by Jon White
May 5, 2022
Oh my goodness. It appears that Saturday’s 148th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby is loaded with viable candidates that possess the credentials to be posing in the winner’s circle after around two minutes of equine combat is over.
The way it’s shaping up in terms of looking to be so competitive, I think the 2022 Kentucky Derby is something for horseplayers to savor beforehand. I see it as an absolutely fascinating handicapping puzzle that presents quite a challenge to try and solve.
No doubt many bettors are going to be supporting Zandon and Epicenter. Zandon has been pegged as the 3-1 favorite on Mike Battaglia’s morning line for the 2022 edition of this Grade I event that serves the first leg of the coveted Triple Crown. Epicenter is the 7-2 second choice.
Speaking of Battaglia, he has been crafting the Kentucky Derby morning-line odds from 1974 to the present. He installed the coupled entry of Cannonade and Judger as the 8-5 favorite in the 1974 Derby.
Cannonade won what became a roughly run race with its record 23 starters. The Cannonade and Judger combo was sent off favored, returning $5 for each $2 win ticket after Cannonade won, thanks in large part to a brilliant ride on the part of Angel Cordero Jr.
Little Current rallied from 21st to finish fifth, which was remarkable under the circumstances. A horrendous trip likely kept him from a Triple Crown sweep. Little Current then won the Preakness Stakes by seven lengths, followed by a victory in the Belmont Stakes by the same emphatic margin.
What happened in 1974 is a prime example of the best horse not winning the Kentucky Derby. There are myriad other instances of that occurring. This is something you really ought to keep in mind as you try to pick the winner of the 2022 Kentucky Derby. Even if you do correctly figure out who the best horse is, it doesn’t necessarily mean that horse is going to win. Your horse could have a Little Current-like trip from hell. Or your horse could be all but eliminated right away, like what happened to Lookin At Lucky in 2010 and Rock Your World in 2021. Or your horse could pull a Point Given.
Point Given finished fifth in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby. It was the only time he did not win or finish second in his 13-race career. Point Given rebounded to take the 1 3/16-mile Preakness by 2 1/4 lengths. He then won the Belmont by 12 1/4 lengths in one of the best performances in the long history of that 1 1/2-mile classic by anyone not named Secretariat. Point Given did not win the Kentucky Derby, yet he was voted 2001 Horse of the Year.
I believe a couple of California shippers -- Taiba and Messier -- both merit contender status Saturday. In fact, one of those two from California is my choice to win and continue the recent Kentucky Derby success of runners based in that state.
A California-based starter has finished first in the Kentucky Derby in seven of the last 10 years. Those seven were I’ll Have Another (2012), California Chrome (2014), American Pharoah (2015), Nyquist (2016), Justify (2018), Authentic (2020) and Medina Spirit (2021). Medina Spirit, as you no doubt know, was disqualified earlier this year due to a medication violation.
American Pharoah and Justify did not just win the Kentucky Derby. They are the only two Triple Crown winners since Affirmed all the way back in 1978.
Which one of the two colts from California is my top choice? My selections for this year’s Kentucky Derby are below:
1. Taiba (12-1 morning line)
2. Messier (8-1)
3. Zandon (3-1)
4. Epicenter (7-2)
Rounding out my final Kentucky Derby Top 10:
5. Crown Pride (20-1)
6. Simplification (20-1)
7. White Abarrio (10-1)
8. Mo Donegal (10-1)
9. Cyberknife (20-1)
10. Tawny Port (30-1)
Below is a horse-by-horse look at my final Kentucky Derby Top 10.
TAIBA ranked No. 1. Post position 12. Morning line 12-1. Jockey: Mike Smith. Trainer: Tim Yakteen.
Messier had been No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 for nine straight weeks until the Kentucky-bred colt got beat in the Santa Anita Derby. I then put Taiba at No. 1. But I moved Messier back into the top spot last week.
When deciding who to make my top pick this week between those two, I kept going back and forth. My head said to go with Messier. He has much ability and traditional Kentucky Derby foundation and experience. My gut told me to go with Taiba. He is an exceptional equine talent sans the typical Kentucky Derby foundation and experience.
Ultimately, I decided to go with my gut. I look at it this way: I would feel worse if I picked Messier on top and Taiba won than vice versa. To be perfectly frank, I just can’t help wanting to see Taiba win. It would be so cool. That would be a mind-boggling accomplishment, far exceeding what he did a month ago.
It is believed that Taiba became the first horse to ever win the Santa Anita Derby with just one race under his belt. He did the unthinkable by parlaying a stellar 7 1/2-length six-furlong maiden win at Santa Anita on March 5 into a 2 1/4-length nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby victory on April 9. Can Taiba now continue his winning ways in the 10-furlong Kentucky Derby on May 7?
Make no mistake. This is an audacious endeavor on the part of Taiba. If he manages to pull it off, he will thumb his nose at Kentucky Derby history. Taiba will become the first horse to ever not race as a 2-year-old and win the Kentucky Derby with only two starts under his belt. The last -- and only -- Kentucky Derby winner to have made just two previous career starts was Leonatus in 1883. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, our country had just 38 states at that time.
Incidentally, as you probably know, it’s traditional to honor the Kentucky Derby winner by placing a garland of roses on the horse in the winner’s circle. Putting roses on the horse did not start until 13 years after Leonatus won. The story goes that when Leonatus won the Kentucky Derby, a bouquet of roses was presented to the winning owner…and Leonatus ate them! I have heard of winning the roses, but eating them?
