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Horse Racing - Racing: Kentucky Derby field thinning out

Perhaps the United States' best-known horse race, the Kentucky Derby comes around once again at Churchill Downs on Saturday 7th May.

It's the premier race for three-year-olds in the United States and this will be the 147th staging of 'The Run for the Roses'.

With the days counting down to the big race, we've taken a look towards the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

Winter field starting to thin out

As with the Classics in Britain and Ireland, the field for this three-year-old colts event can be exhaustive over the winter months, with lots of possibilities.

With spring in the air and under a month to go, the list is narrowing all the time and it's now standing at close to 20 remaining in the 'probable or possible contenders' list.

As recently as last weekend, key trials took place via the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Santa Anita Derby.

The winners of these trials and other progressive winners are starting to put themselves in the firing line, serving notice of their capabilities.

Epicenter leading the way

This year's race looks wide open on paper, with the Steve Asmussen-trained Epicenter trading at 6/1 for Kentucky Derby glory.

He's earned four wins and a second in six career starts. In recent times he made all to win the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes, before showing his tactical versatility with a come-from-behind win the Louisiana Derby. That kind of adaptive nature could prove crucial.

Currently only two more contenders trade at single-figure odds and they are White Abarrio at 7/1 and Taiba at 7/1.

The latter is now being trained by Tim Yakteen and his Santa Anita Derby win over Messier and Happy Jack thrust him to the fore in this market.

Owner Amr Zedan seemingly disagreed with former trainer Bob Baffert on the horse's hopes of winning that Grade 1 contest, leading to a stable change and Taiba duly defeated new stablemate Messier for a conclusive success.

Messier, now 12/1, is also a former Baffert inmate, but he couldn't see the race out after overtaking Forbidden Kingdom and John Velazquez's mount was worn down late by the Mike Smith-ridden winner Taiba.

White Abarrio in contention for Joseph Jr

Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr is building quite a reputation. He recently broke Todd Pletcher's 18-year claim on the Gulfstream training title, despite his string being hit by a virus not long after the New Year.

Now Joseph is in line to have his second Kentucky Derby starter via White Abarrio - two years on from NY Traffic giving him his first taste of this race when he finished eighth.

White Abarrio now has four wins in five starts and is likely headed to the Derby unbeaten this year after wins in the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park and then the top-level Florida Derby at the same venue in early April.

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Mo Donegal worth noting

The Todd Pletcher-trained Mo Donegal was behind White Abarrio in that Holy Bull run at Gulfstream, though there wasn't much in it.

The Uncle Mo colt flanked that effort with wins at Grade 2 level in the Remsen at Aqueduct and then the Wood Memorial at the same venue.

That latest run in particular was eye-catching, as Mo Donegal was left with plenty running to do in the home stretch, having to weave a path through traffic before getting up close home for the win.

Given that he likes to be held up in his races, Pletcher immediately pointed to that experience as being a positive if he's going to have to come through with a late challenge.

Mo Donegal's Remsen win in February saw him battling past Zandon for the win after a prolonged battle and that form took a boost since when the runner-up bagged victory in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes - a key Derby trial.

Though beaten by White Abarrio in February, 14/1 chance Mo Donegal does appear to be trending in the right direction since and he'll bid to give Pletcher a third Kentucky Derby win after Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017.

Smile Happy amongst McPeek players

Runhappy colt Smile Happy began 2022 unbeaten, having won both starts as a juvenile for trainer Kenny McPeek, including the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club.

He's yet to score in two runs so far this campaign, but certainly hasn't extinguished the notion he can be a Derby horse and he's trading at 16/1.

He's taken silver medals in the Grade 2 Risen Star behind leading Derby contender Epicenter and then again in the Blue Grass Stakes behind Zandon - who had previously finished behind him at Fair Grounds in February.

McPeek is yet to win the Kentucky Derby and he won't be drawing a line through Smile Happy, given he's run well in key trials and is now under the radar to some extent.

With the field set to come into sharp focus in the next fortnight, all eyes are on the Kentucky Derby contenders as America gets set for the race dubbed 'the most exciting two minutes in sports' by fans Stateside.

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