Picking the Kentucky Derby winner is already a daunting task, but predicting the order of finish for the 20-horse field? That is a different animal. Anything can happen a few strides out of the gate, so this exercise could be cursed seconds into the most exciting two minutes in sports. Let’s give it a shot, though, taking into account the horse racing odds, post positions, past performances, and gut feelings. Horses are listed with morning-line odds, jockey, and post.
- Race: Kentucky Derby
- Location: Churchill Downs
- Day/Post Time: Saturday, May 7th. 6:57 ET (Race 12)
- Kentucky Derby Live Stream: NBC
20-11: The Faders and Closers Who Could Endure Tough Trips
20. Summer is Tomorrow (30-1, Mickael Barzalona, post four)
Somebody has to fill this slot, so why not an inside speed horse? Summer is Tomorrow finished second to Kentucky Derby runner Crown Pride in the UAE Derby, but the pace of this race will be faster.
19. Pioneer of Medina (30-1, Joe Bravo, post 11)
Pioneer of Medina raced credibly in the Louisiana Derby but was no match for Derby starters Epicenter and Zozos. He has enough speed to clear about half the field by the first turn but could have a hard time keeping up.
18. Classic Causeway (30-1, Julien Leparoux, post 17)
This one is an enigma. Classic Causeway was all the rage after winning the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby in impressive fashion. He showed up in the Florida Derby despite already having enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, and finished last of 11 after leading for about four furlongs.
17. Simplification (20-1, Jose Ortiz, post 13)
Simplification put away Classic Causeway in the Florida Derby, but was no match for Derby contenders White Abarrio and Charge It. Simplification will use his early speed to gain a decent spot on the first turn but ultimately could find 10 furlongs to be out of his scope. Ortiz owns a second and a third in the Derby.
16. Tawny Port (30-1, Ricardo Santana Jr., post 18)
Tawny Port is one of three horses entered for two-time defending Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox. Tawny Port rolls into the Derby off a victory in the Lexington three weeks ago but doesn’t appear fast enough to make a dent in this field. Santana rides in his seventh Derby, and Tawny Port for the first time.
15. Ethereal Road (30-1, Luis Contreras, post 20)
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Derby winner, gets another shot at 86 years old. He won with the filly Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996), and Charismatic (1999). Ethereal Road’s low Beyer speed figures combined with the outside post and no early speed leave him a huge longshot.
14. Happy Jack (30-1, Rafael Bejarano, post 2)
Happy Jack has been keeping company with the heavy-hitters out West – sort of. He finished third in the Santa Anita Derby, 12¼ lengths behind winner Taiba and 2¼ back of Messier. Those two show up farther down this list. Happy Jack was also 27¼ lengths behind Messier in the Robert B. Lewis in February.
13. Tiz the Bomb (30-1, Brian Hernandez Jr., post 9)
Tiz the Bomb won the Jeff Ruby Stakes, but that came on a synthetic surface. He finished 20¼ lengths behind winner White Abarrio in his last dirt race, the Holy Bull in February. Tiz the Bomb appears to be a turf horse and would have been among the favorites in the American Turf Stakes on the undercard.
12. Cyberknife (20-1, Florent Geroux, post 16)
It was somewhat of a surprise when Geroux, Cox’s top rider, showed up here instead of Zozos. Cyberknife won the Arkansas Derby, but the road to the Derby via Oaklawn was slower than the rest. The son of Gun Runner doesn’t have enough early speed to immediately get involved, and his post will do him no favors.
Barber Road (30-1, Reylu Gutierrez, post 14)
This is the little engine that could. Barber Road took the Oaklawn route to Louisville, accumulating enough points to qualify for the Derby by hitting the board in all four prep races. The grinder doesn’t appear fast enough to menace but will be picking off tired ones in the Derby debut for Gutierrez and trainer John Ortiz.
