Kentucky Derby bets with an Epicenter

May 7th, 2022

The Kentucky Derby (G1) is never a straightforward race to predict. This year, however, when considering form and the likely race pattern, I keep coming back to one horse that’s shown it all: #3 Epicenter (7-2).

Form-wise, no race has proved stronger than the Risen Star (G2). Epicenter won easily; behind him were the subsequent Blue Grass (G1) first pair home in Smile Happy and Zandon, along with Lexington (G3) winner Tawny Port and Sunland Derby (G3) winner Slow Down Andy. The latter colt defeated leading Californian candidate Messier in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) late last year.

In terms of race pattern, the most important factor is since the Road to the Kentucky Derby entry system came into place in 2013, only Orb (2013) and Country House (2019, who didn’t cross the line first) were outside the first four after the first six furlongs. Despite Epicenter’s tricky draw in post 3, he hasn’t failed out of the gates yet and I expect to see him close to the pace, ready to pounce.

The recent pattern is only likely to change if the on-pace horses present, such as #6 Messier (8-1), #17 Classic Causeway (30-1), #4 Summer Is Tomorrow (30-1), and #19 Zozos (20-1), get into a speed duel. But even if they do, I see Epicenter being close without working too hard, getting first run on his opponents and having enough in hand to stop the closers.

Epicenter hasn’t put up the Brisnet speed ratings of some of his opponents—his maximum is 101, compared to the 111 posted by #1 Mo Donegal (10-1) in the Wood Memorial (G2), for example—but he can’t do much more than win impressively, as he has been.

At one point Epicenter looked one-dimensional as a horse who needed to be in front, after he was run down when setting a contested pace in the Lecomte (G3). But Epicenter put that to bed when taking a sit, getting dirt in his face, and still sprinting away in the Louisiana Derby (G2).

To me, the biggest danger is #12 Taiba(12-1). Yes, he’s very inexperienced, but that didn’t stop 2018 Kentucky Derby winner Justify. Taiba was very impressive in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), and he’s likely to improve further. And though he didn’t lead in the Santa Anita Derby, Taiba's front-running six-furlong debut victory shows he has enough speed to be close in the early stages.

I respect #10 Zandon (3-1), #5 Smile Happy (20-1), #16 Cyberknife (20-1), and Mo Donegal, though I fear they may need things to go their way to win. I’d say Messier is the most likely of the early pacesetters to hold on in the stretch, but his two defeats when he’s come under pressure from a challenger don’t inspire me.

#7 Crown Pride (20-1) is one I’ll include in the exotics. He looked very strong in the UAE Derby (G2), and it’s impossible to ignore how successful Japanese horses have been around the world in the last six months.

The somewhat forgotten horse is #15 White Abarrio (10-1). Like Epicenter, he’s been good enough to establish a position close to the pace and surge when it matters. White Abarrio's Brisnet Speed ratings aren’t great, but his two Florida victories were easy, and he had Mo Donegal well in hand in the Holy Bull (G3). My biggest query is how he’ll go outside his Florida base.

Finally, there’s usually at least one outsider that finds its way into the Derby minor placings. Often it’s a closer, so if you want to take one of these for a place or for exotics I’d suggest #14 Barber Road (30-1).

Whether you agree or not—good luck with the Derby!

Best plays

  • $20 win/$20 show: #3 Epicenter ($40)
  • 50-cent Trifecta: 3,12 with 1,3,5,7,10,12,14 with 1,3,5,7,10,12,14 ($30)
    Total: $70

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