We are ten days away from the unprecedented 146th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Coronavirus has taken the “feel” away from the Kentucky Derby. Typically the weeks leading into the Derby feature fireworks, a marathon, a balloon race and dozens of other events that build toward the crescendo of the first Saturday in May. Now we don’t even have the luxury of cool, spring air to greet us in the morning. Instead, humid August air clouds Churchill Downs as the historic racetrack prepares to keep its gates closed for the Sept. 5 race.
Even though the race will not have the same feel in 2020, over the next ten days Kentucky Sports Radio will be counting down the moments until the call to the post. From party-planning tips to to horses that could upset Tiz the Law, this countdown will have a little bit of everything for everybody. That’s why we will begin with ten things you may or may not know about the Kentucky Derby.
1. No Makeover for the Mint Julep Glasses
Even though this year’s Derby will to be ran on May 2, you will not find any official Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby merchandise. Like many, I got my hands on May 2 mint julep glass, hoping it would become a rare collector’s item of sorts. Churchill spokesman Darren Rogers explained to the Courier-Journal why the track ultimately chose not to reprint any merchandise for the fall race.
“In respect to our typical supply chain, our manufacturers and retailers make commitments well in advance of Derby,” he said. “We also wanted to be a supportive partner to them during these economically trying times by not creating a demand for new products that would render their existing inventory obsolete.”
2. The Latest Derby
You’ll hear this approximately 782 times before the race, so we might as well get it over with now: The Kentucky Derby is the longest continuously held sporting event in North American, dating back to 1875. It has run on the first Saturday in May every year with now three exceptions — April 29, 1901, June 9, 1945 and Sept. 5, 2020.
3. Triple Crown Shakeup
While we’re stating the obvious, this is the first time we know the only horse that will enter the gate with its Triple Crown hopes still alive. Coronavirus rearranged the order of the Triple Crown, moving the Kentucky Derby from first in order to second. Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law is poised to continue his march to glory as the heaviest-bet favorite in the history of the 146-year race. It would be wise to key TTL atop all your exotic bets.
I don’t even know why Manny Franco got out the whip. Tiz the Law looked like a variety player going up against the JV squad.
4. The First Derby with a 20-Horse Gate
The start of the Kentucky Derby will not look like any previous Kentucky Derby. To accommodate the 20-horse field, Churchill Downs would simply add an auxiliary gate for the six horses on the outside of the field. The gap between the gates often created a clash between horses once they broke.
After last year’s controversy, Churchill Downs moved to eliminate any sort of bumping by creating a 20-horse gate just for this race. Sept. 5 will be the first time the public has seen the track’s new addition.
5. Chasing a Record
There will not be a record crowd packed into the infield, but the change in dates may give us a new Kentucky Derby record. The first Saturday in May in Louisville is a wild time for forecasters. It’s been as cold as 47 degrees twice and as hot as 94 degrees, a record set in 1959 that could get surpassed if the late-August heat hangs around the Ohio valley. One thing is certain: after sitting through countless soggy Derbies, this year there will not be a cloud in the sky.
6. Rain Stops for the Race
Speaking of weather, any person who’s stepped foot on the grounds over the last decade has probably soaked their shoes. The rain has been unrelenting, maybe more so than ever in 2018 when more than 3.5 inches of rain covered Churchill Downs before Justify strolled to victory. However, the rain was not falling from the heavens when Justify broke from the gate. In fact, in 144 years of The Kentucky Derby, rainfall had never been recorded during the race until Maximum Security was pulled down from the top spot in 2019.
This may be an old wive’s tale. As the late, great John Asher always said, “It’s always sunny and 75 on the first Saturday in May.” Early race promoters may have lied and said it did not rain, but I’d like to believe that when Country House became the first horse to win by disqualification, he also became the first horse to win in the rain.
Of course, 2020 had to 2020. On the first Saturday of May there was not a cloud in the sky in the city of Louisville. I would expect Mother Nature to mock us yet again on Sept. 5.
7. Baffert Chases History
Modern horse racing’s most popular trainer is on the verge of becoming the most celebrated trainer in the history of the sport. Ben Jones holds the record for most Kentucky Derby victories with six, including two Triple Crown winners, Whirlaway and Citation. Bob Baffert also has a pair of Triple Crown Winners, American Pharoah and Justify. He can’t claim that prize this year but the five-time Derby winner could tie Jones’ all-time mark if Authentic or Thousand Words cross the finish line first.
8. Historic Connection to its Inception
Remember Lewis and Clark? Those guys are kind of a big deal. Well, without Clark’s grandson we wouldn’t have a Kentucky Derby. Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. fell in love with horse racing after traveling to Europe. Upon his return to Louisville he organized the Louisville Jockey Club and acquired land from his mother’s family to create Churchill Downs. However, the Derby and the racetrack would not gain fame until after Clark died and Col. Matt Win became Churchill’s version of P.T. Barnum.
9. The Smallest Field
In 1892 only three horses participated in the 1 1/2 miles race won by Azra. Four years later they changed the race to its traditional distance of 1 1/4 miles. This will be the first time a Kentucky Derby will feature horses that have previously raced that distance. Tiz the Law was victorious in the 1 1/4 miles Travers Stakes held at Saratoga in early August.
10. Heavy on the Favorites
If Maximum Security had kept his place at No. 1, it would have been the seventh straight year the morning line favorite won the Run for the Roses. People remember when they hit it big with a 65-1 long shot like Country House or 50-1 Mine That Bird, but the race has grown chalkier since the implementation of the Kentucky Derby Points system. With even more prep races to draw from, including a Belmont win, the chalky trend is expected to continue with Tiz the Law.