The biggest race day in the U.S. is fast approaching, as the Kentucky Derby is set for Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 7. It is a race that can shape careers, with some of the very best horses in history having won this race in their three-year-old season.
This year promises to be no different with a talented field emerging and a number of bright stars all vying for favoritism for the opening Triple Crown race of the season. But, which six horses should bettors be following before the Kentucky Derby this season?
Forbidden Kingdom (7/1)
The most significant market mover in the Kentucky Derby betting markets over the past four months or so has been the Forbidden Kingdom. He was essentially a 150/1 chance back in January, but a fantastic run of form has seen him emerge as the top contender.
The three-year-old is trained by Richard Mandella and has already won over both seven furlongs and 1 1/16 miles. The latter of those wins certainly caught the eye, as he stretched clear of Doppelganger to win the G2 San Felipe Stakes. More extensive tests still lie ahead with the G1 Santa Anita Derby on the schedule, but he’s certainly one to keep on the side.
Smile Happy (6/1)
While I appreciate Smile Happy’s talent, he is a little on the short side at 6/1 for the Kentucky Derby. There’s no doubting that his form on paper looks incredibly strong, as he holds a win over Classic Causeway at Churchill Downs in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club, but it could be suggested that the runner-up has progressed further than the winner on that day.
We have only seen the Kenneth McPeek-trained horse on one occasion since that victory, as he finished just behind Epicenter in the G2 Risen Star over a slightly longer distance at Fair Grounds. It will be fascinating to see where he lands next, with rumors suggesting a run in the G1 Blue Grass Stakes. However, that hasn’t been a successful stopping point for Kentucky Derby runners in the past.
Classic Causeway (10/1)
Classic Causeway could easily be the value in the current Kentucky Derby betting markets, priced at 10/1. The three-year-old is trained by Brian Lynch and has been outstanding throughout 2022. His last run as a two-year-old saw him finish second behind Smile Happy in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, but he has progressed since then. His seasonal reappearance came in the G3 Sam F. Davis, where he was simply sensational, winning going away over 1 1/16 miles.
Interest grew ahead of his run in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby, but he showed on that day that he could also close out closer fought races. He is an exciting contender and given a choice; I think he has a much better chance in the opening Triple Crown race than Smile Happy. We could see the two clash before Churchill Downs, as a potential showdown could come in the G1 Blue Grass Stakes in April.
Charge It (17/1)
Todd Pletcher has an exciting crop of three-year-olds and a number look set to go to the Kentucky Derby this year. However, one that could be set to improve as the season progresses is Charge It. This horse has already won once from two career starts, with most previous wins coming over a mile at Gulfstream Park. He broke his maiden in late February in particular maiden weight, winning in a time of 1:35.55.
We are yet to see him in stakes company, but the progression between his first and second run was exciting. It may not be much longer before we see him truly tested, as he is a likely runner for the G1 Florida Derby in early April. At present, he is a potential contender, but he could be a front-runner should he taste success in what is likely to be a deep field.
Secret Oath (All other 3-Y-O 3/1)
There certainly still may be value outside the top selections in the TVG betting markets, and one that I have had a very keen eye on is Secret Oath. It’s well documented that fillies haven’t had the best strike rate in the Kentucky Derby, with the last female winner being Winning Colors in 1988. There is an apparent similarity between the two- they are both trained by D. Wayne Lukas. At present, we are still unsure whether Secret Oath will be taking on the boys at Churchill Downs, but we could get an early glimpse of whether a Triple Crown bid may materialize in early April, as she is set to line up in the Arkansas Derby.
A win there would certainly up the ante, but connections have continued to state that a run in the Preakness Stakes may be likely. Regardless, her run in the G3 Honeybee, where she blew away the field over 1 1/16 miles coupled with a Bob Baffert-less Derby, does mean that this could be our best chance in recent memory for a filly winner of the opening leg of the Triple Crown.
White Abarrio (22/1)
There are certainly avenues for value in the betting if you can find a good angle for the Kentucky Derby. One of which may be White Abarrio for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. This three-year-old was also involved in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club as a two-year-old. He finished third behind Smile Happy and Classic Causeway. That remains the only defeat on his record, as he returned to the track in early February with a thrilling win in the G3 Holy Bull over 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park.
He held off a decent field that day, with Simplification and Mo Donegal finishing second and third. Whether he can step up into the next level of competition remains to be seen, but we could get an answer when he runs in the G1 Florida Derby in early April.