I don’t know if Taiba will be the 3-year-old to have the roses placed on him after this year’s Kentucky Derby, but I do consider him to be the most talented horse in the race. If this is true, or even close to being true, it stands to reason that Taiba just might keep his unblemished record intact Saturday.
“If he breaks good, I think he is very live. I do,” bloodstock agent Gary Young said Monday on Steve Byk’s SiriusXM radio program At the Races.
In a feature on Taiba written by Marcus Hersh appearing on the Daily Racing Form website Monday, Young said of Taiba: “If he breaks, he’s going to be in front of 16 or 17 horses going into the first turn. If he breaks, that inexperience thing goes right down the [drain]. Now, if he doesn’t break, then everything goes out the window.”
Young was the one who signed the ticket to purchase future Grade I winner Medina Spirit for $35,000 at a Florida 2-year-old in training sale in 2020 on behalf of Amr Zedan’s Zedan Racing Stables.
Back in Florida for a 2021 2-year-old in training sale, Young again signed the ticket to buy future Grade I winner Taiba, but this time the price was a whole lot bigger at $1.7 million.
If Taiba does indeed win the 2022 Kentucky Derby in just his third career start, how can he not be called a super horse? It would take nothing less than a four-footed LeBron James or Tom Brady for the Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt to begin his racing career with a three-race winning streak consisting of a maiden sprint, the Santa Anita Derby and the Kentucky Derby. To capture the Kentucky Derby off a single two-turn race would be, without question, a monumental achievement.
Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported on April 23 that trainer Tim Yakteen said Taiba “will have just one work” in preparation for the Kentucky Derby. I can tell you that I was not thrilled to read that. What bothered me the most was that he had been slated to have a workout on April 24. But that work was postponed.
Yakteen explained that he wanted the colt to go into the Kentucky Derby “on the fresher side.” That comment and the delayed workout suggested to me that maybe the Santa Anita Derby had taken a lot out of Taiba, which would not be unreasonable considering he had been asked to run in the Santa Anita Derby with only a maiden sprint under his belt.
Taiba had a workout in company at Santa Anita last Friday (April 28). He went six furlongs. He was clocked in 1:12.80, while his workmate, 4-year-old American Admiral, was timed in 1:13.00.
I’ve heard people refer to American Admiral as being “a maiden claimer.” Well, it is true that he lost his first eight career starts before winning a maiden claiming race at Santa Anita on March 19. But that was not your ordinary maiden claiming contest. It was a $150,000 maiden claiming race, which is a much tougher race than many maiden special weight races that you will find. American Admiral, who is by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, was a $1.3 million auction purchase.
Taiba has been referred to as not being a particularly good work horse. I think there is an element of truth in that statement, though bear in mind that Taiba did work briskly enough prior to being acquired by Zedan for such a considerable amount of money.
“The colt blitzed one furlong in :10 15 at the under tack show,” Kentuckyderby.com contributor Kelly Reilly wrote in an outstanding in-depth profile on Taiba. “He wasn’t done yet, yet since he then tacked on a monster gallop-out.”
As for Taiba’s April 28 team drill, let’s just say it didn’t have me doing cartwheels. Was it bad? No. Was it terrific? No. To me, it was somewhere in between. That workout can be viewed on XBTV. Here is a link.
In the April 28 workout, Taiba wore blinkers. He has not yet raced with blinkers and will not be outfitted with them for the Kentucky Derby. Regarding his April 28 drill, I’ll put it this way: The rider was coaxing him along pretty good down the lane. In my opinion, this was not the type of workout you really want to see on the brink of the Kentucky Derby.
Horseracingnation.com’s Ed DeRosa pointed out on Twitter that since Churchill Downs instituted the points system in 2013, Taiba would be just the third Kentucky Derby starter to race four weeks beforehand and then have only one workout prior to the first Saturday in May. The two others were Irish War Cry, who finished 10th in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, and Tax, who ran 15th in the 2019 running.
But would you say that Irish War Cry and Tax were in the same league talent-wise as Taiba? I know that I wouldn’t.
Prior to Taiba’s April 28 workout, Yakteen was asked in a media conference call if it was any concern for Taiba to have one drill going into a 1 1/4-mile race.
“No concern,” Yakteen responded. “I had to recognize that the horse, even though he bounced out of his race in great shape -- I mean, he looked super and he continues to look super -- I couldn’t overlook the fact of what he accomplished. And more so, more than anything, I wanted to make sure that I was bringing a horse to Kentucky, to Churchill, with a full tank. It would do me no good to take a horse that I misread to Churchill and have him underperform because I overtrained him.”
It’s one thing to want a fresh horse. But when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, even though horses do not race as much these days as they used to, it still seems preferable for a 3-year-old to have a good foundation when asked to go 1 1/4 miles under 126 pounds in early May.
Millie Ball, Yakteen’s wife, does an excellent job with her commentary for Santa Anita’s simulcast network. I worked with Millie for many years at HRTV. She knows her stuff, particularly in terms of a horse’s physical condition.
On last Sunday’s radio program “Thoroughbred Los Angeles,” host Mike Willman asked Millie if she had a $20 bill, would she put it on Messier or Taiba?
“Well, my past experience, Mike, I would have to say that foundation plays a lot into this,” Millie said. “We’ve seen horses that are brilliant, like Justify, that are able to overcome that. Taiba would have to be brilliant in order to overcome his lack of foundation. But one thing about him is he’s got the right mind. My money would probably be on Messier just because he’s had more foundation, more experience.”
When Yakteen said last week that Taiba would have just one workout between the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby, I was not alone in not viewing that as a positive development.
