When one thinks of Kentucky Derby participants, naturally one most often considers the horses. They are, after all, the ones physically running the race. However, behind every equine Kentucky Derby, hopeful is a host of people attempting to set their charge up for success: the jockey, who rides the horse; the groom, who cares for the horse’s basic needs; the owner, who foots the bills.
At the helm of the operation is the horse’s trainer. Trainers are responsible for providing a horse’s daily conditioning and exercise routines, managing their health and fitness, and plotting their racing schedule.
Each trainer has their own methods for bringing out a horse’s potential, and a horse who flounders in one trainer’s barn may hit it big with a different trainer. You can check here the past results of the Derby races and see which trainers were more successful: twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/results
Here are a few of the trainers who, in 2022, have the best chances of reaching Kentucky Derby glory.
Steve Asmussen (Epicenter, Morello)
Steve Asmussen is North America’s winningest trainer of all time, with 9713 wins as of April 20th, 2022. He is a two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, and he entered Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2016. He has never won the Kentucky Derby, but this year his luck may change as he trains the probable Derby favorite, Epicenter. Epicenter tops the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with 164 points, which he gained by winning the Grade II Risen Star Stakes and Grade II Louisiana Derby.
Asmussen’s other charge, Morello, was favored in the Grade I Wood Memorial, but he hit the gate at the start of the race and was never able to approach the lead. Prior to the Wood, Morello had been undefeated in three career starts.
Chad Brown (Zandon, Early Voting)
Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown has also never won the Kentucky Derby, and also brings one of the race favorites. The Minnesota-owned Zandon was the winner of the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes. After overcoming a ton of traffic problems, he may vie for favoritism with Epicenter. Zandon has been competing with the top tier of his generation since his two-year-old year when he lost the Grade II Remsen Stakes by a nose to Mo Donegal.
Early Voting punched his ticket to the Derby by placing second to Mo Donegal in a different race, this being the Wood Memorial. Early Voting led most of the way in the race and was caught by the sixteenth pole, losing only by a neck.
Brad Cox (Cyberknife, Tawny Port, Zozos)
Louisville native Brad Cox won the 2021 Kentucky Derby on a technicality months after the race took place, as Mandaloun finished second but was elevated to first upon the disqualification of Medina Spirit. He has three horses in the top 20 on the current Kentucky Derby Leaderboard.
Most prominent of his horses is Grade I Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife, whose victory came at the expense of top Kentucky Oaks contender Secret Oath. Zozos earned his spot by chasing Epicenter home in the Louisiana Derby. Tawny Port had been on the “bubble” of Kentucky Derby eligibility after finishing second in the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks, but he boosted his credentials with a solid win in the Grade III Lexington Stakes.
Kenneth McPeek (Tiz the Bomb, Smile Happy)
Kenneth McPeek has trained a Belmont Stakes winner in Sarava and a Preakness winner in Swiss Skydiver, but like most others on this list, he has never captured the first jewel of racing’s Triple Crown. His Smile Happy has been regarded as a serious contender for the Kentucky Derby since his win in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last year. Winless in two starts at three, Smile Happy has nonetheless competed well against some of the best of his generation.
Tiz the Bomb earned 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby by winning the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks over Turfway Park’s synthetic surface. He is also a graded stakes winner on the grass and was even considered for a run at England’s Triple Crown, which takes place entirely on that surface. He has only a maiden win on the dirt, and his only stakes attempt on the dirt, in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes, resulted in a sixth-place effort.
Todd Pletcher (Mo Donegal, Charge It)
Todd Pletcher has more Kentucky Derby experience than any other trainer in this field, having saddled an incredible 58 horses in the Run for the Roses. Of those, two were winners: Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017. This year, Pletcher has Wood Memorial winner Mo Donegal, who closed well to run down the aforementioned Early Voting. Highly regarded since his win in the Remsen Stakes last year, Mo Donegal also placed third in the Holy Bull Stakes.
The winner of that race, White Abarrio, came back to take the Grade I Florida Derby over Charge It, who had gone off as the favorite. Charge It had previously broken his maiden in spectacular fashion but has yet to run outside of Gulfstream Park.
Tim Yakteen (Taiba, Messier)
Tim Yakteen is best known as the trainer that took over many of Bob Baffert’s top horses upon Baffert’s suspension. Both Grade III Robert B Lewis Stakes winner Messier and impressive maiden winner Taiba were highly regarded in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby and ran like it, with the more experienced Messier yielding to Taiba late in the stretch.
Both horses, though talented, have yet to run outside of Southern California, and the last Kentucky Derby winner to take the race after only two career starts (as Taiba has) was Leonatus in 1883.