Roses Are Red, The Grass Is Blue, The Kentucky Derby Is Back For 2022

Written By Grant Lucas on May 3, 2022
Zandon Epicenter Smile Happy Kentucky Derby Churchill Downs

Three years have passed since Churchill Downs operated at full capacity for the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

From 2015 to 2019, attendance at the Kentucky Derby declined from a record 170,513 patrons to 150,000. Then, the coronavirus pandemic forced the race to run without a crowd in 2020. A year ago, the Derby went on in front of a limited attendance of just over 50,000.

This time around, the Kentucky Derby is back. All the way back.

Some 150,000 patrons are expected to return to the historic Louisville racetrack for the 148th Kentucky Derby — the fastest two minutes in sports. With their eyes set on the coveted blanket of roses, 20 thoroughbreds will jockey for the title of Derby champion. Of course, only one will accomplish this feat.

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Post position draw of 2022 Kentucky Derby

On Monday afternoon, the 20 entrants learned their spots in the starting gate for Saturday’s race.

The morning line made Zandon, out of the No. 10 position, the early Kentucky Derby betting favorite at 3-1 odds after the 3-year-old won the Blue Grass Stakes a month ago in nearby Lexington. In that race, Zandon beat out Smile Happy, who will begin the Derby in the No. 5 position at 20-1 odds.

In February, Smile Happy edged out Zandon to place second in New Orleans only to be outkicked by Epicenter, who holds the second-best Kentucky Derby odds at 7-2.

How do the odds look for the rest of the Derby field?

Post, Horse, Odds Post, Horse, Odds 
1, Mo Donegal, 10-16, Messier, 8-111, Pioneer of Medina, 30-116, Cyberknife, 20-1
2, Happy Jack, 30-17, Crown Pride, 20-112, Taiba, 12-117, Classic Causeway, 30-1
3, Epicenter, 7-28, Charge It, 20-113, Simplification, 20-118, Tawny Port, 30-1
4, Summer is Tomorrow, 30-19, Tiz the Bomb, 30-114, Barber Road, 30-119, Zozos, 20-1
5, Smile Happy, 20-110, Zandon, 3-115, White Abarrio, 10-120, Ethereal Road, 30-1

No Bob Baffert, but there’s some Bob Baffert

While Zandon grabs the spotlight as the early favorite, and while competitors such as Epicenter, Smile Happy and Cyberknife could grab plenty of attention themselves, there’s no dodging the looming presence — or lack thereof — of Bob Baffert.

For the fifth time since the legendary trainer began entering horses in the Derby in 1996, Baffert will miss the Run for the Roses this year. Baffert is serving a 90-day suspension by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission as a result of his horse Medina Spirit testing positive for betamethasone last year.

That said, two horses (and their trainer) have ties to Baffert. Taiba and Messier both began under the training of Baffert, who passed the two thoroughbreds on to his former assistant, Tim Yakteen.

Whether Baffert will be able to get back to the Derby again remains to be seen.

Which starting position has the most Kentucky Derby wins?

When it comes to betting on the Derby or even entering a horse, quite a bit of focus zooms in on the starting gate.

Superstitions come into play. Preferred racing strategy, as well. Of course, past history also plays a role.

Consider the following:

  • Seven of the last 11 Derby winners started at No. 13 or wider
  • Those four exceptions included two winners from Post 5 and two from Post 7, the latter position seeing two victors in the past four years
  • Post 5 has featured more winners (10) and runners-up (eighth) than any other starting position

If Zandon follows through on the morning-line odds and comes out victorious, the No. 10 post will move into a tie with Post 5 for most Kentucky Derby winners. Posts 1, 7 and 8 have each seen eight champions.

But what about the other side of the coin? Certainly, droughts exist for several starting positions.

Post 1, for example, hasn’t had a Derby winner since Ferdinand in 1986, while Post 2 (with seven winners) hasn’t sent off a victor since Affirmed in 1978. While posts 13 and wider have enjoyed the most success recently at the Kentucky Derby, the No. 14 position has only had two winners ever — and none since Carry Back in 1961.

Only one post still awaits a Derby champion: No. 17. It can be done, in theory. After all, I’ll Have Another (No. 19, 2012) and Big Brown (No. 20, 2008) became the first Kentucky Derby winners out of their starting positions within the past 15 years. It will be up to Classic Causeway to come through this year for Post 17.

And at 30-1 odds, it will pay off handsomely.

Photo by AP / Jeff Roberson
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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is the senior managing editor for PlayNY. A longtime, award-winning sports writer, Grant has covered gambling and legal sports betting since 2018, when he got his start reporting on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania industries. In 2020, he shifted his attention to the Empire State as lawmakers continued to work toward passing legal online sports betting in New York. Previous the lead writer for PlayNY, Grant now oversees content for the site. Before covering the expansion of legal gambling, Grant served as a sportswriter with The Bulletin newspaper in Bend, Oregon, covering high school, Oregon State and University of Oregon athletics as well as the Portland Trail Blazers. Prior to that - after graduating from Linfield University, where he played baseball for former Yankee and World Series MVP Scott Brosius - Grant worked as a digital content reporter for the Trail Blazers.

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