A September Kentucky Derby: The good, the bad and the ugly

A September Kentucky Derby: The good, the bad and the ugly
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

The current coronavirus pandemic has thrown a curveball to society of the likes that haven't been seen since 1945, the last time the Kentucky Derby ran outside the month of May.

With the 2020 Kentucky Derby now officially set for Sept. 5, there's plenty of reaction to consider.

The Good

For starters, we could wind up with a much more contentious edition of the Derby. While unforeseen injuries will occur in the coming months to some current contenders, the timeframe also allows established graded winners such as Maxfield and Mr. Monomoy time to return from the sidelines under no rush to make the gates.

A Derby delay could also add hype to our regular summer staples, as Churchill Downs plans to include qualifying points in established stakes for 3-year-olds. Horses who already have their points will keep them, meaning a higher threshold is likely to be needed to make the gate.

Without knowing how the new points races will scale, one key statement from Churchill president Kevin Flanery: “We’re going to adjust so the best horses in the best form compete in the Kentucky Derby.” The points figure to weigh heavily over the summer.

RELATED: Horsemen say the Derby won't lose its luster

The Bad

This move by Churchill Downs will force dominos to fall across the rest of the industry, namely that the new date is only a week after the Travers Stakes (G1) traditionally runs each August at Saratoga. Luckily, the New York Racing Association hasn't yet released its Saratoga stakes schedule, allowing for some movement behind the scenes.

But the Travers, also known as the Midsummer Derby, has served as the traditional goal for 3-year-olds at that time of year. If NYRA doesn't move the Travers, both it and the Derby stand to be watered down. And if the Travers backs up to late July or early August, well, this isn't the type of prestigious race that should be simply viewed as a prep.

Of course, the Travers could be the choice for many connections considering there will be those who don't wish to deal with the 20-horse rodeo only two months before the more lucrative Breeders' Cup Classic. The Travers maxes out at 14, a more sensible sort of Grade 1 test for many horses.

The Ugly

Take what was just said about the Travers and apply it one a wider scale. NYRA can simply move the Travers. But what about races like the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) run in September at Parx Racing? It was formerly the only Grade 1 for 3-year-old males that month. Also, events like Belmont's Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and Santa Anita's Awesome Again (G1) were typical chances to see sophomores take on older company before the Breeders' Cup; that's unlikely in 2020.

There also appears no easy way to hold a traditional Triple Crown. It's nobody's fault. These are simply historic times. But a Derby on Sept. 5 and, say, a Preakness Stakes Sept. 19 before a Belmont Stakes on Oct. 10 creates a crowded schedule that would conclude a month out from the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland.

Under that scenario, if a horse runs in all three jewels and the classic, that's four races in 10 weeks ranging from 9.5 to 12 furlongs. You don't need me to tell you that the modern era horse isn't built for such a task.

And, certainly not least on this list, the Derby will be up against it as far as attention from the general public, running on the first big Saturday of college football season. It's a bettor's dream in many ways but figures to lead to a lag in TV ratings -- and possibly attendance.

Hopefully, however, America puts coronavirus concerns largely behind it by September, and there's a Derby at all. It may not be on the first Saturday in May, but it's still the Derby, an American tradition prominent on the calendar whenever it's able to run.

Meet Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that point, she fell in love with the sport, reading every piece of news and information she could get her fingertips on.

Laura has a long history with horses in general, taking her first ride on her fifth birthday, with her first official riding lesson when she was eight years old. Both years she attended college, she joined her school’s equestrian team, first at Virginia Intermont College and then again at Delaware State University. Unfortunately, after back and shoulder injuries, she had to hang up her saddle. 

In 2010, Laura began writing for Horse Racing Nation and has also contributed to Lady and the Track, TwinSpires and USRacing. She currently works at a local newspaper as a community reporter.

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