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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, May 3, 2022 — The real handicapping has begun. All that remains now are very-last-minute developments, weather issues and post time odds, making Oaks Day, at minimum, a game-time betting decision.

Most top Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby contenders have drawn well. Those with less than ideal draws are just that, a less than ideal situation. But it shouldn’t stop any of the best of the 36 entrants that comprise the Oaks-Derby Double.

Here’s the skinny on the main contenders, listed in spot order. Ladies first, in which will feature “the Big Four.”

Secret Oath (6-1) drew the pole for the Oaks, which would be problematical except that her best races against her own kind were from behind and she can win running inside and out. The switch to Luis Saez is a major positive and he may need to use all his skills in this spot.

Saez’ job is to get away cleanly, play the position game off the break, try to avoid the rail path if, as expected, the track is wet. [Present forecast is for rain Thursday into Friday but possibly gone by Saturday am]. Historically, Churchill is a quickly drying surface.

Nest (5-2) is positioned outside Hidden Connection and inside Yuugiri. But this is Irad Ortiz Jr. and he will figure a way out of any early jackpots and come with her–and his–patented late run. Nest and Kathleen O. both come off visually impressive efforts. each with reserves in their tanks. Nest was very good at 2 and if the Ashland is a measure, appears even better at 3.

Champion Echo Zulu (4-1) is perfectly spotted in post seven. Trained with sharpness in mind, she is highly likely to break cleanly from mid-field, giving Joel Rosario options to stay out near the middle or drop over should she catch a flyer and the rail is fair. Wet or dry, it matters not, but her comebacker race and perceived lack of development is problematic.

Second favorite Kathleen O (7-2) is well drawn in post 10 since she lacks gate speed. She and Nest both kick on very strongly, ‘Kathleen’ raced wide throughout the Florida Oaks, wider still while rallying into the lane, and won drawing out handily. She broke maiden in mud on debut, is lanky and is all legs. The long Louisville stretch suits her talents perfectly.

Kentucky Derby 148: Deep and Richly Talented

As for the major players in America’s Race on Saturday, the number of major contenders may be limited only by the imagination of handicappers worldwide.

Based on trend-free past performances only, the winner could come from among Mo Donegal (10-1), Epicenter (7-2), Messier (8-1, )Zandon (3-1), Taiba (12-1), Simplification (20-1), White Abarrio (10-1), Cyberknife (20-1), Smile Happy (20-1) and Charge It (20-1).

Potential super-exotics fillers are Crown Pride (20-1), Pioneer of Medina (30-1) and Barber Road (30-1).

Of course, serious handicappers can’t use all the contenders We listed nine horses in the potential win group, knowing the only win throw-out for us is inexperienced Taiba.

Yes, the undefeated colt is extremely talented. He proved as much in the Santa Anita Derby. But we don’t believe that in this field he’s going to prove 1883 talented. Further, he will meet more than twice as many horses as he faced in both career starts combined.

And by super-exotics fillers, we’re thinking the last slot on superfecta tickets, with third not completely out of the question. Hard decisions need to be made and there’s plenty of time for that. Needed are those very-last-minute changes, prevailing biases and, of course, the odds.

Besides, as Hips the bookmaker said to Axel Freed, teacher and degenerate gambler, in the 1974 version of The Gambler, “they don’t pay off at the half, Axel.”

Notes on HRI’s Top Derby Contenders

Listed in post position order

1-Mo Donegal: Won the Wood breaking from the rail–against 12 fewer rivals. Loses Rosario but absolutely no drop-off with switch to Irad. Relentless and keeps coming at you. Two wins at 9 furlongs augurs well. Can finish but is he fast enough?

3-Epicenter: Loses Joel committed early and has reaped the rewards. Six weeks fresh and poised for a forward move. Jumps quickly from the barrier and to do so again is a must, or get crushed by the outside speed dropping over into first turn. Will likely race covered up, but this will be no La Derby-trip redux.

5-Smile Happy: Love the confidence McPeek is showing with his two prep regimen and was not wound completely tight when Zandon flew by in the Blue Grass. Like the way he’s trained since, loved his Jockey Club win here last fall and is nicely drawn with a ground-saving local legend in the boot.

6-Messier: Of the sophomore headliners, a bit of a forgotten horse. He was away over two months when worn down by freakish Taiba is Santa Anita Derby after first running brilliant Forbidden Kingdom into defeat. Loved his six furlong drill, has pedigree, a good draw and Johnny. Maybe prove “the best horse.”

