Spring has come and gone, and summer is coming around the backstretch turn heading for home. As it has been the case since March, Covid-19 has wreaked havoc around the world with no regard for region, social status or tradition. In the sports world, one tradition noticeably impacted is the pursuit of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. One leg of the journey complete, we have a winner of the Belmont Stakes, but the calendar reads, September and it won’t be until this coming Saturday that we’ll have a winner of, The Kentucky Derby.
Historically, The Run for The Roses, takes place the first Saturday in May. Hosted at one of racing’s most iconic venues, Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Like New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California, Mardis Gras in New Orleans and any city chosen to host the Super Bowl, an entire year is spent planning festivities and creating a lifetime memory for those fortunate enough to take part in Derby Week, attend the Kentucky Oaks and for those most fortunate attend the Kentucky Derby. More accurately, attend the Kentucky Derby along with 150,000 of your closest and new friends.
At the time of this writing, the two signature races of normally festive Kentucky Derby Week are slated to take place. Friday will feature, The Kentucky Oaks and Saturday, the grand dame, the 146th running of The Kentucky Derby. Rain is in the forecast for, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with the rain dissipating on Friday morning.
Friday’s Kentucky Oaks is appearing to be a three-horse contest. Tyler Gaffilione’s, Swiss Skydiver draws the first position and will be ridden by, Kenny McPeek. Swiss Skydiver is coming off an impressive win in, The Alabama Stakes at Saratoga on, August 15. As part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, that win secured an automatic invite to the Breeder’s Cup Longines Distaff race in November. The early morning line on Swiss Skydiver is 8-5.
Coming out of the 4th position will be, Speech. Speech is trained by, Michael McCarthy and has had a solid year finishing no worse than second in fiver efforts and winning two of those. The most recent win came in, July when Speech on the Grade I, Central Bank Ashland Stakes at Keenland. Speech ran out of the five position, settled into second place out of the gate and held steady through the ¾ mark when he caught and overtook the leader, Venetian Harbor. Speech led down the stretch and won by three lengths. Speech will be ridden by, Javier Castellano and has a current morning line of 5-1.
The hands down favorite in the Oaks is, Gamine. Trained by the legendary, Bob Baffert and with John Velasquez at the reigns, Gamine is going to be tough to beat. Over the past several weeks, Gamine has posted impressive back-to-back Grade I wins. In June, Gamine won the Longines Acorn Stakes at Belmont followed by an early August win at Saratoga when she won the Longines Test Stakes. Both were wire-to-wire wins with the margins of victory 7-lentgths and 18-lengths respectively. Even money is the current morning line, but that should move down by race time.
For Saturday’s main event, all eyes will be on the favorite, Tiz The Law. Tiz The Law is a 3-5 early morning line favorite and draws the 17th position. This should allow Manuel Franco to run the outside down the backstretch and avoid too much traffic. A total of 372 qualifying points have been compiled by the thoroughbred while winning just under two-million dollars in purse money in his career. Under the eye of, Barclay Tagg, the field has its work cut out to challenge Tiz The Law. Manuel Franco will be on the reigns and he has proven there is a special bond between this horse and rider.
Art Collector expected to be a possible strong challenger has been pulled from the race by trainer, Thomas Drury, Jr. Its hopeful that Art Collector will return for the Preakness in October. Bob Baffert’s,
Authentic, with Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith in the saddle shouldn’t be overlooked. In July, with some question in the air, Authentic traveled from the West Coast to Saratoga and posted an impressive wire-to-wire win in the Haskell Stakes hanging on by a nose to best, NY Traffic. Authentic at 8-1, will running out of the 18th position. In the 16th spot will be, 5-1 favorite, Honor A.P.
While there is an outside possibility this will be a race, the real race might simply be to see which horses finish ITM behind Tiz The Law. Look for Tiz The Law to take one step closer to The Triple Crown.
There’s a recap on Derby Week’s big races. Out of order in the quest for the Triple Crown, but one of the prize jewels of racing doesn’t lose its luster. Out of order due to Covid-19 and more so due to the social events of the nation and Louisville in particular that truly can’t be overlooked. Louisville is widely recognized as home to, the Louisville Cardinals, Churchill Downs and host city of The Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, going forward, Louisville will also be registered in the annals of history for the controversial shooting of a twenty-six-year-old, African American EMT, Breonna Taylor. Steeped in controversy since the shooting of Miss Taylor in March, the city of Louisville has been another city under the social injustice spotlight which sadly continues to grow bigger and brighter with each passing week. Louisville will forever be recognized along with, George Floyd, Minneapolis and most recently, Jacob Blake, Kenosha, Wisconsin. (Note: That is not to understate, neglect or ignore others who have also suffered from racial acts of discrimination over the past several weeks. All lives do matter and injustices deserve review and reconciliation.)
Since March, groups have formed in Louisville, one group, the Justice and Freedom Coalition, led by, Pastor Timothy Findlay, have reached out repeatedly to the authorities of Churchill Downs and Derby officials to call for the postponement of this year’s Run for The Roses. In speaking with Pastor Findlay, he expressed their message is pointed and simple, in the city of Louisville, and with similar events across the nation, this is not a time for celebration or to host an event like the Kentucky Derby. As of late last week, Pastor Findlay’s group had received no productive response or invitation to have a dialogue regarding the Coalition’s position.
Other groups in Louisville and the surrounding area share the Justice and Freedom Coalition’s outlook. Along with the Coalition, those groups are planning to conduct demonstrations on Derby Day.
The Call to Post Podcast is pending a response to questions put to a contact with Derby Media Relations regarding Churchill Downs Derby organizer’s current position on the matter and looming threats of wide-spread demonstrations being planned for Derby Day.
Whether or not the Justice and Freedom Coalition or other groups will be acknowledged, and efforts will be made by Churchill Downs and Derby officials to them a platform and opportunity to be heard at any level is yet to be seen. It would seem the effort to respond and attempt to foster dialogue would be in good faith and character. Hopefully organizers will understand there is much more at stake for the citizens and City of Louisville.
By Raider Jim Martinez