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An Early Look at the 2022 Kentucky Derby Hopefuls

| December 16, 2021 9:19 am PDT

You might not be spending every waking moment thinking about May 7, 2022, but there are a lot of horses, jockeys, trainers, owners, and oddsmakers thinking about nothing else. That’ is the day, of course, when the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place.

The race known as the Road to the Kentucky Derby has been underway for a couple of months now, and with few more than a half-dozen of those qualifying races already in the history books, we could start divining what May 7th holds in store for us.

We could do that if we were even just a bit foolhardy. Aw, what the heck—let’s look at the current leaders.

Corniche (+800)

  • Last Jockey: Mike Smith
  • Trainer: Bob Baffert
  • Owner: Speedway Stable (Peter & Ann Fluor and K.C. Weiner)

Corniche announced his presence on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with authority when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade I) at Del Mar in November, snagging the top position on the 2022 Road to the Kentucky Derby scoreboard.

At least, that’s what would have happened if Churchill Downs hadn’t suspended trainer Bob Baffert and any horses he was training from the track for the next two seasons as well as banning his participation in the next two Kentucky Derby runs.

Still, what keeps hopes for Corniche alive are hints that owner Peter Fluor may move Corniche to another trainer’s barn to circumvent the Baffert ban.

And with an undefeated record of three that includes his initial maiden attempt as well as a win in the American Pharoah Stakes (Grade I)—which with the Breeders’ Cup victory would give him 30 total Road points—we can all understand those hopes.

Jack Christopher (+1600)

  • Last Jockey: Jose Ortiz
  • Trainer: Chad C. Brown
  • Owner: Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud, and Peter M. Brant

Also undefeated is Jack Christopher with his maiden run as well as the Champagne Stakes (Grade I) on his win sheet.

He was touted as a rising star and considered the odd-on favorite to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last month until he was scratched the day before the race after a bone scan showed some problems with one of his shins.

According to bloodstock agent Bradley Weisbord noted that the thoroughbred would return to training in 2022.

“[Jack Christopher] had a procedure done on that shin and he’s going to be out for two months.”

Messier (+1600)

  • Last Jockey: Flavien Prat
  • Trainer: Bob Baffert
  • Owner: Golconda Stable, Madaket Stables LLC, SF Racing LLC, Siena Farm LLC, Starlight Racing, Waves Edge Capital LLC, Catherine Donovan, Robert E. Masterson, and Jay A. Schoenfarber

Like Coriche, Messier has the “Baffert handicap” as far as the Kentucky Derby is concerned, but a switch of trainers now could change his life. And he’s certainly proven that he’s got the necessary star quality.

He placed second in his initial maiden attempt at Los Alamitos, graduated on his next attempt at Santa Anita in October, and then won the Bob Hope Stakes (Grade III) at Del Mar just last month.

Most recently, Messier finished second in the Los Alamitos Futurity, which would give him his first points on the Road leaderboard—provided Baffert stepped down as his trainer. We’ll keep you posted.

Smile Happy (+2000)

  • Last Jockey: Corey J. Lanerie
  • Trainer: Kenneth G. McPeek
  • Owner: Lucky Seven Stable (Mackin)

After winning his initial maiden run at Keeneland in October, Smile Happy went on to put himself on the R2KD leaderboard early with his win of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (Grade II) at Churchill Downs in November.

All his connections, from the Mackin family at Lucky Start Stable to his trainer and on to jockey Corey Lanerie, are proud of Smile Happy’s performance so far, and excited about his prospects as the season progresses.

Trainer Ken McPeek spoke to reporters after Smile Happy’s stakes win.

“He is a really, really nice horse. He’s kind of inconspicuous in that, when he trains, he’s just a real pro. He goes out there and does everything. What he showed today was completely another level.”

Tiz the Bomb (+2000)

  • Last Jockey: Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr.
  • Trainer: Kenneth G. McPeek
  • Owner: Phoenix Thoroughbred, LTD

Another possible contender with no points on the Road scoreboard as of this writing is Tiz the Bomb, a colt who has gone three for five in his career, winning his second maiden attempt as well as the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile Stakes (Black Type) at Kentucky Downs in September and the Castle & Key Bourbon Stakes (Grade II) at Keeneland in October.

He also finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar in early November.

He was the 3/1 favorite for the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on November 27th until he was scratched by his connections due to a left front leg inflammation that required antibiotics.

So, while Tiz the Bomb’s record thus far isn’t the most convincing argument for a position in the 2022 Kentucky Derby starting gate, at this stage nobody’s crossing him off their list, either.

Pappacap (+2500)

  • Last Jockey: Joe Bravo
  • Trainer: Mark E. Casse
  • Owner: Rustlewood Farm, Inc.

The oddsmakers have Pappacap ranked closer to the “least-likely” end of the scale even though he currently holds the number one position on the R2KD leaderboard.

He first came to oddsmakers’ attention when he followed up his April maiden victory with a win in the Best Pal Stakes (Grade II) at Del Mar in August.

An on-again-off-again performance at the Del Mar Futurity (Grade I) earned him nothing but a participation award in September.

 He was back on track in time for the R2KD prep races, placing second in both the American Pharoah Stakes (Grade I) at Santa Anita in October and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade I) at Del Mar in November.

What’s Ahead

Only a half-dozen or so of the 37 US-based races that comprise the Road to the 2022 Kentucky Derby are in the history books, so we should probably demur writing checks on our probable winnings right now.

Still, keep an eye on this blog as well as on SportsBetting.ag for the latest coverage of the ever-changing line-up of the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

J.W. Paine

J.W. Paine is one of the most experienced writers at GamblingSites.com. He's written for television and the printed media, and is a published novelist (as Tom Elliott).

Paine loves writing about Las Vegas nearly as much he loves living here. An experienced gambler, he's especially familiar with thoroughbred horseracing, poker, blackjack, and slots.

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