10-5: Here’s A Six Pack That Could Have the Stomach to Win
10. Mo Donegal (10-1, Irad Ortiz Jr., post 1)
It would be no surprise if any of the top 10 horses won, starting with Mo Donegal. Churchill Downs’ new starting gate has made the inside post more manageable, and it certainly shouldn’t be a problem for this closer. The son of Uncle Mo had the rail in winning the Wood Memorial, using a ground-saving trip to prevail by a nose. Mo Donegal won by a nose over Derby morning-line favorite Zandon in the Remsen as a 2-year-old. A Wood Memorial runner hasn’t won the Derby since Funny Cide in 2003, but having Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher and a four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey doesn’t hurt.
9. Taiba (12-1, Mike Smith, post 12)
Taiba is trying to become Justify 2.0, but with one less start. Justify became the 13th Triple Crown winner after prevailing in the Santa Anita Derby in his third start. Taiba, along with Messier, was moved to the Tim Yakteen barn after Churchill Downs suspended Bob Baffert for a medication violation involving subsequently disqualified 2021 Derby winner Medina Spirit. Zedan Racing Stables owned the late Medina Spirit and owns Taiba. This seems like a rush job, though, for a horse seriously lacking in experience but not ability, after running a 103 Beyer to blow by Messier in the Santa Anita Derby. Smith rode Justify.
8. White Abarrio (10-1, Tyler Gaffalione, post 15)
White Abarrio makes his third start as a 3-year-old after impressive victories in the Holy Bull and Florida Derby. He enjoyed great trips in winning those races, but the waters are sure to be rougher from this post and without enough early speed to control his own destiny. Distance could also be an issue for the son of Race Day. Gaffalione has won the last six riding titles at Churchill Downs and may have had the best horse in 2019 when War of Will was contending for the lead before getting shut off in the stretch by disqualified winner Maximum Security. Saffie Joseph Jr. trains his second Derby horse.
7. Crown Pride (20-1, Christophe Lemaire, post 7)
It is only a matter of time before a Japanese-based horse wins the Kentucky Derby. They scored two victories in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup and Crown Pride could be the next big thing. Crown Pride was impressive in winning the UAE Derby by 2¾ lengths, however, that race has yet to produce a runner who hit the board in the Derby. Crown Pride is ready to go after working four furlongs in 46.47 seconds on Wednesday. Jockey Christophe Lemaire and trainer Kochi Shintani make their Derby debuts. It appears Crown Pride would prefer a dry track as his only loss came in the mud in Japan.
6. Smile Happy (20-1, Corey Lanerie, post 5)
There is not much excitement surrounding Smile Happy. He was considered the Derby favorite following an impressive victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in November. But two second-place finishes later, he has become just another face in the crowd. Smile Happy finished second behind Derby contender Epicenter in the Risen Star and led at the top of the stretch in the Blue Grass before getting blown away by Zandon. Distance could be a concern for Smile Happy, a son of champion sprinter Runhappy who enters off back-to-back 94 Beyers.
5. Zandon (3-1, Flaven Prat, post 10)
Zandon earned the role of favorite after a visually impressive victory in the Blue Grass Stakes. Zandon endured a rough trip in the Risen Star before unleashing a powerful kick at Keeneland to win by 2½ lengths. Zandon was last with about a half-mile to go before bulling way between horses and surging past Smile Happy. Zandon shows up with a string of solid works for four-time Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown, who looks for his first win with his seventh Derby entrant. Prat was awarded the victory in the 2019 Derby when Country House was placed first after Maximum Security was disqualified.
4-1: Smelling the Roses in Store for One of These Four?
4. Charge It (20-1, Luis Saez, post 8)
This could be Pletcher’s best shot at winning a third Kentucky Derby. Charge It makes his fourth career start after a good second while racing greenly in the Florida Derby. Charge It might have won, but wound up 2¼ lengths behind as Saez was unable to keep him running straight in the stretch. The son of Tapit may become somewhat of a wise guy horse, though, odds as high as 20-1 seem unlikely. Charge It possesses enough early speed to avoid trouble on the first turn from post 8. He is working well and it doesn’t appear an off-track would be a detriment. A bump up from back-to-back 93 Beyers appears likely and Saez knows his way around the Churchill Downs oval.