8-Charge It: Love him to win–the Jim Dandy and maybe the Travers, too. Showed his inexperience while finishing extremely well in the Florida Derby and just might be the “best” of all Todd Pletcher’s three-year-old males. Excellent work over the track and is well posted with Luis. Just one race too soon for us.

10-Zandon: Post draw is perfect for this late runner who may or may not have baby gate issues; undecided about that. We futures-bet him in Pool 2 so we’ve always liked him [should have been placed first in the Remsen]. His Blue Grass says it all and is the absolute picture of health. Prat fits like OJ’s glove.

12-Taiba: His talent is beyond question, as is his rider’s. Problem is I have no idea what to expect of him or how Smith will ride him–probably tactical speed and pounce in a perfect world. Bottom line is I was have to see to believe. His fans probably will get a square price but he’s not our kind. Too many unknowns.

13-Simplification: Old school type thrives on racing and training. Trainer Sano is not shy when it comes to morning drills. He’s another future-book horse for us and he’s trained unbelievably, but two issues: He was saddled by himself pre-Florida Derby and often doesn’t change leads. Say hello to the Wall of Noise.

15-White Abarrio: Has pedigree, the tools, and brilliant form. He’s tactical–which could be an issue if he breaks too sharply and gets strung out wide on the clubhouse turn. Ran will at Churchill but can’t see him saving any ground even with brilliant young Tyler. Potential price shot but a money finish more likely.

16-Cyberknife: Loved his most recent work, broke maiden on debut at Churchill but saved his best for last, a thoroughly comprehensive win in the productive Arkansas Derby. Cox’s most recent Derby horses ran very well this day. Both Mandaloun and Essential Quality improved their performance figures in this race.

I likely will settle on one of the Derby favorites but need close to 5-1 on any of them, which is unlikely on either Epicenter or Zandon. Potential price shots are track loving Smile Happy and rapidly improving Cyberknife, each 20-1 on the early line. However, it’s only Tuesday as this latest section was posted.

The current plan calls for Oaks Day value plays for Thursday, and hard Derby Day selections on Friday.

Oaks a Great Derby Appetizer


G2 Edgewood Stakes                               Race 8

The Skinny: Chad has them surrounded and any of his three can win this. Landed on Spicer due to subtle difference in trips. New Year’s Eve was surrounded and gamely kept finding as winner had clear sailing far outside.

TICKET TOPPERS:  Spicer (3-1), Dolce Zei (5-2), New Year’s Eve (12-1), McKulick (7-2)  — DIRT ONLY: Dream Lith (10-1)

THE VALUE BET:  New Year’s Eve to win at 8-1 or greaterDIRT ONLY: Dream Lith to win at 3-1 or greater

EXOTICA:  Kneesnhips (12-1)

G2 Eight Belles Stakes                         Race 9

The Skinny: Matareya is a close to a single as you’ll find in this sequence; both Cox and Godolphin are very hard to beat these days. Marissa’s Lady is a win machine, as is the barn when it gets rolling, and did beat the choice, pre-Cox.

TICKET TOPPERS:  Matareya (5-2), Marissa’s Lady (7-2)

THE VALUE BET:  Marissa’s Lady to win at 3-1 or greater

EXOTICA:  Awake At Midnyte (15-1), Gerrymander (8-1), Ain’t Easy (12-1)

G2 Churchill Turf Sprint                      Race 10

The Skinny: As tough a turf sprint as you’ll find and unknown course condition doesn’t make this any easier. Caravel is training up a storm for Cox and mare gets five pounds. Chasing Artie beat weaker at GP but cleverly and with reserves; still has upside but Tyler chooses Caravel today. Arrest Me Red was never in good position last out but finished very well while under hand ride in deep stretch; sure to benefit.

TICKET TOPPERS:  Caravel (5-1), 4-Chasing Artie (20-1), Arrest Me Red (4-1)  — DIRT ONLY: Just Might (10-1)

THE VALUE BET: Chasing Artie to win at 12-1 or greater

EXOTICA: Gear Jockey (5-1), Diamond Oops (12-1), Pyron (6-1)

Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks           Race 11

The Not So Skinny: An Oaks for the Ages is a worthy sobriquet. Would be happy with any of the ticket toppers for top honors but settled on Kathleen O who gets no respect despite 4-for-4 slate. Bounce? A possibility, sure, but same can be said of Nest, who returns a week sooner than choice and likely underlay. Did Arkansas Derby help or hurt Secret Oath’s chances? All will find out today; rider switch and pole both positive. Venti Valentine regressed last out off big return; better with a target today and was a mere neck behind Nest at 2. Echo Zulu? #RespectTheChamp but added trip and pace pressure won’t help here.

