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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Plenty of intrigue guaranteed for Derby

by Wally Hall | May 5, 2022 at 2:17 a.m.

This is not an ongoing series about Bob Baffert, but the trainer who is suspended from running horses at Churchill Downs may be a temporary ghost at the track.

If either of his horses, Messier or Taiba, win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, it's just a matter of time before his face gets photoshopped into the winner's circle picture.

Baffert isn't sending knives to a gun fight.

Messier was a $470,000 purchase bred by Empire Maker, and he's never finished worse than second in six races, winning three and earning $435,000.

For whatever reason -- and there isn't a good one -- Messier is 8-1 and Taiba is 12-1 in the morning line.

Granted, Messier won the Robert Lewis Stakes by 15 lengths, but Taiba beat him in the Santa Anita Derby by 21/4 lengths, earning a 102 Beyer speed figure.

Taiba has a beautiful long stride, is 2-2 racing and has earned $490,000. He was purchased by Baffert for Sheik Zedan for $1.7 million.

Now it is true John Velazquez appears to have had his choice of mounts, but Baffert obviously liked the way Mike Smith fit Taiba.

Anyone who knows anything about the Kentucky Derby knows it is all about the luck when 20 horses take the field Saturday. More times than not it is which jockey puts his horse in the right spot when a hole opens.

Favorites don't win the Derby very often, and the morning line favorite is Epicenter at 7-2. Trained by Steve Asmussen, who has yet to win the Run for the Roses, Epicenter won the Louisiana Derby by more than 2 lengths, and for his career he has won four times, placed once and was off the board only in his first race.

Cyberknife, winner of the Arkansas Derby, is 20-1, which is a great price for a horse by Gun Runner.

Earlier in the week of the Arkansas Derby, long-time friend Tom Luicci messaged that a close friend of his had a horse running in Oaklawn's biggest race.

Luicci said he's green but talented.

Cyberknife made his move 100 yards before most horses do, on the turn to home, blew by everyone, and was pulling away slowly at the end.

However, there was a horse running hard at the end and passed Secret Oath for place money.

Barber Road is 30-1 on Saturday, but in eight races he has consistently been inconsistent. Running on the lead in sprint races and running from far back in distance races.

Ethereal Road, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, got in because of a late scratch. His horse broke his maiden at Oaklawn and then got out of there to try to get enough Derby points against easier competition.

Zozos, who breaks from the 19th post, and Epicenter, who is buried closer to the rail in the No. 3 post, will most likely vie to be in the lead, and there will be a bunch of horses trying to settle in behind.

Cyberknife will want to be in the next four, as will Taiba, Pioneer of Medina and Messier.

Zandon, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes, and probably Barber Road will hope to come from way back to win it at the wire.

It is one of the better fields for the Derby in a while, or at least the most balanced without a lot of Derby fever horses running, so their owners could have a box on Derby Day.

Churchill Downs is returning to normalcy following two years of covid-19 craziness.

They are expecting a crowd of close to 150,000.

Baffert won't be one of them, but he'll have two live candidates. Both are listed in the Daily Racing Form as previously trained by Baffert.

In his place, one of his former assistants, Tim Yakteen has a shot of making it to the winner's circle, even though his picture will most likely be edited out for Baffert's.

Print Headline: Plenty of intrigue guaranteed for Derby


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