3. Epicenter (7-2, Joel Rosario, post 3)
This isn’t an ideal starting point for the second morning-line favorite, who has won two straight races and three of four as a 3-year-old. Epicenter, though, should have little trouble clearing the two runners to his inside, so at least he won’t lose ground on the first turn. He showed versatility coming from off the pace to win the Louisiana Derby after a wire-to-wire victory and a near miss on the front end. Epicenter is one of three horses with a triple-digit Beyer (102). He is more than capable of winning this race but may need to find a way off the rail down the backstretch. Rosario won the 2013 Derby aboard Orb and has finished fifth or better in six of his 10 Derby mounts.
2. Zozos (20-1, Manny Franco, post 19)
Why would Zozos be rated ahead of Epicenter after finishing second in the Louisiana Derby by 2½ lengths? Upside… Zozos makes his fourth career start after two wins and a runner-up performance. The Munnings colt didn’t race at 3 before breaking his maiden at the Fair Grounds on Jan. 23. A 10¼-length triumph in an allowance race at Oaklawn Park set him up for a must-win or place performance in the Louisiana Derby. Zozos’ 98 Beyer speed figure is tied for fourth-fastest in the field. Manny Franco rides from post 19. Zozos has early speed, so a clean break should afford him a relatively ground-saving journey through the first turn. Zozos is a live long shot when betting online.
1. Messier (8-1, John Velazquez, post 6)
In 1994, Mark Messier guaranteed his New York Rangers would win a playoff game in the Eastern Conference final en route to claiming the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1940. There will be no such assurances made here in picking the Kentucky Derby winner, but Messier is the most likely to wear the blanket of roses. Velazquez won the last two Derbies in wire-to-wire fashion with Authentic and Medina Spirit but the latter was disqualified months later for an improper medication that led to Baffert’s suspension. Look for Velazquez to send Messier to the lead, and hope for a three-peat. Messier couldn’t handle Taiba but may have needed the race after his smashing victory in the Robert B. Lewis 62 days earlier earned him a field best-equaling 103 Beyer. Messier has post six and could be 6-1 at post time in the racebook. Mark Messier won six Stanley Cups!
Kentucky Derby Post Positions, Horse, Trainer, and Jockey
- Mo Donegal, Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz Jr.
- Happy Jack, Doug O’Neill, Rafael Bejarano.
- Epicenter, Steve Asmussen, Joel Rosario.
- Summer Is Tomorrow, Bhupat Seemar, Mickael Barzalona.
- Smile Happy, Kenny McPeek, Corey Lanerie.
- Messier, Tim Yakteen, John Velazquez.
- Crown Pride, Koichi Shintani, Christophe Lemaire.
- Charge It, Todd Pletcher, Luis Saez.
- Tiz the Bomb, Kenny McPeek, Brian Hernandez Jr.
- Zandon, Chad Brown, Flavien Prat.
- Pioneer of Medina, Todd Pletcher, Joe Bravo.
- Taiba, Tim Yakteen, Mike Smith.
- Simplification, Antonio Sano, Jose Ortiz.
- Barber Road, John Ortiz, Reylu Gutierrez.
- White Abarrio, Saffie Joseph Jr., Tyler Gaffalione.
- Cyberknife, Brad Cox, Florent Geroux.
- Classic Causeway, Brian Lynch, Julien Leparoux.
- Tawny Port, Brad Cox, Ricardo Santana Jr.
- Zozos, Brad Cox, Manny Franco.
- Ethereal Road, D. Wayne Lukas, Luis Contreras.
- Rich Strike, Eric Reed, Sonny Leon.
- Rattle N Roll, Kenny McPeek, James Graham.