But then I noticed that Yakteen tipped his hand in Ed Golden’s Santa Anita stable notes last Saturday that Taiba could possibly have a short workout at Churchill.
“I’ll play it by ear and see what I want to do,” Golden quoted Yakteen as saying.
“I’ll go into Churchill and see if I want to do anything there,” the trainer added. “But since Taiba’s work was a day before Messier’s, I might breeze him in Kentucky or let him stretch his legs a little bit there. If I want to just gallop [him] into the race, I’ll just gallop [him] into the race.”
What happened Wednesday (May 4)? Taiba did indeed have a short workout at Churchill. Again wearing blinkers, which he will not have on in the race, Taiba worked three furlongs in :38.40 with Joel Rosario in the saddle. Even though Taiba now has had two workouts between the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby, there are still those knocking him because his time was not better than :38.40. True, he did not break any stopwatches. But as Gary Young noted in a Tuesday interview with TVG’s Caleb Keller, Taiba “is the kind of horse who has figured out the difference between practice and game day.”
Taiba’s three-furlong spin Wednesday was practice.
“I don’t know how fast he went, but I do know that he felt good,” Rosario said.
Yakteen spent many years as an assistant trainer to the great Charlie Whittingham, who often gave a horse a short blowout before a race. That was more common practice in those days.
Taiba’s blowout was “nothing special,” Yakteen said afterward at the barn. “It was just what we wanted. I’m following the same pattern we used coming up to the Santa Anita Derby. He blew out there, too.”
How about this for a blowout? On the day of the 1958 Kentucky Derby, the popular Silky Sullivan, famous for his come from far behind victories, had a three-furlong blowout at around 8 a.m. at Churchill. Yes, he had a three-furlong workout on the day of the race! Tim Tam won that Derby. Silky Sullivan finished 12th, a defeat that mainly could be ascribed to being overmatched against those foes.
Taiba does have two strikes in my Derby Strikes System (the system is explained later in the column/blog/article). I certainly would prefer this not to be the case. History shows that a horse with zero strikes or one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two or more strikes.
You may wonder, if Taiba has two strikes in my Derby Strikes System, then why in the heck is he my top pick? The main reason is I believe he just might be an unstoppable force. I would not even consider making anyone else with two or more strikes my top pick. The only other time I’ve picked a horse with two strikes to win the Kentucky Derby was Justify, who did not let me down. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Taiba’s two strikes come in the same two categories as Justify. They each got a strike for not having run in a graded stakes race prior to March 31 and for not having started as a 2-year-old.
To a large extent, Taiba is my choice to win this year’s Kentucky Derby because of his admirable speed figures in terms of both his Beyer Speed Figures and his Thoro-Graph numbers.
I often have said that I regard Beyer Speed Figures as a useful tool for horseplayers. But I’ve also stated many times that I believe Thoro-Graph numbers are superior to the Beyers. That’s because Thoro-Graph takes more factors into account than 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 never gets a lower Beyer Speed Figure than the horse who finished second, the horse who finished second never gets 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 finished second, or even lower, can get a better number than the winner. This is one of the reasons I think Thoro-Graph is better than Beyers. I consider a Thoro-Graph number to be a better reflection 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.
I highly recommend adding Thoro-Graph to your handicapping toolbox if you are not already using them.
Taiba and Messier each have a top Beyer Speed Figure of 103. A 103 is the best of all the Kentucky Derby entrants.
Furthermore, Taiba owns the best Thoro-Graph number -- a minus 1/2 in his Santa Anita Derby victory -- of those scheduled to exit the 20-stall starting gate being used this year for the third time. The Thoro-Graph number in his debut victory was a 2. To put these two numbers into perspective, they’re both better than anything Epicenter has done so far.
Epicenter and Zandon are expected to vie for favoritism. Epicenter’s best Thoro-Graph number is a 2 1/2. He has recorded a 2 1/2 twice, first when he won the Grade II Risen Star Stakes, then also when he won the Grade II Louisiana Derby.
Zandon’s best Thoro-Graph number to date is his 1 1/2 in the Blue Grass.
Taiba has a running style that has been effective in the last eight Kentucky Derbies. Because of my Derby Strikes System (which will be explained later), I’m always on the lookout for a horse who has a good chance of being first or second with a furlong to go in the Kentucky Derby. Taiba fits the bill. Keep in mind that 53 of the last 56 Kentucky Derby winners have been either first or second a furlong from the finish.
A horse’s chance to be first or second with a furlong left to run is helped by having a proficient rider with a ton of experience, someone like, say, Mike Smith. “Big Money Mike” has a pair of Kentucky Derby victories to his credit. The Hall of Famer won in 2005 with 50-1 Giacomo and in 2018 on 5-2 favorite Justify. Smith’s ride on Giacomo was nothing less than superb, rallying from 18th to edge my top pick, 71-1 Closing Argument. A victory on Taiba will enable 56-year-old Smith to break the legendary Bill Shoemaker’s record for being the oldest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. Shoemaker was 54 when, in a ride for the ages, he won the 1986 Kentucky Derby on Ferdinand. When Shoemaker was 56, he rode in the Kentucky Derby for the final time, finishing 12th aboard Lively One in 1988.
