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Bernier's Best

Handicapping the 2022 Kentucky Derby

by Matt Bernier
Updated On: May 6, 2022, 2:15 pm ET

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The 2022 Kentucky Derby will be run beneath the twin spires at Churchill Downs on Saturday afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky, and this year’s race features one of the more intriguing fields we have ever seen. Ranging from proven commodities to lightly raced juggernauts to international entrants, this year’s Derby is certainly one that will be remembered. Below you will find two items to help you handicap this year’s race – a fair odds line, indicating what I believe would be an acceptable price to bet a horse to win at, and my top four selections in the race.

 

1 – MO DONEGAL – 9/1
2 – HAPPY JACK – 99/1
3 – EPICENTER – 6/1
4 – SUMMER IS TOMORROW – 99/1
5 – SMILE HAPPY – 20/1
6 – MESSIER – 9/1
7 – CROWN PRIDE – 50/1
8 – CHARGE IT – 50/1
9 – TIZ THE BOMB – 50/1
10 – ZANDON – 9/1
11 – PIONEER OF MEDINA – 50/1
12 – TAIBA – 4/1
13 – SIMPLIFICATION – 99/1
14 – BARBER ROAD – 99/1
15 – WHITE ABARRIO – 20/1
16 – CYBERKNIFE – 30/1
17 – CLASSIC CAUSEWAY – 99/1
18 – TAWNY PORT – 50/1
19 – ZOZOS – 50/1
20 – ETHEREAL ROAD – 99/1

 

When looking at this year’s Kentucky Derby, the fastest horse in the race based on speed figures is TAIBA (12). The gifted son of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner is a perfect 2-for-2 lifetime, earning gaudy speed figures in each start. Those who have concerns about Taiba’s chances on Saturday pertain specifically to his lack of experience, as no horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby when having just two starts prior. Context goes a long way, however, as the modern thoroughbred is not campaigned the way they once were. Many of this year’s contenders have just two or three starts this season, so while Taiba may not have a two-year-old racing foundation to build off – is that truly the end-all-be-all in 2022? He may very well prove to be an all-or-nothing type of runner, but assessing Taiba’s chances is simple for me; am I going to allow the horse with two of the fastest three-year-old races to date to go off as the third or fourth choice in the wagering and win the Kentucky Derby? If the task proves to be too much too soon, so be it. He will lose and people will point to his inexperience as the reason for his loss. But if he wins? He will be among the most exceptional talents of the past twenty-five years, if not longer. I would feel silly if I let the fastest horse in the race – by nearly every commercial standard – pass by and win at odds somewhere between 5/1 and 8/1. Taiba is my selection to win the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

 

Trainer Steve Asmussen is still searching for his first career victory in the Kentucky Derby, and EPICENTER (3) likely represents his best chance at success since Curlin in 2007. The three-year-old son of Not This Time has been strong all season, dominating the Louisiana path to Louisville and establishing himself as one of the favorites for the first Saturday in May. Epicenter’s versatility and professionalism make him an obvious win candidate, showing the ability to win outright on the lead or from a pace-pressing position. Look for jockey Joel Rosario to have the Asmussen trainee forwardly placed throughout the race, looking to make his move as the field rounds the far turn. Epicenter should have every opportunity to prevail on Saturday if he is good enough.

 

 

MESSIER (6) is the “other” horse entered for trainer Tim Yakteen, playing a secondary role to Taiba. This colt has as good a chance as any horse on Saturday, however, specifically because of the early speed he possesses. While no match for Taiba in last month’s Santa Anita Derby, the son of Empire Maker projects to be on or just off the early lead at Churchill Downs this weekend, a position that has proven to be an advantageous one since the introduction of the points qualification system for the Kentucky Derby. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride Messier, and his success on Medina Spirit in this race last year should not go overlooked, as this colt has similar traits to those which Medina Spirit possessed.

 

 

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The darling of the morning workouts leading into the Kentucky Derby has been ZANDON (10) for trainer Chad Brown, and while he may be among the most likely winners of this year’s race, his running style could very well be his undoing. Zandon is a colt that has typically done his running from off the pace, leaving him at the mercy of pace and trip. If the pace is on the more moderate side, the son of Upstart will likely have too much to do as the field turns for home. If the pace materializes and he has plenty to run at, he will then need to work out some sort of trip where he avoids traffic or avoids racing wide. Neither is an ideal situation when running against nineteen other horses, making him a likely underlay in this spot. That is not to say he cannot win – he is certainly one of the more likely winners of the race. When it comes to gambling, however, his win odds do not seem likely to represent fair value.

 

MATT BERNIER’S 2022 KENTUCKY DERBY SELECTIONS

1 – 12) Taiba
2 – 3) Epicenter
3 – 6) Messier
4 – 10) Zandon

 

Matt Bernier

Matt Bernier is a betting analyst for NBC Sports and host of "The Matt Bernier Show" podcast. His work has been showcased in the Daily Racing Form, on ESPN, as well as on TVG. Matt can be followed on Twitter @bernier_matt.