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Kentucky Derby Expert Picks: Contenders, Betting Plays & More

Get the best Kentucky Derby plays from the horse racing experts at TwinSpires, including exacta, trifecta and superfecta picks.

Last Updated: May 5, 2022 1:31 PM ET Read Time: 5 min
Zandon Kentucky Derby 2022 Churchill Downs
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

The 148th running of the Kentucky Derby will feature a fierce field of 20 horses set to race 1 1/4 miles on Churchill Downs’ historic race track on Saturday, May 7. 

One undefeated runner, a Japanese-bred starter, and a multiple graded stakes winner who could give North America’s winningest trainer his first Derby win are just a few of the intriguing thoroughbreds entered in the Run for the Roses. 

Below, we give you our best plays for Race 12 on Saturday’s card, including an analysis of our top win contenders and a few horses to use in your exotics. We also build exacta, trifecta, and superfecta tickets for the Derby, along with a ticket for the All Dirt Pick 5 at Churchill, comprised of stakes races. 

Make sure to keep track of updated Kentucky Derby odds as the race approaches.

Win contenders

Mo Donegal (10/1)

The son of Uncle Mo tied for the highest last race speed figure among the horses in the field in his most recent start, a win in the Wood Memorial (G2) on April 9 at Aqueduct. His 121 Brisnet Late Pace rating in the 1 1/8-mile race is also the fastest of the field and gives the Todd Pletcher pupil a chance to close late and hit the board in the fastest two minutes in sports.

Post 1 has produced a winner just 8.7% of the time, the last of which was Ferdinand in 1986, but Mo Donegal won the Wood Memorial from the same post position. Nearly 20% of Derby runners out of post 1 have finished in the money, and with Mo Donegal’s 5-3-0-2 lifetime record, he’s a must-use in your exotics.

Epicenter (7/2)

The leader in points (164) in the 2022 Road to the Kentucky Derby series opened as the second choice to win the Run for the Roses, behind morning-line favorite Zandon. Conditioner Steve Asmussen is the winningest trainer in North America but has never won the Kentucky Derby in 23 tries, and has finished in the money just four times — most recently a second in 2017 with Lookin At Lee.

Epicenter is 6-4-1-0 for his career and won by 2 1/2 lengths in the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby (G2) last time out. He has the tactical speed to finally get Asmussen in the winner’s circle.

Zandon (3/1)

The morning-line favorite drew a favorable post (10, 10.6% Derby winners) and could land trainer Chad Brown his first Derby win. Zandon last appeared in the Blue Grass (G1), which he won by 2 1/2 lengths on a track labeled good, and hit a 114 Late Pace rating. Rider Flavien Prat will retain the mount following his first start with the colt in the Blue Grass. The jockey won the Derby in 2019 with Country House, who was placed first after Maximum Security was disqualified for interference.

To hit the board

Smile Happy (20/1)

A long shot with a chance to hit the board, Smile Happy has placed no worse than second in four career starts. The Kenny McPeek trainee was beaten by more than two lengths as the favorite in his last two starts, the Blue Grass — which Zandon won — and the Risen Star (G2) — won by Epicenter. The colt’s late speed makes him worth a look in your exotics.

Messier (8/1)

The well-bred son of Empire Maker lost to stablemate Taiba in his last race, the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby (G1) but can rebound for trainer Tim Yakteen in his first start at Churchill Downs. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who won the Derby with Animal Kingdom (2011), Always Dreaming (2017), and Authentic (2020), can get the best out of the colt.

Crown Pride (20/1)

The second Japanese-bred starter in Derby history, Crown Pride has won three of four career starts, including the UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai in his last outing. First-time Derby trainer Koichi Shintani will look to become the first to win the Triple Crown race with a horse bred outside the United States since David Cross won with Canadian-bred Sunny’s Halo in 1983. The 20/1 long shot posted a flashy 46-second workout at four furlongs on April 27 and may hit the board on Saturday.

Taiba (12/1)

Making just his third career start, Taiba is the second of two starters for Tim Yakteen. Both Taiba and Messier were originally trained by six-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, who is serving a 90-day suspension through early July and transferred his talented colts to Yakteen earlier in the year. Taiba’s late speed in his win in the Santa Anita Derby makes the Gun Runner colt an alluring play at a longer price. His 111 Brisnet Speed figure is tied for the highest last race speed figure of the field.

