By Richard Rosenblatt
With the holiday season fast approaching – along with the end of 2020 — it seems like an appropriate time to sit back, take a deep breath, and think about … the Kentucky Derby (G1)!
And why not?
After all, the Run for the Roses is just over five months away – for now scheduled on its traditional date, the first Saturday in May — and back as the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Churchill Downs on Monday (Nov. 23) announced that its first Derby Future Wager opens Thursday (Nov. 26), with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Essential Quality the 10-1 individual favorite among 24 betting interests. For the 23rd consecutive year, “all others” is expected to be the overall first-pool favorite, with oddsmaker Mike Battaglia installing it as the 6-5 favorite.
The 2020 racing schedule, as we are well aware, was reshuffled due to COVID-19 with the Triple Crown races run in a different order than usual – the Belmont Stakes (G1) was first, followed by the Derby and the Preakness (G1). Instead of a five-week run of the Derby-Preakness-Belmont, it was a 15-week haul with the Belmont-Derby-Preakness.
And so we move on, and hopefully a COVID-19 vaccine will be in place, fans can return to racetracks, and the racing schedule will return to some semblance of normalcy.
The 2020 Triple Crown saw three different winners – Tiz the Law took the Belmont on June 20, Authentic won the Derby on Sept. 3 (Tiz the Law was second, and filly Swiss Skydiver captured the Preakness on Oct. 5 (Authentic was second).
In 2021, the dates are May 1 for the Derby, May 15 for the Preakness and June 5 for the Belmont.
Essential Quality, at the moment, seems to be the top Derby prospect. The undefeated son of Tapit, owned by Godolphin LLC, has won all three of his starts by a total of nine lengths. Trained by Brad Cox, Essential Quality took the Juvenile by 1 3 /4 lengths.
“He’s a nice, sound colt,” Cox said after the Juvenile on Nov. 6. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed that he stays that way. We’ll work our way back to the first Saturday in May somehow and some way.”
Next in the Future Wager lineup at 15-1 are Life Is Good, a 9 1/2-length maiden winner in his recent debut for six-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, and Highly Motivated, winner of the Nyquist Stakes on Nov. 6 for trainer Chad Brown.
Listed at 20-1 are Get Her Number (American Pharoah Stakes winner), Hot Rod Charlie (second in the BC Juvenile), Jackie’s Warrior (fourth in the BC Juvenile as the 9-10 favorite), Keepmeinmind (third in the BC Juvenile, and 0-for-3 overall), Pickin’ Time (Nashua Stakes winner), and Savile Row (maiden winner in debut for Baffert).
Opening at 30-1 are Caddo River, Dr. Schivel, Fire At Will, Midnight Bourbon, Red Flag, Reinvestment Risk, Rombauer, Scarred, Sittin On Go, and Super Stock.
At 50-1 are King Fury, Speaker’s Corner, and Ten for Ten.
The pool opens Thursday at noon ET and closes Sunday at 6 p.m.
And if you’re keeping score on the road the Derby, here’s the latest on qualifying points as these horses go from 2-year-olds to 3-year-olds on Jan. 1: Essential Quality is on top with 30 points, followed by Jackie’s Warrior (12), Get Her Number (10), Sittin on Go (10), and Hot Rod Charlie (eight).
Nine Derby qualifying races have been contested in 2020, including international events, with three coming up in the next few weeks — the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs and the Cattleya at Tokyo Racecourse, both on Saturday (Nov. 28) and the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct on Dec. 5. Three more Derby-point qualifiers finish out 2020, with the Jerome at the Big A kicking off the 2021 Derby qualifiers on Jan. 1.
Note: Scheduled dates subject to change
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.