It's been three weird years in a row for the Kentucky Derby, the horse racing world's biggest race.
The Derby is the race that starts the fight for the coveted Triple Crown title, because without a win at the Derby, no horse can take the Crown. Therefore, whoever wins at the Derby is the only horse with the chance to make that history - and everyone wants that trio of wins that guarantees their horse can retire to make lots of expensive babies for the rest of his life.
This year's Derby is a return to a little normalcy, but like any big race in the horse world, it comes with its fair share of controversy. Here's a look at what to expect from this year's Derby, as well as a look back at some of the big controversies that have dogged the sport in history.
Derby Day 2022: Here's What to Expect
This Saturday, 20 of the world's finest thoroughbreds will enter the track, load in the starting gate, and launch themselves to victory or loss. As Derby Day 2022 approaches, here are some of the odds and bits of pre-race info you should know.
CBS Sports writes, "The 2022 Kentucky Derby contenders include Zandon, Epicenter and Messier. Zandon is the 3-1 favorite in the latest 2022 Kentucky Derby odds, while Epicenter is 7-2. Taiba (12-1) is trying to win the 148th Run for the Roses in just his third career start and will race from post No. 12."
CBS turned to on-air expert and incredibly well-connected racing expert Michelle Yu for her pick, and it may surprise you. Although racing fans are salivating over Messier (8-1), Yu isn't very impressed. Instead, she thinks 20-1 longshot Cyberknife may take the win, especially after his trainer Brad Cox switched up his training methods in Cyberknife's last two races. Whatever Cox has done, Yu thinks it's made the difference.
Yu famously picked Medina Spirit to win last year - which he did - so her prediction is raising eyebrows and intriguing betting booths everywhere.
DRF adds, "The 148th Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs is shaping up as a sensational race, with high-quality runners who have held their form for months and improved their Beyer Speed Figures as the prep season progressed. Zandon, the Chad Brown-trained Blue Grass winner, and Epicenter are acknowledged as the top two betting choices, but there are a number of other horses seemingly capable of having those roses thrown on their back, including the intriguing Crown Pride, a Japanese import who has trained at least as well as the two favorites this week.
Crown Pride, winner of the United Arab Emirates Derby for trainer Koichi Shintani, is seeking to become the first horse from Japan to win the Derby. Taiba, who won the Santa Anita Derby in only his second start, will try to become the first horse since Leonatus in 1883 to win the Derby in his third start, and the first horse to win the Derby in his third start without having raced at 2."
And post position #1 Mo Donegal with 10-1 odds is also intriguing experts - so it's really anyone's race, depending on whose analysis you trust.
It may rain Saturday, and even though the track dries quickly it could leave horses slogging through mud. Some horses favor a muddy track, and others struggle to catch their stride - so it's a variable that a wise gambler will take into account, given each horse's history with a soggy track.
Post time for the 2022 race is 6:57PM ET on Saturday May 7.
Racing Scandals Run Deep in the Horse World
Going into this year's Derby, people are more focused on the fact that the crowds (and celebrities) are returning in force than they are on the controversies that usually dog the sport.
Horse racing is often plagued with criticism from people who believe the horses are driven beyond their natural capacity, that the breeding and training programs are inhumane, and that profiting off the athletic animals' skill and then tossing them away when they start losing is tantamount to abuse.
But if it just stopped there, it would probably not be as controversial as it is. Like professional human athletes, racing horses are subjected to rigorous oversight and drug tests.
And just last year, one Derby winner failed a drug test - kicking off a flurry of outcries and questions about the morality of horse racing.
"Medina Spirit won the 147th Derby with style. The horse’s trainer, Bob Baffert, raised the trophy high and basked in the glow of success in the wake of the race. But the joy would be short-lived; on Sunday, May 9th, a post-race blood test for Medina Spirit revealed a positive result for a corticosteroid known as betamethasone. The horse’s blood test revealed 21 picograms of the substance, 11 picograms over the allowed limit.
Baffert claimed that they had been treating Medina Spirit with a topical medication known as Otomax, which contains betamethasone. Otomax can be used to treat skin conditions, as an anti-fungal, and has other applications.