TICKET TOPPERS: Kathleen O (7-2), Nest (5-2), Secret Oath (6-1), Venti Valentine (20-1)

THE VALUE BET: Venti Valentine to win at 12-1 or greater

EXOTICA:  Goddess of Fire (15-1), Nostalgic (15-1) Cocktail Moments (30-1)

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24 Responses

  1. Glad you addressed that post position. It concerns me but there are few jockeys I have more confidence in threading the needle than Luis Saez. Nest is going to be a handful obviously; the depth at the top is impressive; Nest, Secret Oath, Echo Zulu, Kathleen O., and even the UAE Oaks winner. This one is gonna be earned.

  2. In its own right, this year’s Oaks is just as interesting as the Derby, Doc.

    I am very disappointed at the prospects of a wet racetrack, however.

    1. Yeah it’s a real downer: I saw it was pouring this morning, which puts a damper on that Tuesday card they are running today. Was kind of interested in that 12f marathon Isaac Murphy overnight stake; the Diodoro horse is obviously a massive favorite, but if the 2 can replicate his last out TG, then this could be a race. Hard to make a case that any other horse in the field can actually win, although the wet track certainly could put pace considerations into it now.

  3. Crown Pride is 3 for 4 lifetime. Because comments are often lacking or absent for non-North American races, I was curious about his only loss (Hyacinth Stakes). Its difficult to see what happened when the gate opened, but he (# 9) was last early, then made up ground as he appeared to fight the rider (see the close up). He continued to gain while wide, but flattened out in the final yards and finished 6th. This horse is worthy of serious consideration.

    Watch it here:

    1. Thanks for thinking of the HRI Faithful. This horse isn’t about shot-taking. He’s bred well. Conditioning and ability at the distance is not an issue. This is why they run the races, Dan. I could him third and fourth in exotics, at least for today, four days in advance of Derby

  4. Taiba may contain the* fresh,lightly raced *angle besides winning easily and being eased at the stretch. Interesting that the top ML favorites are trained by two guys who are 0-30 in Derby races.Was watching Hockey playoffs with Messier,Hall of Fame player, doing the expert analysis.Wonder what his *Beyer* would have been playing with the Great Gretzky in Edmonton… Stanley Cups and winning numbers don’t lie.Dosage,anyone ??

    1. My “Automatic” early bets before i digest the PP numbers and wait about what the Big Board suggests and what the track conditions will be= 86-12-1-15…83-10-1-15 and,of course Nonnos ‘System’ picks 1,15 -3-6-8-10. Wont be surprised if I wont place other bets besides these early ones.Too many numbers,too many good protagonists. Exactas,boxed and straight ,and straight triples only,of course. $ 160. Happy Cinco De Mayo,Amigos,[ burp] ! Above All, about The Best Word in Any language = Happy Mother`s Day to ALL Good Mammas,esp. Mine ,an understanding,patient,kind Angel. Thanks !

  5. In post position order, I have 6 open as of today. Epicenter, Messier, Tiz the Bomb, Taiba, White Abarrio and Cyberknife. As you’ve said, still many days before post time.

    1. Yes, early indeed Stephen.

      Rain, rain go away; hate it when automatic excuses are built in. Bettors can make post time adjustments. unfortunately the rules are different for public handicappers.

      Have updated just now; comments on our personal Top 10–five of your six are among them…

  6. John. Why aren’t White Abarrio and Simplification getting much respect.? I thought the Florida Prep races were very impressive from a figure angle and were visually impressive.

    1. Wish I had an answer for you Pete. Charge It getting most of the buzz out of Florida. Perhaps the connections are the ones not getting respect from the national media, reporters who cover four racing events per year. To me, both are live. Good enough is the question for them–and all the rest..

  7. Sorry to hear about your oral surgery, hope you are feeling better. Oaks will be a good race, have to go with my namesake for fun, but I do like Echo Zulu, somehow keeps haunting me. The Derby and a possible wet track could change everything, I still think Zandon but being the biggest free for all in racing. Asmussen is 0-23 in the Derby, never ever forget Brad Cox, he is an unbelievable Trainer, so Cyberknife could be there, also Messier and Classic Causeway. It will be exciting starting tomorrow. Good luck to all and hope you all hit a longshot!!! Kat

    1. Right back at you, Kat. May you and all the HRI Faithful’s trusty steeds have a safe and speedy journey

  8. Forgot to stay the most important aspect of the Derby, the horse that wins is always an improving horse, one that is coming on, look for that if you want money. Kat

    1. Based on his previous 2 races at Sunland Park in 2009, I do not consider Mine That Bird to have been an improving horse going into the Kentucky Derby.

