By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The Road to the Kentucky
Derby is nearly complete. The first Saturday in May is barely more than three
weeks away. Who will win the Run for the Roses?
Favorites have enjoyed
plenty of Derby success over the last 10 years. In fact, the top betting choice
claimed victory every year from 2013 through 2018. But when Country House was
elevated to first place at odds of 65-1 in 2019, he started a new streak of
In 2020, Authentic took top
honors at 8-1, defeating overwhelming 7-10 favorite Tiz the Law in pacesetting
fashion. The following year, Medina Spirit (12-1) led all the way to cross the
wire half a length clear of Mandaloun (26-1), and while the status of Medina's
Spirit's Derby win is still under dispute due to a positive post-race drug
test, the betting payoffs won't be affected.
Which longshots are capable
of outrunning expectations in the 2022 Kentucky Derby? Based off the projected
fields, I believe the following two horses (both likely to start in the
double-digit odds range) are well worth supporting on the first Saturday in
In case you haven't noticed,
Japanese racehorses have been traveling the globe with increasing frequency,
and they've been winning major prizes left and right.
At the 2021 Breeders' Cup,
Loves Only You took the Filly & Mare Turf (G1) while Marche Lorraine posted
a stunning upset in the Distaff (G1). During the 2022 Saudi Cup program, Japanese
horses won four events. And on Dubai World Cup day last month, they upped their
game with five victories.
One of those Dubai wins came
courtesy of Crown Pride, who sprung an upset in the 1,900-meter (1 3/16-mile)
UAE Derby (G2). Racing over a slow track unconducive to fast times, Crown Pride
settled in fifth place behind fast fractions of :47.63 and 1:11.81 (impressive in
a race with no run-up start) before gradually rallying to beat pacesetter Summer
Is Tomorrow by 2 3/4 lengths.
Crown Pride defeated a
quality field in the UAE Derby. Among the also-rans were Saudi Derby 1-2
finishers Pinehurst and Sekifu (the former a Grade 1 winner in the U.S.) and also
Gilded Age, who previously ran third in the Withers S. (G3) behind future Wood
Memorial (G2) runner-up Early Voting and next-out Rebel S. (G2) winner Un Ojo.
Crown Pride won his first
two starts in Japan before kicking off 2022 with a sixth-place finish in the
Hyacinth, his first start off a layoff. Crown Pride clearly stepped forward in
the UAE Derby, considering Hyacinth winner Combustion ran 11th in Dubai, and he's
eligible to do so again in the Kentucky Derby.
Some handicappers will
dismiss Crown Pride because he didn't run especially fast in the UAE Derby; his
final time of 1:59.76 was modest. But remember Master Fencer, the
Japanese-based longshot who contested the 2019 Kentucky Derby? He entered with
a less accomplished resume than Crown Pride but outran expectations at odds of
58-1, gaining a ton of ground down the homestretch to cross the wire in seventh
place, just 2 1/4 lengths behind eventual upgraded winner Country House.
I believe it's only a matter
of time before the right Japanese horse ships in and wins the Kentucky Derby. I
don't know if Crown Pride will be the one to do it, but I definitely want to use
him in exotic wagers on the first Saturday in May.
It's been 22 years since a
Wood Memorial (G2) winner prevailed in the Kentucky Derby. And it's been 27
years since a Remsen S. (G2) hero visited the Derby winner's circle. Can Mo
Donegal break both of these losing streaks at once?
I don't think it's out of
the question by any means. Late runners like Mo Donegal haven't had much
success in recent editions of the Kentucky Derby, but Mo Donegal isn't your
average deep closer. He does much more than pick up the pieces as the leaders
tire; instead, he runs them down with terrific bursts of acceleration.
Remember Mo Donegal's
victory in the Remsen last fall? Much attention was focused on the fact Mo
Donegal put runner-up Zandon in tight quarters down the homestretch, even
bumping his rival while prevailing by a nose. Less attention was paid to the
fact pedestrian early fractions of :25.18, :51.47, and 1:16.34 gave a tactical
advantage to the pace-tracking Zandon, yet Mo Donegal ran him down anyway. This
performance was flattered by Zandon's impressive victory in the Blue Grass S.
(G1) at Keeneland last week.
The finishing fractions of
the Remsen were strong; according to Trakus, Mo Donegal sprinted the final
three furlongs in :37.12 and the final furlong in :12.33. But he finished even
faster in the Wood Memorial last week. Making his second start of the season,
Mo Donegal trailed the leaders by 4 1/2 lengths at the three-eighths pole, but
somehow blazed the final three furlongs in a freakish :35.61 to get up and
defeat pacesetting Withers S. (G3) winner Early Voting by a neck in 1:47.96,
the fastest Wood Memorial since 2005.
This was an epic
performance, and I can't recall the last time a Kentucky Derby contender
finished as fast as Mo Donegal in his final 1 1/8-mile prep race. The Derby
will mark Mo Donegal's third run of the season, so he still has upside for
improvement. His turn-of-foot and ability to produce perfectly timed rallies is
reminding me of Zenyatta, and I suspect there's more to Mo Donegal than first
meets the eye. The way he darted through traffic to run down Early Voting in
the Wood Memorial makes me think Mo Donegal has not only talent, but also a
serious will to win, stamping him as a formidable Kentucky Derby contender.
Now it's your turn! Which
longshots do you like in the 2022 Kentucky Derby?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.