According to Baffert, he was unaware that the cream contained betamethasone, a claim which seems highly suspect given the fact that the active ingredient is listed clearly on any tube of the medication. And suggesting that the veterinarian who prescribed it was unaware is beyond belief.
Betamethasone is often given as an intra-articular joint injection and has been banned in any amount in racing as a performance enhancing drug. Even if officials believed Baffert’s assertion that he and somehow the vet were unaware of the drug’s presence in the cream used to treat the horse, Baffert has been caught before with horses testing positive for steroids. The Bleacher Report shares, 'Horses trained by Baffert have failed drug tests several times in recent years. Betamethasone was at the center of a controversy last year when Gamine, Baffert’s third-place finisher in the Kentucky Oaks, tested positive for the corticosteroid.
Split tests subsequently confirmed betamethasone in Gamine’s system.' It was announced [ahead of last year's Preakness] that Medina Spirit would be allowed to run in this weekend’s Preakness race, the third of the Triple Crown races. This is subject to another drug test, which if failed will not only scratch the horse from the Preakness but strip the team of their Derby win. But Baffert is not the only one walking the line in the horse world, it’s a deep and often dark well."
People take for granted that huge athletic creatures like horses can stand up to the abuse they put their bodies through - but is it actually abusive to make them run?
Thoroughbreds especially generally love to run - they race when left to their own devices and every inch of their body is designed for speed. But horses have relatively fragile ankles and leg bones, and easily torn tendons. Nature designed them for speed, but that speed is meant to be short bursts to escape predators - not repetitive, intensive racing day after day.
Some trainers, such as allegedly Baffert, rely on drugs to push their athletes to the limits of their endurance, just like happens in the human world.
Although steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are outlawed in horse racing and the horses are monitored closely, in races with less public attention than the Triple Crown trio it's not uncommon for horse doping to occur.
Which begs the question: has horse racing run its course, and it's time to retire it for good? Or is there room in the future for racing, as long as the horses are treated humanely?
After all, the retired life of a winning racehorse can be luxury some humans could envy; siring foals, the best food and healthcare available, and all the room to roam. But getting there is the trick - more horses lose than win, after all. And low-stake race horses that lose habitually are known to be sent to slaughter because it's cheaper than training them for something else and paying to keep them alive.
Horse racing has a lot of darkness to grapple with and be accountable for - but advocates of the sport are pushing for more oversight to enhance safety while keeping the beloved sport around for years to come.
Celebrities and the Derby
There's nothing celebrities love more than a fancy affair where they can have a good time in public - and the focus is on someone else, so they don't have to count every step.
Since the late 1800's, the Derby has been a beacon of fun and class for celebrities who often attend dressed to the nines - with fancy hats in tow, of course - and enjoy the festive atmosphere and fun of a Louisville tradition.
While it's hard to predict who will make an appearance in the stands and VIP booths, there's a pre-race party every year that celebrities turn out for in droves. Patricia Barnstable-Brown hosts the Barnstable Brown Derby Eve Gala, and the A-list guest list will have you dreaming of stars.
The Courier-Journal writes, "On Friday evening, Barnstable-Brown will throw open the doors to her opulent hillside mansion in Louisville and welcome pop icon Janet Jackson, movie star Orlando Bloom and country music royalty Jason Aldean and Darius Rucker. Baltimore Ravens quarterback and former University of Louisville Cardinal Lamar Jackson will be there along with 'This Is Us' star Justin Hartley and film actor Stephen Dorff.
... Actor Blair Underwood will be returning for the party and races on Kentucky Derby weekend. So will singer Taylor Dayne, Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, Larry Birkhead, and daughter Dannielynn Birkhead, and crowd favorite Joey Fatone, who tries to never miss Kentucky Derby weekend in Louisville."
In addition, all six members of New Edition will be there - making it a '90's reunion dream gala.
Since most of those celebrities will likely attend the race the next day, get ready to go star-spotting in the stands - and keep your eyes peeled for others.
But the real stars are on the track, and only time will tell who takes the win.