Running Styles of 2022 Kentucky Derby Contenders

Profile Picture: Kevin Kilroy

May 5th, 2022

Race design is one of the most crucial aspects of handicapping. It begins with assessing a horse’s running style. Once grouped, we can begin to assess which front runner is sharpest out of the gate and into the first turn, which presser is a bonafide passer, which stalker will be positioned just right, and which closers have the deftest late dash.

Ever since the move towards the Derby Prep Race point system, which resulted in excluding many sprinters posing as routers from the Derby, only two winners have been further than two lengths back from the lead after the first 1/2 mile. In other words, the Run for Roses has become an early runner’s game of positioning.

Below I’ve grouped the field by running style, listing them according to how I rank their chances. Begin with this map to design how the race will unfold.

Front Runners: Kentucky Derby horses who want to lead the pack 

Messier: Since making the move to two turns, Messier has been most dangerous on the send. Likely regretting conceding the lead to Forbidden Kingdom in the Santa Anita Derby, know Messier will be on the lead or passionately pressing the leader into submission.

Summer Is Tomorrow: Summer is Tomorrow was a full send in the UAE Derby, and though he tired late, have no doubt he will be a full send on the first Saturday in May.

Classic Causeway: Seems to be a one-dimensional front-runner who hasn’t shown a strong enough early run for me to project him on the lead. 

Pressers: Early kickers looking to make things uncomfortable for the leader

Epicenter: The versatility question was answered emphatically in the Louisiana Derby (G1) when Epicenter rated in third. Epicenter has options: he could send if jockey Joel Rosario reads a slow break out of the gate, or he can sit right off it and get the first run on the front runners.

Zozos: He could step forward and beat the front-runners to the punch, or ride them and let them know what they ate for lunch as he passes.

Pioneer of Medina: Look for him to keep things crowded near the lead and try to gut it out for a piece late.

Taiba: His Brisnet Pace figures prove he has options, especially if we assume he takes another step forward. Know he could relax and stalk, or very well could be breathing down the front runner’s neck for as long as he can muster. 

Stalkers: Mid-pack position opportunists who can sustain their run

Crown Pride: Crown Pride has demonstrated that he wants every bit of the race, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him gaining position at every call but beginning towards the back of the middle pack.

White Abarrio: White Abarrio never lets the front runners get too far from his sights. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione will look to position his Derby mount midpack, comfortably within reach of the leaders. 

Charge It: Yes he brushed the gate in the Florida Derby but don’t let that fool you; Charge It ran his race and proved he is multi-dimensional, ready to stalk and pounce for the roses.

Cyberknife: Cyberknife will likely stalk midpack. Given his history of losing focus once getting to the front in the stretch, you can bet jockey Florent Geroux will be waiting until the last minute to make a winning move.

Simplification: Though he has proven dangerous tightly pressing the leader, with the Florida Derby in mind, let’s predict he will stalk near the front of the mid-pack or suffer the consequences of sending.

Tawny Port: Tawny Port is a stalker looking for the opportunity to get bold and pass as many as he can through the third and fourth calls. 

Closers: In the back and saving their gusto for the homestretch 

Zandon: True to trainer Chad Brown’s training style, Zandon’s biggest weapon is his late kick. Know he will come from off the pace and has every chance to run down the leaders in the stretch.

Mo Donegal: Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. has proven Mo Donegal is no slouch early, but his late run is what Joel Rosario used to win the Wood Memorial. Count on him to be full of run late, but there is an argument to be made that he will stalk mid-pack.

Tiz the Bomb: Going longer on Turfway Park’s synthetic course, we saw this McPeek trainee who is coming into his own close nicely, but not from quite as far back. Versatile closer.

Barber Road: A closer who Reylu Gutierrez will be positioning his Derby closer looking for daylight to build his gutsy rhythm late.

Rich Strike (ae 1): A true closer who has shown some spunk in the mornings.

Smile Happy: Smile Happy has done his best running when his mid-race move puts him in position for his tenacious close.

Ethereal Road: His best runs have come when he reserves his energy for a late charge. No doubt he will be looking to weave through traffic late.

Happy Jack: Hard to say he is a closer because even though he has run towards the rear, he hasn’t passed anyone who wasn’t tiring. He’ll be near the back throughout.

Rattle N Roll (ae 2): If he can put it together then look for him to try to save ground near the back and seize the day surging, but no closer than the superfecta.