For surprising Mr. Big News, Kentucky Derby the right choice

For surprising Mr. Big News, Kentucky Derby the right choice
Photo: Coady Photography

Authentic's upset of Tiz the Law wasn't the only surprise in the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Many were caught off guard when Mr. Big News ran third at 46-1, helping to trigger big exotics payouts.

In the aftermath, Chester Thomas of owner Allied Racing Stables noted it was a close call whether the Giant's Causeway colt would even be entered in the Kentucky Derby.

"I stayed up until 1 a.m. Sunday night figuring out if I was going to run in the turf race or the Derby. You see where we ended up," Thomas said.

The turf race referenced was the American Turf Classic (G2), an 8 1/2-furlong race on the Derby undercard. However, Thomas and trainer Bret Calhoun questioned the shorter distance of the American Turf and also were concerned the turf would not be firm enough.

All of which caused Thomas to catch Derby fever "worse and worse," Calhoun said.

After winning the Oaklawn Stakes in April, Mr. Big News came back to run a disappointing sixth in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) in July.

So while the turf route was the initial plan, the Derby planned a fruitful Plan B.

“I kind of planned this thing a month before when it didn’t look like it would be a full field, and I knew it was going to be an option" Calhoun said. "We were able to train on the grass a couple of times and it was very wet, soft and it didn’t really look like it was going to work for on this course. We were able to get in the Derby at a mile and a quarter over a track where he’d been training really, really good. It was worth taking a swing.”

Mr. Big News was piloted by Gabriel Saez — who teamed up with Calhoun and Thomas in last year's Derby with By My Standards, who finished 12th (later upgraded to 11th) after a tough ride.

But this year, Saez said, “I had a trip. That was what I was hoping for, you know, to get the right trip. Stuck in close, give him time to really, really run. They went on — they’re really nice horses. My horse tried his guts out.

“They never really came back to me. They were still running on the front end. He ran a huge race. I’m really proud of him.”

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