Smith has called Taiba a “mini-Shared Belief.” That is high praise. Shared Belief won 10 of 12 career starts. Shared Belief’s first defeat came as the 5-2 favorite in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic. The way he got knocked around early that day, it looked like he was playing bumper cars at an amusement park. He actually did well to finish fourth. Without the trouble Shared Belief experienced, he might have won. If he had won, Shared Belief probably would have been the 2014 Horse of the Year. The only other time Shared Belief did not come away with a victory was when he was pulled up during the 2015 Charles Town Classic after suffering a hip injury at the start. It would turn out to be the final race of his life.
Of course, many understandably have compared Taiba to Justify, who won the Kentucky Derby in just his fourth career start and went on to join Seattle Slew as the only horses to sweep the Triple Crown while undefeated.
“People always ask me, can you compare him to Justify?” Smith said this week of Taiba in a Thoroughbred Daily News story written by Bill Finley. “He’s one you can compare to Justify. Both are extremely talented and very intelligent. Though he’s not as big as Justify, both are big chestnuts. They both have a very high cruising speed. They remind me a lot of each other.”
I had planned on making Messier my top pick in this year’s Kentucky Derby. But the more I thought about it, I opted to go with Taiba. During the stretch run of the Santa Anita Derby, Taiba put his head down, found another gear (much like his sire used to do) and motored past Messier. If Taiba could kick home like that with only one race under his belt, is it then not possible that he might do something like that again Saturday now that he has two races under his belt?
MESSIER (ranked No. 2). Post position 6. Morning line 8-1. Jockey: John Velazquez. Trainer: Tim Yakteen.
As I said earlier, I came close to picking Messier on top. There is so much I like about the Canadian-bred colt.
For one thing, Messier is based in California. As mentioned previously, runners from that state have produced many Kentucky Derby winners in the last decade.
Will we see a California exacta this year of Taiba and Messier or Messier and Taiba? It is unlikely, but I’m stating right here that I do not think that’s out of the question.
Unlike Taiba, Messier’s two workouts since the Santa Anita Derby both have been excellent. These are the kind of drills one likes to see going into the Kentucky Derby.
I consider Messier’s breeding to be a plus. His sire, Empire Maker, was my pick to win the 2003 Kentucky Derby. As I wrote last week, I think Empire Maker would have won that Derby if Bobby Frankel had been able to train the colt like he wanted. Empire Maker’s training was compromised by a foot issue from running on a muddy track in his victory over Funny Cide in the Wood Memorial. Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby. But Empire Maker then took the Belmont Stakes to thwart Funny Cide’s bid to sweep the Triple Crown. Funny Cide ran third in the Belmont.
Empire Maker’s sire, Unbridled, won both the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1990.
Messier boasts praiseworthy speed figures.
As I previously noted, Taiba and Messier each have a top Beyer Speed Figure of 103. A 103 is the best of all the Kentucky Derby entrants.
But I regard the 103 Beyer Speed Figure by Messier to be more relevant vis-a-vis the Kentucky Derby than Taiba’s 103. That’s because Messier’s 103 Beyer came when he won the 1 1/16-mile Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 15 lengths at Santa Anita on Feb. 6. He then was off for two months and dropped to a 99 in the Santa Anita Derby. Taiba’s 103 Beyer came in a sprint.
Thoro-Graph originally credited Messier with a 1 in the Lewis, later adjusted to a 1 1/2. He followed that with another 1 1/2 in the Santa Anita Derby. Because of the two-month gap between the Lewis and Santa Anita Derby, Messier looks poised to run another 1 1/2 or possibly an even better number Saturday. If he does, it will make him a very tough customer.
Messier, like Taiba, has a running style that has been effective in the last eight Kentucky Derbies. And Messier, like Taiba, has a Hall of Fame jockey with a wealth of experience. Johnny V. has won the Kentucky Derby three times. That’s more than any other rider going into the race this year. Johnny V.’s victories were aboard Animal Kingdom (2011), Always Dreaming (2017) and Authentic (2020). Velazquez also crossed the wire first on Medina Spirit last year.
Another plus for Messier is he’s a prime candidate to be in that prime position of being first or second with a furlong to go.
Messier finished second in the Santa Anita Derby. Can he lose that race and then win the Kentucky Derby? There is plenty of evidence showing that it can be done.
Medina Spirit had to settle for second in the 2021 Santa Anita Derby. He would go on to finish first in the Kentucky Derby.
Authentic was the runner-up to Honor A.P. in the 2020 Santa Anita Derby. Authentic won the Kentucky Derby, while Honor A.P. finished fourth.
Going further back, Real Quiet finished second to Indian Charlie in the 1998 Kentucky Derby. Real Quiet won the Kentucky Derby, while Indian Charlie ran third in the first and only defeat in his five-race career.
Silver Charm finished second to Free House in the 1997 Santa Anita Derby. Silver Charm won the Kentucky Derby, while Free House came in third.
Based on what I saw on video, Messier’s April 29 workout was much better than Taiba’s work the day before. This drill by Messier is what you like to see. But it turns out that it wasn’t necessarily what you want to hear.
“Notwithstanding the drama that preceded the workout and the noise he made during the work, Messier posted a visually impressive drill on an eventful Friday morning at Santa Anita,” wrote Daily Racing Form’s Brad Free.
Following the 6:30 a.m. track renovation break, Messier was about to begin his six-furlong workout when another horse lost the rider and ran loose. The emergency siren came on to warn everyone that there was a loose horse on the track.
“Trainer Tim Yakteen, communicating via radio, cautioned jockey Drayden Van Dyke to delay the work until an outrider caught the loose horse,” Free wrote. “Messier backed up, and after a delay that lasted just two minutes, Yakteen gave the go ahead.”
