By Dick Jerardi
I miss the Santa Anita Derby. And the Blue Grass Stakes. And the Wood Memorial. Thankfully, we had the Florida Derby and we will have the Arkansas Derby.
But everything is just off, not just for the Kentucky Derby prep season, but everywhere.
Still, in our little world, it is those annual Derby prep races that are the sign that the Triple Crown races are on the horizon. Each race gets scrutinized for the clues that will determine the winners of the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
I love watching the preps almost as much as I love watching the Triple Crown races themselves. I watch the prep race videos over and over, looking for the touted horses that may have already peaked and the horses that may peak on Derby Day. It is a fascinating exercise that is my bridge from the end of the college basketball season to the heart of the big-time horse racing season.
This year, there was no end to college basketball season which was disorienting enough because it ended just as the most important part of the season was about to commence. That was especially meaningful to me as, in one of my other lives, I spent the winter months as the radio analyst for Penn State men’s basketball. And this season’s team was ranked as high as No.9 and was in the top 25 almost all of 2020. And then, just like that, it was over.
At least, horse racing season is not over. And it’s fun to be able to watch the races from Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn Park. Horse racing is the one sport that is actually positioned to have some opportunity as more than 90 percent of the money has been bet away from the tracks for years now. So, horse racing is a sport that can still be operated safely and, in some cases, profitably, without fans at the track.
Still, that doesn’t help all the owners who can’t run their horses at Parx and almost all of the country’s other tracks.
The Derby is not going to be run without fans. Nor is the Preakness or the Belmont. We are talking a quarter million fans spending millions and millions of dollars at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day and Derby Day. The Preakness and Belmont are very much dependent on patron dollars for tickets and amenities.
We know the Derby has been moved to the first Saturday of September. We just have to hope it will be run then. Anybody who says they know anything for certain is just making it up. We don’t have dates for the Preakness and Belmont because it is so hard for the track operators to make plans when it is so hard for the scientists to make any definitive pronouncements about the Covid-19 virus.
What of the Travers and the Pennsylvania Derby? Again, hard to make plans when the dates for the Preakness and Belmont have not been announced. If those races are moved to September and October so the traditional two-week, three-week spacing can be maintained, it would make most sense for the Travers and Pa. Derby to be moved up to early August and become Ky. Derby preps for a year.
But I don’t get the sense that Pimlico or Belmont officials have great interest in running their races during the NFL season, again if there is a football season. So, as we hit mid-April, nobody knows anything. And we wait, hoping for some positive news from the scientists and doctors, telling us when it is safe to resume our normal lives.