini.
It’s not hard for me to envision Oviatt Class making his presence felt if he gets into the Kentucky Derby. He’s not had the best of luck in all three of his starts since a 4 1/4-length win in a one-mile race vs. maidens on Aug. 27 at Del Mar when making his third career start.
When Oviatt Class finished third to Corniche and Pappacap in the American Pharoah, the main track at Santa Anita that afternoon did not seem to be kind to horses coming from well off the pace. Oviatt Class actually did well to lose by 3 3/4 lengths after being 11 lengths behind early. That’s what could be called a sneaky good race on his part.
The BC Juvenile ended up with 11 starters following the scratch of 9-5 morning-line favorite Jack Christopher, undefeated winner of the Grade I Champagne Stakes. Oviatt Class was sent away as the fourth choice in the betting at 9-1.
Oviatt Class’ BC Juvenile trip was not horrible, but it also was not ideal. Eighth early, he was shuffled back and found himself last approaching the far turn. He then was checked nearing the three-eighths pole. After all that, Oviatt Class never threatened, but he did gain in the lane and finish in a dead heat for fifth with Grade I Del Mar Futurity winner Pinehurst.
Oviatt Class was my top pick in my Xpressbet.com selections for Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes at one mile on Jan. 1. In his post-race analysis of the Sham for the Daily Racing Form, Jay Privman wrote that “the pace was a crawl.”
The early fractions were :24.46 and :48.94. Such a slow tempo certainly did not do the stretch-running Oviatt Class any favors.
Also from Privman’s Sham analysis, he wrote of Oviatt Class that he “bumped with Mackinnon leaving the gate, then trailed the compact field while in the two path around the first turn. He stayed in that spot to the far turn, could not keep pace three furlongs out during the third quarter-mile -- the fastest (:23.90) quarter-mile of the race -- was fanned about five paths wide coming off the final bend, then showed good late interest to rally late and just miss second.”
Newgrange, who clearly benefited by being able to set a tepid pace, won by 2 3/4 lengths at odds of 5-2. Rockefeller, winner of the Grade III Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct in November, nosed out Oviatt Class for second.
Jeremy Plonk, who does such a splendid job each year with his Countdown to the Crown, wrote last Friday that he likes Oviatt Class a lot. Oviatt Class was Plonk’s top pick in the BC Juvenile. Plonk has Oviatt Class ranked No. 5 for the Kentucky Derby (behind Smile Happy, American Icon, Classic Causeway and Pappacap.)
8. SLOW DOWN ANDY. Trainer Doug O’Neill. Sire: Nyquist.
I have Slow Down Andy ranked No. 8, as does Plonk.
As I noted earlier, Slow Down Andy did not run like a seasoned pro down the lane in the Los Alamitos Futurity. That he still won by one length despite such behavior certainly was to his credit.
While Slow Down Andy is a California-bred, he is by the Kentucky sire Nyquist, winner of the 2016 Kentucky Derby for these same connections of owner Reddam racing, trainer O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez. This is the same owner-trainer-jockey team that also won the 2012 Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another.
Slow Down Andy registered a 4 3/4-length victory in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight contest at Santa Anita on Oct. 9. After that, he finished second to Finneus in the Golden State Juvenile at Del Mar on Nov. 5 prior to becoming a Grade III winner in the Los Al Futurity.
The word from O’Neill is Slow Down Andy will make his next start in either the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 29 or the Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 6.
Slow Down Andy had a brisk five-furlong workout in :59.60 last Sunday at Santa Anita.
9. GIANT GAME. Trainer Dale Romans. Sire: Giant’s Causeway.
Giant Game has the same sire as No. 6 Classic Causeway.
Europe’s Horse of the Year in 2000 and a close runner-up to Tiznow in the 2000 BC Classic at Churchill Downs, Giant’s Causeway died after a brief illness in 2018 at Ashford Stud in Kentucky. He was North America’s leading sire in progeny earnings three times (2009, 2010 and 2012).
Giant Game made three starts at 2. After finishing third in a seven-furlong maiden special weight race at Churchill Downs on Sept. 18, he won a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight affair by three lengths at Keeneland on Oct. 9.
Off at odds of 21-1 in the Grade I BC Juvenile, Giant Game rallied to loom menacingly while four wide turning for home. He went on to finish third when defeated by Corniche and Pappacap.
Giant Game sported an improving Beyer Speed Figure pattern last year. He recorded a 69 Beyer at first asking, then a 79, then an 86 in the BC Juvenile.
Even more impressive to me was Giant Game’s 4 3/4 Thoro-Graph number in the BC Juvenile, putting him right there with Pappacap’s 4 1/4 and Corniche’s 4 1/2.
Giant Game worked five furlongs in a crisp :59.85 on Tuesday at Gulfstream.
10. NEWGRANGE. Trainer Bob Baffert. Sire: Violence.
After a 1 1/2-length victory in a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Del Mar on Nov. 28, Newgrange won Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths at one mile on New Year’s Day.
The Sham has been an extremely productive race the last couple of years.
Authentic won the 2020 Sham for Baffert. The Into Mischief colt went on to be voted 2020 Eclipse Awards as Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male following a campaign highlighted by victories in the Kentucky Derby and BC Classic.
Life Is Good won the 2021 Sham when trained at that time by Baffert. Medina Spirit, also trained by Baffert, finished second. Life Is Good subsequently won the Grade II San Felipe Stakes for Baffert.
Later in 2021 after Life Is Good underwent a trainer change to Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, the Into Mischief colt won the Grade II Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park in September and Grade I BC Dirt Mile at Del Mar in November.
Sham runner-up Medina Spirit went on to finish first in a pair of Grade I races for Baffert, the Kentucky Derby and Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita. In his final 2021 start, Media Spirit ran second to Knicks Go in the BC Clasic.
As mentioned earlier, Newgrange was allowed to get away with setting a leisurely pace in the Sham. Nevertheless, he’s now two for two and obviously has more than just a little talent. Also a plus for him from a stamina standpoint vis-a-vis the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby, his maternal grandsire is 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker (sire of the aforementioned Messier).
Newgrange worked three furlongs in :36.60 on Monday at Santa Anita.
BUBBLING UNDER THE TOP 10 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
God of Love
H P Moon
Make It Big
Rattle N Roll