HOW HE GOT HERE
Happy Jack snuck in through the back door of the Kentucky Derby starting gate via two third-place efforts in Southern California. He debuted in late January sprinting at Santa Anita, where he finished up from off the pace to win by just over a length at 24-1. Happy Jack was then wheeled back off of only a two week rest to run in the Robert B. Lewis S. (G3). On that day he was taken well back and was beaten 27 lengths by Messier. He regrouped a month later along the Southern California road to the Derby in the San Felipe S. (G2), where he once again was far off the quick speed of Forbidden Kingdom before rallying into third late, still beaten 10 lengths in the end. Last time out in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), he ran a copy of the San Felipe S., showing nothing early before finishing up along the rail to be a well beaten third behind Messier and Taiba.
HOW HE FITS HERE
He doesn’t. Thanks to the short fields of the Southern California three-year old stakes races, Happy Jack was able to be the best of the worst in those races and accumulate the 30 points necessary to make this year’s race. Other than that, he has not displayed enough to be a player in the Kentucky Derby.
One note we can make that may move him up is how is Happy Jack’s closing style didn’t play well to the prep races he ran in, as those spots were all dominated by speed. If they do melt it down on the front in the Run for the Roses, there’s a chance he can pass some runners late.
CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREE
Two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Doug O’Neill will be represented by Happy Jack in the 2022 Kentucky Derby. It initially seemed like he would also have Sunland Derby (G3) winner Slow Down Andy as well, but due to an illness O’Neill will be left with Happy Jack. Happy Jack will be guided by Rafael Bejarano, who is 0-for-10 over the years in the Kentucky Derby without an in-the-money finish. Bejarano is a very capable rider and should be fine dealing with Happy Jack’s drop-in style.
Happy Jack does sport one of the coolest stories in this year’s Kentucky Derby. A son of Preakness winner Oxbow and out of a Tapit mare, he went through the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale in 2019 as a weanling without receiving a single bid. Not only is it pretty fascinating that a horse that literally nobody wanted has made America’s biggest race, but he also beat a $2.6 million horse on debut! He may not have a prayer in the big race, but his journey to the point is a win in itself.
Unfortunately Happy Jack’s wonderful story looks like it won’t have a happy ending. Major improvement will be required for him to even crack the top ten in the Kentucky Derby. As we saw a few years ago with My Boy Jack, his odds could take a hit for those related to a Jack, but that shift won’t be enough to put him lower than 50/1+. If he does magically pull through, it would certainly be one of the largest upsets in Kentucky Derby history.