May 1st will see the 147th running of what is arguably the most prestigious race in the US horseracing calendar. Excitement about this year’s event and speculation about who the front runners will be are also mounting.
But with a few months still to go until the traditional cry of “Riders Up!” will be heard and the jockeys are ordered to mount their horses, the exact line-up is far from being decided. That said, there is already considerable speculation and a few near certainties about some of the horses that will be in the line up for this year’s race.
2020’s Coup for Authentic
Plenty of horseracing fans are also very much hoping that it will be as exciting as last year’s event which involved a considerable upset in its result. The long-time favourite was a horse called Tiz the Law, trained by Barely Tagg and ridden by Manuel Franco and, at odds of 3/5 on, the horse was a long way ahead of the rest of the field.
Tiz the Law’s nearest rival was a horse called Authentic, trained by Bob Bafert and ridden by John Velazquez which was at 8/1. Against all expectations, Authentic took the lead early in the race after quite a struggle to hit the front. Coming into the final furlong, Tiz the Law did start to seriously challenge but simply wasn’t fast enough. On top of the surprise result, it was also a horse called Mr Big News at odds of 50/1 that hit the headlines by coming third.
A Race Full of History and Tradition
While the result was a big disappointment for all of the racing fans who had picked a horse who seemed like a reasonably sure bet to win, the surprise defeat of Tiz the Law exemplified what makes the Kentucky Derby such a great race.
Now run over the distance of 11/4 miles instead of its original distance that was two furlongs longer, it’s often described as “the most exciting two minutes in sports”. It’s also richer in history and tradition than most other sporting events.
We’ve already mentioned the unique call of “Riders Up!” but there are many other traditions that are unique to the race. One of the best known of these is the draping of the winning horse with a blanket of 554 red roses, a practice that first began in1883 when a famous socialite called E. Berry Wall presented all the society ladies at a post-race party with a flower each.
There’s also the ceremonial playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” by the University of Louisville Cardinal Marching Band as the horses parade in front of the grandstand. And, just as the Wimbledon tennis tournament has its Pimm’s and strawberries and cream as traditional refreshments, for the Kentucky Derby it’s mint juleps and the special Kentuckian stew called burgoo that are the order of the day.
The Road to the Starting Line
The main reason that the race is so special, however, is the quality of the horses that take part. All are three-year-old thoroughbreds, but good breeding alone is not enough to secure a place in the race.
All the horses have to have collected enough points in a series of qualifying races and only the very best 20 can take part. In the US there are a total of 36 races which qualify, 20 in the Prep Season and a further 16 in the Championship Season.
The race is an international event so for horses from Japan there are four qualifying races and in Europe there are seven spread across England, Ireland and France.
Points are awarded according to where the particular horse has come in each race and the amount can vary according to the quality of the race. It’s a system that has been shown to work very well as it demands that a horse must race consistently well enough to earn a place in the starting line-up.
This Year’s Hopefuls
Although we’re still some way off from May, a few front runners have already started to emerge and are gaining considerable interest in the betting at this sportsbook.
Leading the way at the moment is a horse called Essential Quality. Trained by Brad Cox and owned by the legendary Godolphin Stables in the home of flat racing, Newmarket, the colt is already living up to its name. Winner of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as well as the Breeders’ Futurity, it has earned its owners $1.28 million in prize money to date.
Its nearest rival at this stage is a horse called Keepmeinmind trained by Roberto Diodoro and there’s also great interest in one of the three horses in contention from last year’s winning trainer, Bob Baffert. Of these, it’s Life Is Good that seems to be the most favored. Unbeaten in two starts, this could well be the horse that will make it the legendary, and tireless, trainer’s eighth Kentucky derby win and might even set him on his way to his third Triple Crown victory.
And, if Life Is Good doesn’t make it, he also has two other horses in the running – the very promising Medina Spirit and the equally well-fancied Spielberg.
So, it’s all shaping up to be a classic Kentucky Derby – but as to which horse will end up covered in those 554 roses we’ll just have to wait until May 1st to discover.