The best thing that can come out of the 2022 Kentucky Derby is for the race to come off, finish without incident, and actually feel like a Kentucky Derby that creates a satisfying and lasting memory in the minds of sports fans.
At least you can place bets on the Derby in Kentucky, although legal Kentucky sports betting on other sports has not been approved by the state. The latest bill failed in this year’s legislative session.
The last three Derbies have all been tarnished, all for different reasons, and I challenge folks to name the winners of, say, two of those races. Or, for that matter, of just the most recent Derby.
If the last Churchill Downs winner that comes to mind readily is a pulse-stirring colt named Justify, that would be quite understandable. After all, he was the Triple Crown champion in 2018 and the victor in the last Kentucky Derby whose history doesn’t have a dark cloud hanging over it.
Disqualifications in 2019 & 2021
In two of the last three Derbies the colts that actually crossed the finish line in first place — in 2019 and in 2021 — were eventually disqualified for different reasons.
In 2020, the year of widespread COVID-19 pandemic disruptions, Authentic, with morning line odds of 8-1, won the Run for the Roses on the square but the race was held at an odd spot on the calendar in early September with no paying spectators in attendance at Churchill Downs. The circumstances made it all feel, well, just plain weird. Not surprisingly, the TV audience was historically low.
As a refresher on the two contested results, the eventual declared winner in 2019 was Country House. He was moved up from second following a foul by Maximum Security for impeding another horse on the last turn. It was the first time a horse that was first across the finish line was deprived of the rose garland.
Two years later, in 2021, celebrated trainer Bob Baffert appeared to have won a record-setting seventh Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit but post-race testing on the colt revealed evidence of betamethasone, a substance with a pre-race time restriction. Baffert eventually blamed the finding on an ointment used on the horse but contended it had no effect on the Derby outcome.
Regardless, the following February, Medina Spirit was disqualified and Mandaloun was declared the winner. More tragically in the case of Medina Spirit is that he had collapsed and died following a workout at Santa Anita in December.
The 2021 Derby was only the second time in race history that a winner was disqualified following post-race testing. The first was Dancer’s Image in 1968 with Forward Pass the declared winner.
Zandon is Early Favorite
So, it is with an unsettling three-year run, and the future of mobile sports betting in Kentucky uncertain, that the 2022 Kentucky Derby will take place on Saturday with no obvious super horse having captured the attention of media and the imagination of sports fans. Also, the sport’s most familiar name and a favorite of the TV cameras, the snowy-haired Baffert, will be sitting out his suspension because of last year.
Among the horses, Zandon has the shortest odds at 3-1 followed by Epicenter at 7-2, although he drew the No. 3 gate, an unfavorable post position in the 20-horse field. It’s a sign of the times that a bettor can draw as much attention as the horses. In this case, that’s Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, a Houston mega-furniture store owner/philanthropist who is pledging six-figure donations if either favorite win the race as well as a personal choice Smile Happy (20-1).
McIngvale, whose bets are often hedges offsetting big furniture store customer promotions, had favorite Essential Quality in 2021. The colt finished fourth in the race and was moved to third when the dust settled from the Medina Spirit disqualification.