Derby Details 2020 Edition 12
A Mid Summer Dream
by Tom Carley
I have intentionally waited since April to write this next column. With the uncertainty of things, I wanted to focus on facts and not speculate on a series of “what if’s” and “what might be’s”— like every sports call-in show in the country. The time has come to continue the column now that we are 8 weeks out from the Derby.
What We Have Learned
The Triple Crown for 2020 has begun and we have learned that Tiz The Law is the only horse that can win the Triple Crown. That is because he won the Belmont Stakes at 9 furlongs in easy fashion. While the field that he beat that day was not stellar, he did not show that distance is not a concern for him as the win was his second win at 9 furlongs (along with the Florida Derby) and he will undoubtedly have the strongest prep schedule and most Derby points of any horse ever to ride into Louisville. He won with such ease in early June that it is difficult to determine how that will affect his Derby performance. One takeaway I had is that he is definitely in the elite of this 3-year-old crop.
The Blue Grass Stakes was held last weekend. Art Collector threw his name into the Derby hat by winning impressively. What impressed me was the way he drew off in the last 150 yards. He will only get better as the races get longer. The filly, Swiss Skydiver, ran second and had the lead as the field turned for home. This will get her enough points to run in the Derby should she decide to do so. The way she handled the last furlong I feel the last thing she should do is try 10 furlongs. The rest of the field in this race did not show me enough to think they will be a factor in the Derby.
The long campaign has taken its toll and many horses who were thought of as Derby contenders are off the Derby trail due to injuries or other reasons. These include Maxfield, Nadal, Charlatan, and Mr. Monomoy as well as 2019 Juvenile favorite Dennis’ Moment. This means that unlike other years the 2020 September Derby is more a measure of durability than speed and talent.
The next major pre is the Travers at Saratoga. This will be held on August 8 and will allow the winner 4 weeks rest prior to the Derby. Connections for Tiz the Law have already said they would follow their Belmont Stakes win with the Travers and then the Kentucky Derby. It is unclear how many other horses will choose to run consecutive races at 10 furlongs 4 weeks apart.
What I Can Guess
The more I look at the remaining horses in the 2020 three-year-old crop, the less impressed I am. This i.s mostly caused by the late schedule as well as the absence of traditional training when racetracks had to be shut down due to Covid.-19.
I believe the following about this year’s Derby:
The field will be much smaller than the traditional 20 horses. The costs of entering and running in the Derby will actually increase this year due to the additional costs of complying with Churchill Downs’ Covid protocol. To break even a horse has to run in the top 5 positions. I could see a field of 15 horses this year.
The foreign entrants will not only come race in the Derby, but the Japanese horse could be a factor. Churchill Downs allows 4 of the 20 spots to foreign qualifiers. The Japanese and European horses are already determined, but two wild card sports (traditionally Dubai and England) are up for grabs. With the weakened field and assistance in costs provided to these foreign horses, I feel three horses in the field will come from outside the USA.
Because of the late date for the Derby, stamina will not be nearly the issue it is when the race is held in May. The horses will have four more months to grow, fill out and mature as well as have time to build a solid foundation of workouts and races. This should result in a more formful Derby than in recent years. Remember the longest shot in the field won the race last year.
My Two Cents
I have heard for years on sports radio & television stations talk about how there should be more time between races in the Triple Crown as is seen in Canada where that country’s Triple Crown is contested over the entire Summer. This year that greater spacing happened in the USA and the order of the races even changed as the Belmont was run first. What I have found in talking to people is that there are way too many entertainment and sporting options to keep racing fans as well as novices interested in the sport over a 4 month period.
Having the Triple Crown condensed into a 5 week timeframe ensures that sport is at the forefront of the sporting world almost daily as we see how the horses will perform in the triple crown. I have always felt the Triple Crown was perfect on the schedule and that horses were not just not trained or bred for durability. This year showed what happened to interest in the sport if the reporters are given time to find something else to report on. The number of horseracing stories is down over 30%. If the media is not reporting on the sport, then that means the people are not following it.
This year has also made me realize how important the Kentucky Derby is to our sport. The roses, hats and mint juleps just do not mean as much when the Summer has passed. In early May, we are just escaping a cold winter and the roses blooming and the playing of My Old
Kentucky Home give expectations to a Summer that will be. It also provides a great foundation for a summer of horse racing that will lead from Churchill to Belmont to Saratoga and right into the Breeder’s Cup. Under a traditional schedule, racing is a 9 month sport and the Kentucky Derby is the peak of the calendar. The sport is just out of place with all the new dates.
Next week we get back to focusing on our four legged friends and try to return to normalcy.