Despite the minor hiccup, Messier worked six furlongs in 1:11.60, moving along as gracefully as an Olympic ice skater. Messier’s 1:11.60 work on his own was in stark contrast to Taiba’s 1:12.80 drill the day before while seemingly having to be pushed along by the rider.
Free did mention that Messier made a breathing noise during his workout.
Messier “moved comfortably throughout the drill, finished in full stride, and appeared on his toes leaving the track afterward,” Free noted in a first-rate job of reporting. “He does make a perceptible breathing noise while working, a matter that is subject to interpretation. Messier has made a noise in previous works, and several trackside observers Friday said the noise was even louder in Messier’s final workout. It might be nothing.”
Wow. I really don’t know what to make of that. I honestly can say it does bother me some. On the other hand, noise or not, I sure liked what I saw from Messier in his April 19 workout when watching it on video. That workout can be viewed on XBTV. Here is a link.
ZANDON (ranked No. 3). Post position 10. Morning line 3-1. Jockey: Flavien Prat. Trainer: Chad Brown.
It won’t break my heart if Zandon wins. I put $20 on him at 56-1 odds in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1 last Nov. 26. That’s what future betting is all about, getting 56-1 on a horse who ends up being the 3-1 morning-line favorite.
I had it on good authority before making that wager that Brown was as high on Zandon as he was on put Jack Christopher. At that time all Zandon had done was win a Belmont Park six-furlong maiden race at first asking by 1 1/2 lengths at 5-1 on Oct. 5.
I installed Jack Christopher as the 9-5 favorite for the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar last fall after he had won a maiden race by 8 3/4 lengths in his unveiling, followed by a 2 3/4-length victory in the Grade I Champagne Stakes. After missing the Breeders’ Cup, Jack Christopher underwent surgery to have a screw in his left shin by Dr. Larry Bramlage to repair a stress fraction. Jack Christopher is entered in the Grade II Pat Day Mile on Saturday’s Kentucky Derby undercard.
Zandon made his stakes debut in Aqueduct’s Grade II Remsen Stakes on Dec. 4. And then, similar to what Taiba did, Zandon nearly won the nine-furlong Remsen with just a six-furlong sprint under his belt. Zandon finished second in the Remsen, losing by a scant nose. Not only did Zandon nearly win, but in this observer’s opinion, Mo Donegal, who finished first, should have been disqualified for causing interference, which would have made Zandon a Grade II winner in his second career start.
I have been taking a stand against Remsen winners for many years when it comes to the Kentucky Derby. The Remsen has not been a harbinger of success in the Run for the Roses for a very long time. The last Remsen victor to go on and capture the Kentucky Derby was Thunder Gulch. He won the Remsen in 1994 and subsequently added a Kentucky Derby victory to his resume.
When next seen in action, Zandon ran quite well in defeat. Tenth early after a bad start in Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 19, he rallied to finish third behind Epicenter and Smile Happy.
It’s Zandon’s most recent performance that is a major reason I now have so much respect for him and why a lot of people think he will get the job done Saturday.
Early on the far turn in Keeneland’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on April 9, Zandon was last in the field of 11. The Kentucky-bred Upstart colt generated a sustained rally while craftily wending his way through traffic and won going away by 2 1/2 lengths. Prat’s ride was a masterpiece.
The presence of Prat is not low on my list of reasons why I think Zandon has such a big shot to be draped in roses Saturday. If you ask me, Prat is the best rider in the country. Folks in California have been singing his praises for several years. Now the whole country is beginning to appreciate what a truly wonderful rider he is.
Prat does have a Kentucky Derby victory to his credit. He rode Country House in the 2019 edition at mega-odds of 65-1. Country House finished second, then was elevated to first when the stewards disqualified Maximum Security from first and placed him 17th for drifting out and causing interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy on the far turn. It was the first and so far only time in history that a Kentucky Derby winner has been disqualified for an incident during the running of the race.
Zandon’s morning activity suggests that he is poised to run a biggie Saturday for a trainer who seems destined to get a Kentucky Derby trophy to put on his mantel.
Adding to Zandon’s appeal is he has an improving pattern in terms of both Beyer Speed Figures and Thoro-Graph.
From Zandon’s first race to present, his Beyers have been 80, then 90, then 93, then 98.
Zandon’s Thoro-Graph numbers have been 6 1/2, then 4 1/2, then 2 1/4, then 1 1/2.
EPICENTER (ranked No. 4). Post position 3. Morning line 7-2. Jockey: Joel Rosario. Trainer: Steve Asmussen.
Rosario won the 2013 Kentucky Derby on Orb, who closed from 17th in a field of 19 to win by 2 1/2 lengths on a sloppy track. That was the first year Churchill Downs switched to a points system from graded stakes earnings. It’s the last time the horse to cross the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby was farther back than third at any point in the race.
Barring the unforeseen, Epicenter will not be anywhere close to as far back as 17th at any point Saturday. The Kentucky-bred Not This Time colt figures to be forwardly placed early. It is not hard to envision him being in that prime spot of first or second with a furlong to go. It’s also not difficult to picture the Eclipse Award-winning jockey of 2021 finding a way to put Epicenter into that prime spot.
As for Hall of Famer Asmussen, he has something of a monkey on his back in that he is 0 for 23 in the Kentucky Derby despite being the winningest North American trainer of all time in victories.
Asmussen appears to be exuding a quiet confidence that this might finally be his year to be smelling roses in the shadow of the Twin Spires. He has expressed surprise that he did not win the race with Curlin or Gun Runner.
