2020 Kentucky Derby Review
The build-up to the 146th Kentucky Derby was one of the strangest ever seen. For starters, this year’s Derby was taking place in September, the first time since the second world war it has not been held in May. Couple this with the fact the 146th running of the Derby was the second triple crown event of the season, with its usual spot as first being taken by the Belmont Stakes in June, the preparation was far from what the trainers and horses are used to.
The usual buzz was also missing from in and around the racetrack, with the 150,000 fans usually in attendance being told to stay away for the 2020 edition and the field being the smallest it has been since 1998.
Before race day talk was dominated by the pandemic and the black lives matter protests happening outside Churchill Downs, and the public’s attention was on anything but horse racing. It was a 3-year-old colt Authentic who quickly changed that. After a comparatively slow getaway from the stalls the 8/1 shot, who was bred in Kentucky, recovered to hit the front early and never looked back. Authentic was ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez and gave the jockey his 3rd Derby win whilst it was also an incredible 6th win for trainer Bob Baffert.
The win drew Baffert level with Ben Jones as the trainers with the most Derby wins. Despite this Baffert remained humble post-race, praising the John Velazquez for the victory saying, "I've had some great Derby rides, but what that guy did... Johnny V. gave him an incredible ride”.
Baffert probably thought it was going to be a tough day after his other runner, Thousand Words, reared and fell in the parade ring before even making it to the track. An incident that saw Thousand Words withdrawn from the race and, as it was revealed later, saw Baffert’s assistant Jimmy Barnes break his arm. Considering all of this, you cannot blame the Arizonan for looking visibly emotional during the post-race interviews, where he fittingly paid tribute to his injured colleague saying, “I just wish Jimmy was here with me. He’s one of the greatest assistants of all time, and if there was a Hall of Fame for assistant trainers, he’d be in it”.
All of the talk post-race was rightly about Baffert and co. after an incredible victory, but pre-race was a different story entirely. All of the talks was concentrated around the red-hot favorite Tiz The Law. The colt, who had odds of 3/5 before the race, had won 6 out of his last 7 races and, having already won the Belmont Stakes in 2020, was eyeing up what seemed to be a very achievable triple crown. And it was indeed Tiz The Law that was Authentic’s nearest challenger, pushing him all the way down the home straight. Unfortunately for trainer Barclay Tagg and jockey Manny Franco, the colt was not able to dig in and was eventually beaten by lengths.
With almost all indicators suggesting a Tiz The Law win, some pundits pointed towards his outside starting post of 17 as one of the only hurdles to overcome. However, Authentic won the race from even further outside in post 18 so this was not a factor come to the end of the race.
The top two runners were comfortably clear of the field, and in truth looked a class above the rest, but there was also a surprise 3rd place finish with big outsider Mr. Big News who came home a further 2 lengths back. Going off from post 9 the runner who was ridden by Gabriel Saez was 46/1 to win the race before the starting gun, but looked strong throughout and came through powerfully on the final bend to take up the 3rd place he would eventually finish in.
Honor A. P. who was seen by the bookies as Tiz The Law’s nearest competitor at 5/1 came home in 4th with 30/1 outsider Max Player rounding off the top 5.
So, there we have it, one of the most unusual Kentucky Derby’s we are ever likely to see comes to a close with a surprise winner and the attention now turns to the Preakness Stakes in October. The racing was as impressive a spectacle as ever despite the circumstances. Still, the fans were undoubtedly missed, and we can only hope to see Churchill Downs packed out with the usual 150,000 fans at the 147th running next May.