Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect morning-line favorite Omaha Beach being scratched from the Kentucky Derby on Wednesday.
As a service to fans who have a general interest in horse racing but might not have watched a race since last year’s Belmont Stakes — or even last year’s Kentucky Derby — here’s our handy FAQ on what you need to know to catch up before this Saturday’s 145th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Want to impress all your friends at your Kentucky Derby party with more than just knowledge of mint juleps? Here you go.
What exactly do I need to know to watch Saturday’s Kentucky Derby?
Post time is 6:50 p.m. ET. Coverage is on NBC Sports from 12 to 2:30 p.m. with undercard races and moves to NBC from 2:30 to 7:25 p.m. The race is 1¼ miles long, nicknamed “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” Post positions were drawn on Tuesday.
What about the other Triple Crown races?
The Preakness Stakes will be held May 18 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, and the Belmont Stakes will be June 8 at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
What has happened in the year since the Kentucky Derby?
Justify became racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner and the second for trainer Bob Baffert, who trained American Pharoah (2015). Justify was retired and sold to Coolmore America, reportedly for a whopping $60 million. He now lives the good life in Kentucky, where he enjoys regular time outside, receives a number of visitors each week and breeds to mares two to three times a day for $150,000 each.
With Justify out of the picture, Catholic Boy, who did not race in the 2018 Kentucky Derby, made a move from the turf to the dirt and picked off several of the summer stakes races, including the Travers at Saratoga, which is the oldest major race in the country. Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic won the Haskell in July, but after a poor showing in the Travers, he was retired.
Meanwhile, it was the older horses who stole the show last fall in the 35th Breeders’ Cup, a series of races for the top horses in the country that was held at Churchill Downs in 2018. Five-year-old Accelerate won his sixth graded stakes race by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But his achievements couldn’t compete with those of a Triple Crown winner, and Justify ran away with the Horse of the Year award.
Monomoy Girl, the 2018 Kentucky Oaks winner and champion 3-year-old filly, concluded her stellar year with three more wins, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She was given the winter off and has yet to make her 4-year-old debut due to a recent bout of colic.
Why are all these horses retired now?
Money. In Justify’s case, he was initially pointed toward the Breeders’ Cup, but an injury set back his training to the point that they would have had to push hard to make the race. Considering how much Justify is worth, keeping him in training wasn’t worth it.
The last Triple Crown winners to race at age 4 were Seattle Slew and Affirmed in the late 1970s (Secretariat was also retired at 3). Back then, it was more profitable to run a horse than retire it. Now, with the risk of catastrophic injury and the insurance premiums required to race a horse such as Justify, the real money is in the breeding shed, not on the track.
Whom do I root for now?
Consider trainer Bob Baffert’s barn the New England Patriots of the racing world. Baffert just reloads every year. He has won five runnings of the Kentucky Derby and has established something of a dynasty similar to the old days of Calumet Farm (eight Derby winners and two Triple Crown winners from 1941 to 1968). Baffert is seeking to tie Ben Jones, Calumet’s trainer in those days, for most wins in Derby history.
Baffert has three quality colts in this year’s Derby: Game Winner, Improbable and Roadster. Not only did Game Winner win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2018, but he was also almost unanimously named the champion 2-year-old male last year. While Game Winner was taking the Juvenile, Improbable was impressing by winning the Street Sense Stakes by 7½ lengths on the Breeders’ Cup undercard.
If you like favorites, Game Winner now has the best odds to win the Derby, after Omaha Beach was scratched from the race on Wednesday. Favorites have won the Derby for six straight years, which was a rarity under the old system to get in the starting gate. Ever since the switch to a points system in 2013, the long-shot winner just hasn’t been there.
Don’t forget about Tacticus, who finishes the Road to the Kentucky Derby No. 1 in the point standings. He is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, a well-respected veteran trainer who is seeking his first Derby win.
What else is going on this weekend at Churchill Downs?
It’s not all about the Kentucky Derby. Three-year-old filly Newspaperofrecord, who dominated in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall, will make her 2019 debut in Friday’s Edgewood Stakes, which is Race 6 in the program. Post time is 1:17 p.m. ET.
A couple of last year’s standout colts will follow in the Alysheba Stakes at 2 p.m. Friday. Baffert’s McKinzie, who missed the Triple Crown trail with an injury last year but has placed in two graded stakes in 2019, is favored. He’ll take on Instilled Regard (fourth in last year’s Derby) and Seeking the Soul (runner-up in the 2019 Pegasus World Cup). Tom’s d’Etat, owned by New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson, will also run in the race.
My Boy Jack, fifth in last year’s Kentucky Derby, will make his 2019 debut in an allowance race at 11 a.m. ET Saturday. Promises Fulfilled, 15th in last year’s Derby, is entered in the Churchill Downs Stakes on Saturday, the eighth race on the card. Whitmore, who was an also-ran in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, is still running and most recently won a stakes race at Oaklawn Park in March. He is also entered in the Churchill Downs Stakes. Three-year-old Instagrand was a potential Derby target but will run in the Pat Day Mile instead.
What about the Kentucky Oaks?
Friday is about the fillies at Churchill Downs, and the morning line favorite in the Kentucky Oaks is Bellafina. Bellafina has won all three of her races this year and six lifetime graded stakes. She placed fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last year in her only finish off the board. Jaywalk, the winner of that race and the champion 2-year-old filly, is also one to watch, though she hasn’t won a race in 2019. Restless Rider has never finished worse than second in any of her seven lifetime starts.
What else should I know?
The San Felipe Stakes, run at 1 1/16th miles at Santa Anita Park, was not run this year due to safety concerns regarding the track. The safety concerns were due to the high number of breakdowns at the track, as 23 horse deaths occurred at Santa Anita from December to March. The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas was run in two divisions instead, with Omaha Beach and Long Range Toddy both taking one division. … The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has produced only two Kentucky Derby winners to date: Nyquist in 2015 and Street Sense in 2006. … Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller will cover this year’s Kentucky Derby for NBC as a lifestyle correspondent.
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