From one of the best 3-year-old crops ever, Curlin finished third at 5-1 in the wagering to Street Sense and Hard Spun in the 2007 Kentucky Derby. Curlin would be voted Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008.
In the 2016 Kentucky Derby, Gun Runner ran third at 10-1. Nyquist won.
Asmussen twice has trained the Kentucky Derby runner-up: Nehro at 8-1 in 2011 and Lookin At Lee at 33-1 in 2017.
Before you are too harsh on Asmussen for throwing a Kentucky Derby shutout so far, bear in mind he has never trained the favorite. It’s possible that changes this year. That’s because Epicenter could possibly be sent off as the favorite. Even if Epicenter is not the betting choice, the lowest odds for an Asmussen trainee in the Kentucky Derby has been Curlin at 5-1 in 2007 and Pyro at the same price in 2008. Pyro finished eighth. Epicenter’s morning line is lower than 5-1. Any way you slice it, this clearly is one of Asmussen’s best chances to at long last get a Kentucky Derby victory.
There is just so much to like about Epicenter, from his looks, to his glossy record, to his having won at 1 3/16 miles, to how marvelous he has looked in his a.m. activity.
“Epicenter polished off a splendid series of drills exiting the Louisiana Derby with a five-furlong move on Sunday that Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch caught in 1:01.21, the DRF’s Privman wrote. “But it was the way he did it that was far more impressive than the raw time, reflecting the old clocker’s adage that it’s not how fast you go, but how you go fast.”
Epicenter’s official time was 1:01.00 on a muddy track. He worked in company with the impeccably bred Alejandro, a 4-year-old with one win and four seconds in nine career starts. Alejandro, who likewise was clocked in 1:01.00, is a son of Curlin and Rachel’s Valentina. Rachel’s Valentina is a daughter of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.
“Showing controlled energy, seemingly begging the exercise rider Wilson Fabian to let him do more, Epicenter went along well within himself, in company with the 4-year-old allowance-class Alejandro,” Privman wrote. “He was keen early, never asked for any effort whatsoever throughout the drill, and gave off every indication that he’s sitting on go for the Derby.”
What also makes Epicenter a major player Saturday is he showed a new dimension in the Louisiana Derby when not a pace player for the first time in his sixth lifetime start. He calmly sat off the early pace, responded enthusiastically in the lane and won convincingly by 2 1/2 lengths.
Epicenter recorded a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure in the Louisiana Derby. It puts him right there with the 103 Beyers by Messier and Taiba. Epicenter, Messier and Taiba are the only three in this year’s Kentucky Derby to sport a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure.
But what worries me just a teeny, tiny bit is that Epicenter, as pointed out early, does not have a Thoro-Graph number better than a 2 1/2 to his credit. Messier, Taiba and Zandon have all managed to do better than a 2 1/2.
POSSIBILITIES BELOW THE TOP FOUR
CROWN PRIDE (ranked No. 5). Post position 7. Morning line 20-1. Jockey: Christophe Lemiere. Trainer: Teruya Yoshida. What a wild card Crown Pride is. The Japanese-bred colt is coming off a 2 3/4-length triumph in the UAE Derby. Granted, UAE Derby runners are 0 for 16 in the Kentucky Derby. Master of Foxhounds finished fifth in the 2011 UAE Derby, then ran fifth in the Kentucky Derby. Fifth has been the best finish by a horse exiting the UAE Derby. But 2017 UAE Derby winner Thunder Snow might have won the Kentucky Derby as my top pick if not for a wacky incident. While Always Dreaming won the roses that year, Thunder Snow started acting like a bucking bronco early and was pulled up. Thunder Snow would go on to win two Dubai World Cups and accrue career earnings of $16,511,476. As for Crown Pride, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before a Japan-based horse adds a Kentucky Derby victory to that country’s growing list of wins in major races on the world stage. As I wrote last week, Crown Pride is a serious horse. The May 4 foal also seems to have thrived during the time he’s been at Churchill Downs. He dazzled in a :46.60 workout Wednesday (May 4). His only defeat in four career starts came when he ran sixth on a muddy track in Tokyo after it appeared he got pinched back badly in the initial strides. Crown Pride’s sire, Reach the Crown, is a grandson of 1989 Kentucky Derby winner and prolific sire Sunday Silence.
SIMPLIFICATION (ranked No. 6). Post position 13. Morning line 20-1. Jockey: Jose Ortiz. Trainer: Antonio Sano. His Thoro-Graph numbers indicate he could be in the mix. An effort similar to his 3 1/2-length win in the Fountain of Youth would make Florida-bred Not This Time colt dangerous Saturday. The DRF’s Welsch, who has such a keen eye, has raved about Simplification’s workouts.
WHITE ABARRIO (ranked No. 7). Post position 15. Morning line 10-1. Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione. Trainer: Saffie Joseph Jr. Will I be surprised if a Kentucky Derby win is in the cards for White Abarrio? No. Look at his record of four victories from five career starts. His wins have come by margins from 1 1/2 lengths in a Grade I race (Florida Derby) to 6 1/4 lengths in a maiden race. The only time the Kentucky-bred Race Day colt has tasted defeat, he didn’t have the best of trips and ran third to Smile Happy and Classic Causeway in the Kentucky Jockey Club. I said earlier that I think Prat is the best rider in the country. But if you think it’s Gaffalione, Rosario or Irad Ortiz Jr., I would not argue.
