2020 Kentucky Derby a completely different animal (pardon the pun)
No, it’s not the first Saturday in May but that’s not the only thing different about this year’s Kentucky Derby.
The pandemic-delayed race’s 146th running, which goes off Saturday, Sept. 5 (on NBC), from Churchill Downs in Louisville, will be the second – not the first – of the three Triple Crown contests and comes 11 weeks after the opening leg, the Belmont Stakes. There will also be no 20-horse field as in past Derbies and no fresh horses shipping in to challenge the presumably tired Derby winner as is usually the case with the customary second leg, the Preakness Stakes (which, by the way, will be the finale of the Triple Crown on Oct. 3 at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course).
Add to that the prospect of severely limited or no attendance at Churchill Downs and it’s easy to see that this will be a beast like no other. But no fans could actually make for better racing, notes Randy Moss, who will be on the call with Jerry Bailey and Mike Tirico.
“It totally works in the horse’s favor,” Moss explains. “You know, the fans may fire up LeBron James but they bother horses more than they fire them up. So horses like nice, tranquil, quiet surroundings. They’re not energized by crowd noise.”
Which means Belmont winner Tiz the Law will have at least one fewer distraction in his bid to become the 14th horse to win the three-race gauntlet. Trained by Barclay Tagg and owned by Sackatoga Stables, the same combination that brought Funny Cide to within one race of the Triple Crown in 2003, the three-year-old descendant of 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow was dominant in his June victory on Long Island, pulling away to win by 3 3⁄4 lengths.
“My colleague Jerry Bailey and I both thought way back in March that he was the number one Kentucky Derby contender even if the Derby were to be run on the first Saturday in May,” Moss says. “Fortunately, knock on wood, his trainer Barclay Tagg has been able to keep him percolating along, keep him healthy, keep him in good form. And his Belmont Stakes win was so dominant as to suggest that he’ll be a deserving solid favorite for the Kentucky Derby.”
But in this upside-down year, will he be considered a legitimate champ? Moss has doubts, given the fact that there is no 1-1/2-mile Belmont Stakes to separate the men from the boys.
“There will definitely be an asterisk by his name …,” he says. “So the fact that the longest of the Triple Crown races this year will be the Derby at a mile and a quarter, certainly makes it different and makes it somewhat less challenging than the Triple Crown has been in the past.
“But having said that, if Tiz the Law is able to beat the best horses in his generation in all three of those races, it will still be a noteworthy accomplishment.”