KENTUCKY DERBY 148
When: Saturday, post time 5:57 p.m.
Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.
TV: NBC (Ch. 11) Coverage of the Derby undercard begins at 11 a.m. on USA Network, then shifts to Ch. 11 and the Peacock streaming service at 1:30 p.m.
Road to the Derby
Becoming Derby-eligible is simple. The owner of any 3-year-old thoroughbred can nominate their horse to all three Triple Crown races — the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes — by paying a fee of $600 before Jan. 29 and $6,000 after.
Getting one of the 20 spots in the starting gate is much harder. The 321 prospects nominated this year had to earn Derby qualification points by participating in select races over the past seven months, with points awarded to the top four finishers. The top 20 in the points standings earn the right to run for the roses.
Epicenter led this year's points race with 164, while the last horse to get in, Happy Jack, has 30. Minnesota's highest-ranked horse, Zandon, finished second in the standings with 114 points. He earned them by winning the Blue Grass Stakes (100 points), finishing third in the Risen Star Stakes (10 points) and placing second in the Remsen Stakes (4 points).
The Derby is 1 ¼ miles, the longest distance these horses will have run in their young careers. With 20 expected starters, it's also the most crowded field any of them is likely to ever face.
A random draw Monday will determine the post positions. Spots in the middle are ideal; horses on the outside will have a longer trip around the track, and those on the inside can get squeezed in the early going. Since 1930 — the first year the Derby used a starting gate — post position No. 5 has produced the most winners (10), while No. 17 is the only spot that has never launched a Derby champ.
The purse for the Kentucky Derby is $3 million. The winner earns $1.86 million, with payouts ranging from $600,000 to $90,000 awarded to the second- through fifth-place finishers.
This year's group is shaping up as a boys' club. The only female who was under consideration, Secret Oath, has opted for Friday's Kentucky Oaks for fillies. It's geographically exclusive, too, with all but four of the likely Derby starters born in Kentucky.
Two horses have never raced in the U.S.: the Japan-born Crown Pride and Summer is Tomorrow, the top two finishers in the UAE Derby in Dubai. The most lightly raced horse in the field is Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba (two career starts), and the most experienced are Tiz the Bomb and Barber Road (eight starts each).
Fourteen of the probable entries have been bought at public auctions, for prices ranging from $15,000 (Barber Road) to $1.7 million (Taiba). Three — including Minnesota-owned Zozos — were bred by their owners.
Race day at Canterbury
The Shakopee racetrack will host a Kentucky Derby party Saturday, with simulcast wagering, live music and contests for the best hats and outfits. Gates open at noon, and admission is $10. The track will begin taking advance wagers Thursday on Churchill Downs' full Derby Day card.
Minnesota's Derby history
Though few horses with Minnesota connections have run in the Kentucky Derby, the state has ties to one of the race's most memorable moments. 1990 Derby winner Unbridled was owned by Frances Genter of Bloomington and was bred by Tartan Farms, the influential Florida breeding and racing operation founded by longtime 3M chairman William McKnight and later run by his son-in-law, Honeywell chairman James Binger.
Unbridled finished second in the 1989 Canterbury Juvenile Stakes and went off at 10-1 odds in the Derby. Genter, then 92, had difficulty seeing the race from her seat in the Churchill Downs owners' box. Trainer Carl Nafzger leaned over and called the stretch run into her ear, a touching scene that brought millions of TV viewers to tears.
Unbridled's Derby legacy didn't end there. His descendants include American Pharoah, who won the Triple Crown in 2015, and Derby winners Grindstone (1996) and Mine That Bird (2009).
The most recent Derby starter with Minnesota ties was It'sallinthechase, who raced as a 2-year-old at Canterbury for owner Darwin Olson of Lake City. The colt finished 16th in the 2002 Derby.
In addition to Zandon and Zozos, who are owned by Minnesotans, a third horse got a Minnesota connection this week when a 1% interest in Mo Donegal was sold to a Prior Lake man.