MO DONEGAL (ranked No. 8). Post position 1. Morning line 10-1. Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr. Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Speaking of Irad Ortiz Jr., here he is, riding the Wood Memorial winner. Rosario was aboard Mo Donegal in the Wood, but understandably is riding Epicenter in the Kentucky Derby. Ortiz has ridden Mo Donegal three times, including a win aboard the Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo colt in the Remsen Stakes last Dec. 4. Mo Donegal drew the dreaded post 1 for this race, but if there is someone capable of working out a decent trip in a 20-horse field from this spot in the gate, it is this rider. A concern I do have with regard to Mo Donegal is the long-fused runner is far from a slam-dunk to be either first or second with a furlong left to run.
CYBERKNIFE (ranked No. 9). Post position 16. Morning line 20-1. Jockey: Florent Geroux. Trainer: Brad Cox. A price in the neighborhood of 20-1 on a good horse like this is exactly why I led off by stating this year’s Kentucky Derby is “loaded with viable candidates that look capable of posing in the winner’s circle.” The Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt was something of a goof-off early on, but he is maturing and could have a big say in the outcome Saturday. Cyberknife won the Arkansas Derby by nearly three lengths. It looks like he will relish 1 1/4 miles. His dam is by Flower Alley, sire of 2012 Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another, my top pick who paid $32.60 for each $2 win wager. Cyberknife also has sparkled in his training up to Saturday’s race.
TAWNY PORT (ranked No. 10). Post position 18. Morning line 30. Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr. Trainer: Brad Cox. Here is my upset special. Is Tawny Port the Charismatic of 2022? Charismatic was my top pick to win the 1999 Kentucky Derby. He prevailed at odds of 31-1. His Beyer Speed Figures told me that he was a live longshot. Charismatic made a giant leap to a 108 Beyer Speed Figure when he won the Lexington Stakes. His previous top was a 95. Tawny Port’s Thoro-Graph number was a 7 when the Kentucky-bred Pioneerof the Nile colt ran second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks. He then showed dramatic improvement to get a 2 3/4 when he, like Charismatic, won the Lexington. That 2 3/4 puts Tawny Port in the ballpark with the big boys in the Kentucky Derby. It tells me that Tawny Port might be improving at the right time, a la Charismatic.
THREE OTHERS TO CONSIDER
I hate leaving Smile Happy off my Top 10. The main reason he didn’t make the cut is I just haven’t thought all that much of his two starts this year. I can’t help wonder that perhaps he has not moved forward from last year. However, I do recognize that I might not be giving Smile Happy enough credit for his runner-up efforts this year. He lost those two races to the two horses with the lowest Kentucky Derby morning-line odds.
Smile Happy finished second to Epicenter in the Risen Star while beating Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite Zandon. Smile Happy then ran second to Zandon in the Blue Grass. Don’t forget Smile Happy’s biggest victory thus far came on right there on Churchill’s main track. He won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes with authority last fall.
Runhappy, the Eclipse Award-winning sprinter of 2015, is the sire of Smile Happy. Runhappy surely must hold the world record for being promoted the most as a stallion. If you are concerned about Smile Happy getting 1 1/4 miles because his sire was a sprint champion, it should be remembered that Runhappy is by 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver.
Beyond my Top 10 and Smile Happy, I’m saying it’s not a mission impossible for Tiz the Bomb or Classic Causeway. Don’t laugh. Okay, go ahead and snicker. But I’m not throwing either of them out.
Tiz the Bomb is coming off back-to-back victories on synthetic footing at Turfway Park. He won the John Battaglia Memorial in early March, then the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks in early April. In grass stakes last year, Tiz the Bomb won the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile and Keeneland’s Grade II Bourbon (despite breaking through the gate before the start). He also closed strongly to finish second to the highly regarded Euro invader Modern Games in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar.
A lot of people don’t think Tiz the Bomb can win the Kentucky Derby because it’s run on dirt instead of turf or synthetic. Look, they’re probably right. Yes, the only time the Kentucky-bred Hit It a Bomb colt competed in a stakes race on dirt, he laid an egg. He lost by 20 1/4 lengths when finishing seventh in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 5.
But Tiz the Bomb trained well on dirt prior to the Holy Bull. He’s also trained well on dirt leading up to this race. Tiz the Bomb did win a one-mile maiden race by a pole (14 1/4 lengths, to be exact) on dirt at Ellis Park last year.
I do know that Tiz the Bomb is just a darn good colt now back in form after his Holy Bull dud.
It’s also very unlikely that Classic Causeway is going to win Saturday. I get why most people find it hard to like him off his most recent race. He showed his typical early zip in the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on April 2, but threw in the towel before going six furlongs and ended up eleventh. Perhaps after he won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes and Grade II Tampa Bay Derby in his initial two 2022 starts, it was asking too much of Classic Causeway to come back as soon as he did in the Florida Derby rather than run in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes a week later at Keeneland as originally planned.
It is encouraging that Classic Causeway has worked smartly since the Florida Derby. It suggests that the Kentucky-bred Giant’s Causeway colt might rebound and run well Saturday. Who knows? Maybe he can at least stick around to finish in the superfecta.
Another reason Classic Causeway might outrun his juicy odds Saturday is his equipment is being adjusted by trainer Brian Lynch.
“Bryan Lynch suspects Classic Causeway might have displaced his palate in his last race, perhaps accounting for the colt’s poor performance so the trainer is tweaking a couple of things,” the DRF’s Marty McGee wrote Monday.
Lynch “felt like he might have displaced in the Florida Derby,” describing a common condition wherein a horse’s soft palate will drift upward to sit atop the epiglottis to partially obstruct the trachea and restrict air flow, McGee wrote.
