When it comes to the Kentucky Derby, bet against the favorite at your own peril.
Since the current points system used to determine Derby qualifiers started in 2013, post-time favorites have landed in the superfecta payout all nine years – six wins, one second and two fourths.
Looking at this Saturday’s Derby, morning-line favorite Zandon (3-1 odds) and second-choice Epicenter (7-2 odds) figure to battle for status as post-time favorite once wagering begins Friday morning.
Kentucky Derby 2022:Why your horse can – and can’t – win Saturday’s race
Assuming Blue Grass winner Zandon maintains his status as favorite, here are four horses who can beat him and should be a part of every superfecta wager:
Many thought the Louisiana Derby winner would be the Kentucky Derby favorite, but he landed just behind Zandon in the morning line.
Was trainer Steve Asmussen surprised?
“I’ll be surprised if he gets beat,” Asmussen said. “The rest I have nothing to do with.”
More on Epicenter:Check out the farm in Bowling Green where he was bred
A bay son of Not This Time, Epicenter has seen his Beyer Speed Figures go up in every race of his career, peaking with a 102 in the Louisiana Derby. He’s won four of his past five races, losing only by a head to Call Me Midnight in the Grade 3 Lecomte. In the only meeting between the two – the Grade 2 Risen Star on Feb. 19 – Epicenter beat third-place Zandon by 3 ¼ lengths.
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Asmussen is 0 for 23 in the Derby, but Epicenter may be his best shot ever.
“Epicenter is very confident right now, training really well,” Asmussen said. “We’ll be very anxious. Obviously feel that this is a wonderful chance to win the Derby.”
Bob Baffert may not be at the Derby this year, but two of his former horses – now in the hands of Tim Yakteen – have big shots.
Messier wowed everyone with his 15-length score in the Grade 3 Robert Lewis on Feb. 6 – earning a 103 Beyer – but was surprisingly passed by Taiba down the stretch in the Santa Anita Derby.
Yakteen downplayed the significance of that performance, noting Messier hadn’t raced in two months.
More on Yakteen: Trainer in unfamiliar spotlight at Kentucky Derby
“He did all the heavy lifting (in the Santa Anita Derby), so I feel like we should see a big move forward from Messier,” Yakteen said. “He’s bounced out of his race exceptionally well. He doesn’t give me the impression that he was fatigued. He enjoyed the fitness and is thriving on it.”
The other Baffert-Yakteen horse has been super impressive with Beyers of 103 and 102 in his first two races but has 139 years of history going against him.
Leonatus in 1883 is the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby after just two career races.
Taiba faced just six other horses in his maiden victory and five others in the Santa Anita Derby. He’ll face 19 others in the Kentucky Derby.
“The challenge comes … with the gates opening and the horse not having the experience of being surrounded by other horses,” Yakteen said.
Kentucky Derby 2022:What’s left for jockey Mike Smith to accomplish? Plenty
The son of Gun Runner was purchased for $1.7 million by Amr Zedan and will have two-time Derby winner Mike Smith in the saddle.
There may not be a more polarizing horse in this year’s Derby.
“If I can get him into a nice, happy rhythm early on and a good comfortable place where he doesn’t have to overcome a whole lot,” Smith said, “he has the kind of ability that can pull it off.”
Perhaps it was his relatively late arrival to Louisville, but no horse in the Derby field with such solid credentials has been talked about less.
The Florida Derby winner is 4-0-1 in five career starts. The knock is that all four wins came at Gulfstream Park and his lone loss was at Churchill, a third-place finish last November in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said White Abarrio got “bottled up inside” early in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
“When he did get out at the eighth-pole, he had no chance of winning at that point,” Joseph said. “But I was happy to see him sustain momentum and stay on steadily. I thought that race taught him a lot, and we felt confident he would move forward.”
White Abarrio’s final breeze Saturday at Gulfstream – four furlongs in 48.23 seconds – left Joseph excited about his Derby chances.
“All I can say is ‘Wow,’” Joseph said. “He worked super.”