Cyberknife (20/1)

Winner of the Arkansas Derby (G1), Cyberknife is 2-for-3 in 2022 and worth adding underneath in your superfecta. The chestnut is trained by hometown hero Brad Cox, who has finished in the money in 60% of his appearances in graded stakes races over the last three years and is 2-1-0-1 in his two Kentucky Derby starts.

Kentucky Derby plays

Exacta

$2 exacta:

  • To win: No. 10 Zandon
  • Second place: No. 1 Mo Donegal, No. 3 Epicenter

Payout: $4

Trifecta

50-cent trifecta

  • To win: No. 10 Zandon
  • Second place: No. 3 Epicenter, No. 1 Mo Donegal
  • Third place: No. 1 Mo Donegal, No. 3 Epicenter, No. 5 Smile Happy, No. 12 Taiba

Payout: $3

Superfecta

$1 superfecta:

  • To win: No. 1 Mo Donegal, N. 10 Zandon
  • Second place: No. 1 MoDonegal, No. 10 Zandon
  • Third place: No. 3 Epicenter, No. 5 Smile Happy, No. 12 Taiba
  • Fourth place: No. 3 Epicenter, No. 5 Smile Happy, No. 6 Messier, No. 7 Crown Pride, No. 12 Taiba

Payout: $24

All Dirt Pick 5 at Churchill

Race 6: Knicks Go Overnight Stakes, 1 mile, 4-year-olds and up

Shared Sense, the five-year-old bay won his last race while clocking a 101-speed figure at one mile and 70 yards in an optional claiming race at Fair Grounds. He moves up in class for trainer Brad Cox, a 28% winner with horses that won their last race. Shared Sense also owns a 4-1-2-1 record at Churchill Downs. 

We’ll play him in the first race of our pick 5 ticket, along with No. 7 South Bend (8/1), who drops in class and hit a 100-speed figure at one mile in his most recent race at Churchill Downs, along with No. 11 Necker Island (6/1), who drops in class and is 5-for-9 in races at this track.

Pick: Shared Sense (No. 2, 3/1)

Race 7: Pat Day Mile (G2), 1 mile, 3-year-olds

In his first start since winning the one-mile Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont by 2 3/4 lengths, undefeated Jack Christopher is the one to beat in the Pat Day Mile. Trainer Chad Brown is a 27% winner with horses coming off a long layoff and a 22% winner in graded stakes races.

We’ll use him in the second leg of our Pick 5 ticket, and add No. 3 Pappacap (6/1), who last finished fourth behind three Kentucky Derby runners (White Abarrio, Charge It, and Simplification) in the Florida Derby (G1), and No. 11 My Prankster (4/1), whose best dirt speed is close to the average winning speed at this distance and class level.

Pick: Jack Christopher (No. 5, 2/1)

Race 8: Derby City Distaff (G1), 7 furlongs, fillies and mares, 4-year-olds and up

Racing against a number of rivals from the Madison (G1) at Keeneland on April 9, Just One Time opened as the morning line favorite but beat No. 6 Bell’s the One (5/1) by just 3/4 lengths last out.

Conditioner Brad Cox is a 28% winner with horses that won their last race, so Just One Time is in line to win her fifth straight. Bell’s the One will stick with regular rider Corey Lanerie and drew a favorable post in this race. We’ll use both race rivals in our Pick 5. Consider No. 7 Edgeway (4/1), who won by seven lengths last out at six furlongs, if looking to include more horses in a larger Pick 5 ticket.

Pick: Just One Time (No. 2, 2/1)

Race 10: Churchill Downs S. (G1), 7 furlongs, 4-year-olds and up

Jackie's Warrior, the champion male sprinter, is back for a rematch with No. 1 Aloha West (7/2), who won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) over his rival in November at Del Mar. Jackie’s Warrior has since rebounded with a win in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) over a sloppy track at Oaklawn. Aloha West has not raced in six months but flashed a sharp four-furlong workout at Churchill on April 30. We’ll single Jackie’s Warrior, but include Aloha West with No. 6 Prevalence (6/1) in larger Pick 5 tickets. 

Race 12: Kentucky Derby (G1), 1 1/4 miles, 3-year-olds

The final leg of the All Dirt Pick 5 concludes with the Kentucky Derby. Using two of our win contenders and one longer shot from our Derby analysis, let’s play No. 1 Mo Donegal (10/1), No. 10 Zandon (3/1), and No. 12 Taiba (12/1).

Pick 5 plays:

  • 50-cent Pick 5 ticket: 2,7/5,11/2,6/3/1,10,12 ($12)
  • 50-cent Pick 5 ticket: 2,7,11/3,5,11/2,6/3,6/1,10,12 ($54)

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