According to McGee, Classic Causeway will be equipped with a dropped noseband bridle, which sits lower on the nose and encircles the chin groove in front of the bit. The noseband can help to keep a horse from opening its mouth and crossing its jaw by increasing pressure on the nose. This is combined with a tongue tie, which Classic Causeway also will have for the first time for a race. A tongue tie, McGee continued, keeps a horse from moving its tongue excessively; some trainers believe it helps prevent a horse from flipping its palate. Classic Causeway worked well in company last Saturday at Churchill Downs with the equipment adjustments, six furlongs in 1:13.20.
While I think Tawny Port might be the Charismatic of 2022, could Classic Causeway be this year’s War Emblem? By that I mean a scenario in which Classic Causeway goes right to the front and is left alone while being allowed to set a moderate pace, like War Emblem in 2002. The early pace had been insane in the 2001 Kentucky Derby in which Songandaprayer led through the first six furlongs in 1:09 2/5. Partly due to that torrid pace in 2001, War Emblem the next year was lightly regarded to the tune of 20-1. None of the other riders seemed to pay much attention to 20-1 War Emblem. That helped War Emblem get away with going the first six furlongs in 1:11 3/5. Instead of War Emblem faltering in the stretch, as many people expected, the opposite happened. He increased his lead in the final furlong and registered an emphatic four-length victory.
DERBY STRIKES SITUATION
I developed my Derby Strikes System (DSS) in 1999. It consists of eight key factors that attempt to ascertain the chances a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby from BOTH tactical and historical perspectives. When a horse does not qualify in one of the eight categories, the horse gets a strike.
Because two of the categories deal with graded stakes races, the Derby Strikes System can’t go back any further than 1973. Stakes races in this country were not graded until 1973.
The eight categories in the DSS are listed at the end of this column/blog/article.
A number of the categories in my DSS are tied to a Kentucky Derby being run on the first Saturday in May. As a result, when the race was switched from May 2 to Sept. 5 in 2020 due to COVID-19, it rendered my DSS unworkable for that particular year.
Only one horse has won the Kentucky Derby with more than two strikes. That was Mine that Bird, who had four strikes.
A horse with zero strikes or only one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes or more. According to the DSS as it’s now constituted and excluding the Kentucky Derby of 2020 when the race was run in September, 83% of the Kentucky Derby winners (40 out of 48) have had zero strikes or one strike going back to 1973.
The seven Kentucky Derby winners with two strikes were Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005), Justify (2018) and Country House (2019).
Below you will find the number of strikes for 22 horses entered in this year’s Kentucky Derby, including also eligibles Rich Strike and Rattle N Roll.
ZERO STRIKES OR ONE STRIKE
Classic Causeway (1 strike, Category 5)
Crown Pride (0 strikes)
Cyberknife (0 strikes)
Epicenter (0 strikes)
Messier (1 strike, Category 4)
Mo Donegal (0 strikes)
Simplification (1 strike, Category 4)
Smile Happy (1 strike, Category 4)
Tawny Port (0 strikes)
Tiz the Bomb (0 strikes)
White Abarrio (0 strikes)
Zandon (0 strikes)
Barber Road (Categories 2 and 3)
Pioneer of Medina (Catgories 2 and 4)
Rich Strike (Categories 2 and 3)
Summer Is Tomorrow (Categories 2 and 4)
Taiba (Categories 1 and 7)
Zozos (Categories 2 and 7)
THREE OR MORE STRIKES
Charge It (Categories 1, 2 and 7)
Happy Jack (Categories 2, 3, 6 and 7)
Ethereal Road (Categories 2, 3, 4 and 5)
Rattle N Roll (Categories 3, 5 and 6)
WINNER’S STRIKES GOING BACK TO 1973
As explained earlier, inasmuch as two of the categories deal with graded stakes races, the Derby Strikes System can’t go back any further than 1973. Stakes races in this country were not graded until 1973.
Maximum Security finished first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But the stewards disqualified Maximum Security and placed him 17th for committing a foul when he veered out sharply nearing the five-sixteenths marker to cause interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy. Country House was declared the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby.
Medina Spirit finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But in terms of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, Mandaloun is now recognized as the winner following Medina Spirit’s disqualification.
The strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973 are below:
2021 Mandaloun (1 strike) Category 4*
2020 race run in September
2019 Country House (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 3**
2018 Justify (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 7
2017 Always Dreaming (1 strike) Category 1
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2012 I’ll Have Another (0 strikes)
2011 Animal Kingdom (0 strikes)
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2008 Big Brown (0 strikes)
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2006 Barbaro (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 8
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
*Medina Spirit (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified and all purse money forfeited
**Maximum Security (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified and placed 17th
MY DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM’S CATEGORIES
What are the eight categories in my Derby Strikes System? They are listed below:
1. THE GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Going back to the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Always Dreaming in 2017 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 2 or early at 3 before March 31.)
2. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions going back to the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
3. THE EIGHTH POLE CATEGORY. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 53 of the last 56 Kentucky Derby winners through 2021 have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second a furlong from the finish in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
4. THE GAMENESS CATEGORY. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009, Super Saver in 2010 and Mandaloun in 2021, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
5. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION CATEGORY. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
6. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS CATEGORY. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Going back to 1973, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
7. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD CATEGORY. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018. Going back to 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old now are a combined 1 for 67 in the Kentucky Derby through 2021. During this period, the only horses to finish second or third in the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; and Battle of Midway, third in 2017.)
8. THE NOT A GELDING CATEGORY. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)