Few people know a talented Thoroughbred more than his or her trainer. Trainers are involved in every stage of a racehorse’s career on the track, and some are better fits for certain types of racehorse than others.
For example, some trainers specialize in sprinters, some specialize in turf runners, and some, as the title of this piece might suggest, target the Triple Crown races specifically.
Undoubtedly, though, the trainers who are most likely to win the Kentucky Derby are the trainers who have multiple viable prospects. Let’s take a look at some of the trainers, and their horses, who are leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby 2022.
Steve Asmussen (Epicenter, Morello)
Trainer Steve Asmussen has decades of experience with training Thoroughbreds, and he has won many of the premier races in North America. He has won the Preakness Stakes with champions Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, and the Belmont Stakes with Creator. However, the Eclipse Award-winning Hall Of Fame trainer has yet to win the Kentucky Derby.
Epicenter will enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate with more points than any other horse, having earned 164 throughout his path to the Kentucky Derby. The talented son of Not This Time has proven not only that he can withstand the rigors of a prep season and hold his form over several races, but also that he is able to reach Classic distances.
He accomplished the latter with a very easy victory in the GII Louisiana Derby, which at 1 3/16th mile is the longest Derby prep race in North America and only a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby itself.
Asmussen’s other charge is the as-yet undefeated Morello, who completes his final Derby prep on April 9th’s Wood Memorial. Morello’s dominant victory in the Gotham Stakes earned him 50 points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, which alone would be able to earn him a spot in the gate most years.
However, the Wood Memorial does not appear to be especially competitive this year, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Morello, who has already proven himself over the Aqueduct surface, does not at least hit the board and pick up more points.
Brad Cox (Cyberknife, Zozos, Tawny Port)
Brad Cox has the somewhat dubious honor of training an official Kentucky Derby winner without actually having visited the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle. That is because his Mandaloun, who finished second in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, only received the honors months later upon the disqualification of Medina Spirit.
Zozos (second in the Louisiana Derby) and Tawny Port (second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks) have 40 points each on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. At present, they sit at 14th and 16th, respectively; however, with three 100 point races on the horizon next weekend, it is possible that they will be ousted from Kentucky Derby eligibility. Still, both are very talented (though inexperienced) colts.
One horse in Cox’s barn who has been battle-tested against the best and earned enough points to secure a berth in the Kentucky Derby is Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife. Cyberknife, who disappointed while finishing sixth in the Lecomte Stakes, looked like a new horse as he charged past Barber Road and Secret Oath. The son of Gun Runner, according to Cox, rebounded well from the race, a good indicator that he will be on his toes on the first Saturday in May.
Kenneth McPeek (Tiz the Bomb, Smile Happy)
Kenneth McPeek is yet another trainer on this list who has captured the other jewels of the Triple Crown while falling short of the Kentucky Derby. McPeek trained Sarava in 2002 to become the biggest longshot to win the Belmont Stakes, and he captured the Preakness with the talented filly Swiss Skydiver in 2020. He also conditioned the graded stakes winning filly Take Charge Lady, who later became an important broodmare and ancestress of graded stakes competitors, including Charge It.
Smile Happy is the likely favorite for the April 9th Blue Grass Stakes, having won the GII Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes as a two-year-old and finishing a good second in the GII Risen Star Stakes behind Epicenter. His bloodlines show a good mix of speed and stamina; his sire, Runhappy, was a champion sprinter, but his damsire, Pleasant Tap, was competitive at Classic distances.
Tiz the Bomb, who won the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks and has 110 Kentucky Derby points to his name, is an interesting candidate. This horse has won races on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces. Although a Kentucky Derby start is a possibility, McPeek has not ruled out other targets, and he has suggested in multiple instances that the horse may attempt the Two Thousand Guineas Stakes, which is the first leg of the English Triple Crown.
Todd Pletcher (Mo Donegal, Charge It)
Todd Pletcher brings Kentucky Derby winning experience to this year’s edition, having conditioned Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017. The seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, a former student of Hall of Fame trainer and four-time Kentucky Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas, has a history of entering multiple talented horses in several editions of the big race.
Charge It, who entered the Florida Derby off of an impressive maiden win at a mile, finished second behind White Abarrio, earning 40 points toward Derby eligibility. Although he didn’t win, he ran professionally, especially when one considers that this was not only the stakes debut for the son of Tapit but only his third lifetime start.
Unlike Charge It, Mo Donegal has quite a bit of stakes experience, most notably winning the GII Remsen Stakes as a two-year-old by a nose over the highly regarded Zandon. A troubled trip can explain the loss in the Holy Bull Stakes, and winner White Abarrio’s subsequent Florida Derby win certainly flatters Mo Donegal. However, with only 12 Derby points, a first or second in the upcoming Wood Memorial is crucial for this son of Uncle Mo.