LIGHTLY-RACED G1 WINNER: Taiba looks a powerful Derby force.

Main contenders for 2022 Kentucky Derby

The 2022 Kentucky Derby kicks off the annual US Triple Crown, which has seen only 13 winners since its inception 148 years ago, and Derby fever has hit America two weeks ahead of the 7 May showpiece.

For those new to the game, and those who taken only a passing interest in this annual spectacle, the Triple Crown comprises of:

1) The Kentucky Derby over 2000m (dirt), raced at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May

2) The Preakness Stakes over 1900m (dirt), at Pimlico Racecourse on the third Saturday in May.

3) The Belmont Stakes over 2400m (dirt), at Belmont Racecourse on the first or second Saturday in June.

The series has unique elements that make it extraordinarily hard to win. It requires a three-year-old thoroughbred to win three races over various long distance, at different race tracks, and racing against the world’s best rivals in the age group within a short space of time, and within a single racing season.

The 13 elite-club members Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), American Pharoah (2015), and Justify (2018), were all top-quality runners with fascinating stories around them. But the mighty Secretariat, affectionately known as “Big Red”, is widely regarded as the greatest Triple Crown winner of them all.

One can only wonder and wait to see if there is a potential Triple Crown winner in this field, another Secretariat being highly unlikely.

Here are this year’s main contenders, with opening odds:

Epicenter (4-1)

Epicenter gives Steve Asmussen, the most successful trainer in the history of US racing, a chance to win the Kentucky Derby for the first time. He won the recent G2 Lousiana Derby with a display of tactical speed, one of the traits needed to win the Churchill Downs classic.

Taiba (5-1)
Taiba, in only his second start, pulled off the G1 Santa Anita Derby, proving his quality. He will be ridden by two-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey ‘Money’ Mike Smith, and despite his relative lack of experience holds a winning chance.

Zandon (6-1)
Chad Brown-trained Zandon came from last to win the G2 Bluegrass going away. Four-time Eclipse award winner Brown seeks his first Derby win, and this one is sure to get steady support inn the run-up to the race.

Messier (10-1)
Messier finished first or second in all six of his starts, including the Santa Anita Derby, where he was run down by Taiba after leading in the home run. Lively contender.

Mo Donegal (10-1)

Mo Donegal closed from last in the G2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct to run down the pacesetter. He’s a smart horse with a habit of starting slowly, which could cost him in the Derby. But has the class to play a role and warrants respect.


Smile Happy (15-1)

Smile Happy has never run worse than second and is capable of making a challenge, but from what we’ve seen could also be a perennial bridesmaid. He is held on form by Zandon, but should be thereabouts.

White Abarrio (15-1)
An impressive winner of the G1 Florida Derby, White Abarrio has the right running style for the Derby as he sits handy for a pounce. His only loss came at Churchill Downs, but he did not have an ideal trip in his first try in a stakes race. He has the right credentials and presents value at his opening call.

Early Voting (20-1)
There is still a significant chance that Early Voting will skip the Derby and prepare for the Preakness. In the Wood Memorial, he set the pace but was passed by Mo Donegal in the final strides. The 10-furlong Derby distance might be asking too much too soon, but in the Preakness there is less distance and a smaller field. Preakness may be next.

Simplification (20-1)
Simplification was caught nearing the wire in the Florida Derby. He has good pace and is likely to get into a good position in the Derby, which gives him a shout.

Tiz the Bomb (20-1)
Tiz the Bomb is a versatile customer with wins on three surfaces, and he boasts a second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, which proves that he doesn’t lack class. He has a host of supporters, comes into the race as the leading money winner and is not without winning claims.

Zozos (20-1)

He has a second in the Louisiana Derby to show for his efforts and is a horse that packs speed. He can handle the distance and could be ‘the hare that got away’ in the post-race discussion. Unlikely, but not impossible!

A final field of 20 runners will be announced at the draw on Monday, 2 May. -IRC

Headline Photo: LIGHTLY-RACED G1 WINNER:  Taiba looks a powerful Derby force.

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