  9. Keep an open mind on Zozos going into all of this. Per Lisa De Michael at Zozos is “Spectacular” for the rain. In rain, his post will not be an issue per Lisa. A word of caution on Cyberknife, again per Lisa De Michael, brings to attention the fact that he is out of Gun Runner, and is a 50/50 coin toss in the off going. Gun Runner hated RAIN. Best to wait and see what weather the God’s of Racing have planned for us at post time.

    Also best to view at them all at the Riders Up and in the post parade. My quandry at the moment is wondering which of these are really ready for an “eyeball to eyeball fight’ that possibly lies ahead in that last furlong. This year’s group is such a great puzzlement, as so many are so lightly raced. Which one of this group has the “intestinal fortitude” to duke it out if need be? Messier appears lacking, but maybe his last was all a part of the master plan, as with Simplification’s last effort. Save enough gas off the run for the big dance coming up on Saturday?

    Oddly enough, from my memory of a Belmont Stakes years back, regarding eye to eye, one who had a pair, but didn’t have a pair at all, was Rags to Riches. Wondering if any could match up with the Rags to Riches vs Curlins of the past? All so lightly raced, who knows. Should be fun is all.

    Exiting with an Irish toast. “Three best to have in plenty – sunshine, wisdom and generosity.” Should I get beat, I hope it is one of you that passes me in that last furlong. Should anyone catch the SF pot of gold, generosity would call for giving back and sharing a few of your Derby Roses with the people of Ukrane. The U.N. currently has an appeal on for refugee relief that would be a good target.

  10. McD, sharing support for the people of Ukraine is a great suggestion… Zandon successfully fought through adversity in the Blue Gras… Will the track dry out in time? As if this year’s Derby wasn’t difficult enough. Messier, I believe, was short of condition in SA Derby. Sano wanted to put race speed into Simplification, since he had enough Derby points already… Happy Oaks Day to all, still work to be done, gotta’ go.

  11. Re Simplification John, Lisa De at DHC views Sano effort towards speed training is a mistake in that he should be directing more at the stamina aspect. We shall see.

    How are you and Toni feeling John? Good to have the “Dr. Yankem” date behind you I am sure. As a kid, the very worst days in life were the times sitting in the Dentist’s office, and listening to that fear inspiring drill down the hall. So many times, we all just wanted to run like hell. At times I never made it to the appointment. If the parents forgot, I was off to the West End school yard for basketball. The price of all those Devil Dogs and Cokes at the local candy store we never paid mind to, lol.

    Still in the process of locking in on my horses for the big dance tomorrow. Reading on the Oaks at present.

    “I’ll be back”, said Arnold.

  12. 5/6/22

    The Kentucky Oaks
    1. Secret Oath-The coach has the 2022 winner of the Kentucky Oaks. The one hole is no longer a problem and his Arkansas Derby was better than it looked( against the boys) She has run fast enough twice to win this and she’s done nothing wrong. Switch to Saez is a big plus.
    2. Nest- If there is an upsetter, it could come from Todd Pletcher’s Nest. His Ashland was outstanding.
    Underneath- Goddess of Fire, Nostalgic.
    Let’s go get the bad guys, good luck to all.
    Ps. If your playing Oaks/ Derby Doubles let’s complete the double with Smile Happy (my pick), Zandon and Messier in the derby.

  13. Vino, I am with you on Secret Oath if in the 6-1 range, but I do have reservation on the DD call with McPeek’s Smile Happy tomorrow. He was my “like em the best” Derby horse back early in December in the futures, but I shied away questioning the “out of Run Happy” at a mile and a quarter. Still searching and searching for my KD pick, so I more than likely will play a Win only wager only in the Oaks. What a great game with so many variables to consider. Tomatoes or Potatoes. Did ya’ have ’em, did ya’ have ’em? And then there’s the Rain. Tough game for the public handicappers with needing to make their selections so early.

    “No mas” for me today. I get to keyboarding so much gibberish that at sometimes I feel like I could empty a bar giving away “free beer”. And I’m only drinking Guinness Zero, lol.

    Safe journey today to all.

    1. Nice race from a horse that could win the distaff. Preakness anyone? McD, you are truly an honorable man. Great thoughts leading up to the races. Tomorrow we get it all. To my mind there are 3 horses who can win the derby. Watch the board on Messier, we already have double digit’s on Smile Happy and Zandon May go to 4-1.

  14. I feel like a proud father right now. I bet way more than I should have on Secret Oath but she won be over months ago.

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