Churchill Downs might have no heart and no soul but it does have a sense of humor. Surely this is why it chose April Fools Day to unveil its latest Kentucky Derby Futures pool.
Alas, the announcement, which came about 12 hours after the President’s coronavirus response team disclosed projections that 120,000 to 200,000 Americans will die in the next couple of weeks, was not a joke.
There is merit on both sides of whether it is proper or necessary for some tracks to continue racing while most of the nation is under a stay at home order. My position continues to be that the optics are horrendous. We are supposed to be in this together yet racing has absented itself from the rest of the community.. Anyone who thinks racing is making new friends is delusional. It’s more likely the opposite is true.
However, last Saturday’s Florida Derby program had no discernible impact on the spread of the pandemic and the justification that horses need daily care and exercise has validity. That they need exercise for $2 million in purses is tougher to rationalize.
This said, it is beyond indefensible for Churchill to be attempting to vacuum money from people who are being challenged to pay mortgages and rent and feed their families. Churchill’s glutinous corporate bottom line doesn’t need to be cared for and exercised daily.
Moreover, there is no certainty the Kentucky Derby will be run Sept. 5 or at all. Wimbledon, one of the most cherished events on the global sports calendar, is the latest casualty of the pandemic. The world’s most important tennis tournament was scheduled to run to July 12. The All England Lawn Tennis Association feels right now that it’s prudent to project that it will not be sufficiently safe at that point in the calendar for business as usual.
Informed speculation has begun to emerge that even the NFL and college football, which kick off in early September, might not happen this year. This is a worst case scenario but it is not being dismissed.
Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden told NBC News on Wednesday that it was hard to envision his party’s national convention, scheduled for July 13-16 in Milwaukee, taking place as scheduled. Sure enough, the next day the Democratic National Committee rescheduled it for Aug.17-20. The new night Biden would give the traditional acceptance speech is 19 days from when Churchill says it still plans to run the Kentucky Derby. And that’s a hopeful date.
It is one thing for Churchill to push hopeful optimism. I share that. The Kentucky Derby is my favorite sports date of the year. Besides, hopeful optimism is something we need more of these days. But it has to be tempered with informed realism.
For Churchill to continue to attempt to pad its bottom line for an event that is iffy to take place is just wrong. Not only does it enable Churchill to hold onto the millions in future bets. It allows Churchill to hold the tens of millions of dollars in advance ticket and suite reservations. If Churchill were to follow the lead of March Madness, the Masters, Wimbledon and the major pro leagues and concede this year is like no other, it would have to refund that money. Every day it resists is another day Churchill can make use of that money..
Meanwhile, what a Kentucky Derby we are missing on the first Saturday in May.
Tiz The Law looked like the real deal in dominating the Florida Derby. That was a pretty good bunch behind him. If this year had a Blue Grass and Wood Memorial, Ete Indien, Gouverneur Morris or one of the others who trailed the best NY-bred since Funny Cide would have been the horses to beat, probably at short prices. It’s indisputable Tiz The Law is the best in the East by open lengths.
With no Santa Anita Derby, supremacy in the West is up for grabs. It’s dizzying to wonder which of Bob Baffert’s killer triumvirate of Authentic, Nadal and Charlatan–each unbeaten and never seriously challenged–will turn out to be pick of the litter. The latter pair seemed destined for the Arkansas Derby when it was an April 14 prep for May 2. (They will probably still go there on May 2). Both couldn’t win, unless the race was split. So Baffert still might have had a couple of absolutely perfect challengers to Tiz The Law, whose only blemish comes with a saddle bag of excuses.
But now is now and then is not until September, if then. The odds that these budding superstars will still be the big names four months from now are long. It’s necessary to back only one year to see how long.
The official Derby winner, Country House, never ran again. Preakness champion War of Will still hasn’t won another race. Sir Winston, who outlasted a mediocre bunch in the Belmont, didn’t run again until December and didn’t win again until an optional claimer in the dead of winter at Aqueduct.
Omaha Beach held off Improbable in what was deemed an exceptional Arkansas Derby. Omaha Beach was the Derby favorite until an injury on the eve of the race knocked him out of action until a sprint in October. Improbable won only an ungraded stakes at Del Mar the rest of the year.
Vekoma, the impressive winner of the Blue Grass, checked in 12th in the Derby then went to the sidelines until last Saturday. Tacitus followed his Tampa Bay Derby triumph with a decisive score in the Wood Memorial. He hasn’t won again from a half-dozen starts.
Roadster made the Santa Anita Derby his third win in four career starts, out-gaming Baffert’s Eclipse champion Game Winner. Roadster hasn’t won in seven starts since and Game Winner’s 3-year-old season ended in July.
This goes to why Woody Stephens’ credo was “run ’em when they are good.” Because of the cursed coronavirus, it won’t be possible to do that this year.