Kentucky Derby 2022: a look at the “Run for the Roses”

Next year’s 148th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve will be held on May 7, 2022 and promises to be a thrilling two minutes as ever – although organizers will be hoping for much less controversy than they experienced with this year’s race. There are already some big name horses in the running to claim next year’s prize and we will assess the main runners and riders in this article.

But first we start with a brief background…

What is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby has been running at Churchill Downs in Louisville since 1875 and is the most-watched horse race of the year in the United States. It is widely considered to be one of the most important sporting events in the country. 

As the first jewel of the Triple Crown, a series of races that includes the Preakness Stakes two weeks later in Baltimore and the Belmont Stakes three weeks after that in New York, the Kentucky Derby is a Grade I stakes race for three-year-old Thoroughbreds.

The race is known by all as “The Run for the Roses”, stemming from the blanket of roses that are draped over the winning horse. It runs at a distance of 2 kilometres, with Colts and geldings carrying 126 pounds and fillies 121 pounds. 

The Kentucky Derby is restricted to 3-year-old racehorses, male or female, so a Thoroughbred is eligible for the race only once in their lives. Horses must be nominated to the Triple Crown and then qualify through a series of races that award points to the top four finishers. The Kentucky Derby field is restricted to 20 runners.

What happened last time out?

Last year’s worldwide Covid-19 pandemic did not put a stop to the long-running race, rescheduled to September with crowd restrictions in place. However the 2021 edition was moved back to its usual early May slot to get the summer started and saw Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit pull off a shock victory over crowd-favourite Essential Quality.

source: Reuters

The winner was an outsider at 12-1 and held off Mandaloun in the final stretch to provide Baffert with a record-breaking seventh success in this race in front of a 50%-capacity crowd of almost 52,000. It was then the largest crowd at an American sports event since the pandemic began, even despite the restrictions on capacity.

What happened next, however, stunned the sport as Medina Spirit would turn out to be a central character in one of US racing’s biggest controversies in decades. He crossed the line first in May’s race but failed a post-race drugs test which saw Baffert banned from entering horses at the Kentucky Derby for two years. 

It was a tough one to take for the man who had now successfully trained seven winners in this race and he denied deliberately doping the horse, blaming the failed test on an ointment used to treat a rash.

Although Churchill Downs imposed the two-year ban on Baffert, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has not charged him with anything or stripped Medina Spirit of the win, pending a hearing and enhanced testing results.

Sadly the story took a horrible turn earlier this month when the 3-year-old colt collapsed and died on the track after a workout at Santa Anita.

Who to look for in 2022’s race

Here we take a brief look at some of the early contenders for the Kentucky Derby 2022…

The current top contender for next year’s crown has to be Smile Happy (20/1), trained by Kenny McPeek. He won the $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs last time out and already has a strong pedigree on this track. 

A second straight dominant victory by 3 ¼ lengths followed a similarly dominant 5 ½-length romp in his career debut Oct. 29 at Keeneland. The dark bay or brown colt also handled a much more difficult task in his second start when going from a maiden race to a Grade 2 race that drew 11 promising 2-year-olds.

Pappacap is the one that leads the Road to the 2022 Kentucky Derby leaderboard, following his second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). The eight points the Mark Casse trainee earned in the Juvenile, combined with four points for his runner-up finish in the American Pharoah S. (G1), took him to 12 points for the series.

There are other horses who are in the running – you can review the possible contenders at Twinspires Racebook and check the odds too. One of those is Corniche who, at 11/1, is currently the favourite and is the only horse to have won two of the Prep races so far. However, as it’s trained by Bob Baffert it remains to be seen whether it will take part if his ban is upheld.   

TwinSpires Racing is the premier online horse racing wagering platform in the United States and is owned and operated by Churchill Downs, Inc. It is the official online betting partner of the Kentucky Derby, bringing you more than 145 years of wagering experience.

A lot of these potential runners are being picked by the official expert selectors of the race and this is reflected in the odds given. With Corniche currently one of the comfortable favourites but potentially unable to enter, it will open up the field to the rest.

They include Jack Christopher at 32/1 ( T: Chad Brown) who has staked big claims by winning the Champagne at Belmont Park, whilst another Kenny McPeek horse Rattle N Roll (also 32/1) won the Breeders Futurity back in October. 

Jack Christopher was an easy winner on debut at Saratoga, he then crushed a good field in the Champagne Stakes until Injury kept him out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He has since had a  screw inserted in his left shin and he should be back on the Derby path in early 2022.

Rattle N Roll looks to be a type who is getting better with each run and who should enjoy running over the Kentucky Derby trip. Winning his stakes racing debut in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, he also won his first race at Churchill Downs at a 1 1/16 mile so has experience over the hosting track.

Make It Big (T: Saffie Joseph Jr.) meanwhile is an outlier at 100/1 despite impressing to win the Springboard Mile, the most recent Derby Prep race. The Florida-bred is 3 for 3 in lifetime wins.

As well as the American runners the 20 will also be made up of one horse each from Europe and Japan, with Luxembourg of Ireland and Consigliere of Japan currently heading their respective leaderboards.


The race on May 7, 2022 will be broadcast on NBC during the network’s main telecast. NBCSN also will provide live coverage of the Kentucky Derby earlier in the day.

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