By Frank J. Buchman
“The fastest horses in the country are ‘running for the roses’ Saturday afternoon.”
It’s time for the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” the 147th Kentucky Derby at Louisville’s historic Churchill Downs Racetrack.
“Afternoon excitement highlights good, old-fashioned horse power and millions of dollars riding on the race’s outcome,” said John S. Kiernan.
“This annual celebration of ‘horses, hats and hooch’ will however be affected by coronavirus,” verified Kiernan, Kentucky Derby aficionado.
Attendance for this year’s derby will be limited to 30,000, one-half seating capacity, on May 1st. “However, more than 80,000 revelers are expected to pack the infield to catch a glimpse of the winner,” Kiernan said.
“Last year was the first time in 146 years when no fans were present in the stands, due to coronavirus,” Kiernan verified. “It was the only time in 75 years when the derby was postponed. Still more than 8.3 million people watched the race on television.”
This year’s race is still expected to attract three times as many spectators as watched the first Kentucky Derby in 1875.
Ticket revenue last year during Derby Week went down $122 million, and wagering was down 50 percent at $126 million.
Thoroughbred horses are the most important part of the Kentucky Derby, sometimes almost second thought to the other excitement.
Post-position draw for this year’s derby is Tuesday morning, April 27, when the 20 runners racing will be announced. However, certain horses are already pretty much guaranteed to race with early betting odds being produced.
“Simply, betting odds are the mathematical depiction of how likely each horse is to win the race,” Kiernan explained. “The lower the chances of success, the bigger the payoff will be.”
“Largest winning ticket ever was $151.8 million in 2016,” Kiernan pointed out. “A Texas woman won $1.2 million on an $18 bet in 2018.”
Predictors favor Essential Quality, a gray colt, trained by Brad Cox with Luis Saez as the jockey. The talented three-year-old has a perfect win record. “It appears all systems go for the champ who’s at Churchill Downs preparing for his life’s biggest race,” Cox said.
Top Kentucky Derby contenders and their odds late last week: Essential Quality, 5-2; Hot Rod Charlie, 6-1: Medina Spirit, 8-1; Rock Your World, 8-1; Known Agenda, 12-1; Highly Motivated, 15-1; Mandaloun, 15-1, and Midnight Bourbon 15-1.
“Kentucky Derby purse guaranteed by Churchill Downs is $3 million,” Kiernan verified. “The winner’s share is $1.86 million.”
Purchase price of this year’s contenders was not readily quoted, but past investments verify it takes lots of money.
“The highest purchase at auction for a Kentucky Derby winner was $4 million for Fusaichi Pegasus, the 2000 champion,” Kiernan said. “Lowest purchase price for a winner was $120,000 for Canonero II, the 1971 winner.” Last year’s winner, Authentic was purchased for $350,000.
Only three mares have won the Kentucky Derby: Regret, 1915; Genuine Risk, 1980; and Winning Colors, 1988. “However, no women trainers or jockeys have ever won the derby,” Kiernan said.
Bill Shoemaker is the oldest derby winning jockey riding Ferdinand when he was 54-years-old in 1986. Two jockeys were only 15-years-old when they won the derby: Lonnie Clayton aboard Azra in 1892, and Soup Perkins on Haima in 1895.
Besides horses racing, the Kentucky Derby is always noted for women’s fashionable headwear and the flavorful spirits consumed by fans.
“More than 90 percent of the women attending the derby will likely wear a hat,” Kiernan noted. “The high-end derby hats require from one day to a week to make and cost from $500 to $1,000.” The most expense derby hat ever is said to have cost $3 million.
More than 120,000 mint juleps are expected to be “enjoyed” by derby fans throughout the weekend. Mint julep is a mixed alcoholic drink, with bourbon, sugar, water, shaved ice, and fresh mint.
The cuisine of the Kentucky Derby in particular will require 1,000 pounds of fresh mint and 60,000 pounds of ice. “However a 2021 Kentucky Derby Mint Julep will only cost $6.99,” Kiernan said. “That’s not much in this day and age, but sharply more than in 1938, when the cost was 38 cents.”
Party time goes on though with 522,000 cans of beer to be consumed plus 142,000 hot dogs and 138,000 pounds of beef.
With all the fun, work out behind the barn is never considered by most, but it’s a “big deal,” too. “More than 50 pounds of waste are produced by one horse each day,” Kiernan pointed out.
All those people attending the derby also create lots of trash. “About 180 tons of trash is cleaned up after the derby,” Kiernan said.
Obviously, added labor force is required, so more than 1,200 staff members work at Churchill Downs on race day.
Economic downturn has reduced demand for Thoroughbreds with gross sales in 2020, at $805 million, down 26 percent from 2019.
Fastest finishing time ever was at the 1973 Kentucky Derby when Secretariat stopped the clock at 1:59.4.
More than 400 roses are used to create the garland that blankets the Kentucky Derby winner, a tradition started in 1896.
Excitement is building throughout the week as many conversations center around: “Who are you betting on to win the Kentucky?”
The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Louisville’s historic Churchill Downs Racetrack is set for Saturday afternoon, May 1, 2021
Fastest racing Thoroughbreds in the country will be neck to neck as they come out the gate for the 2021 Run For The Roses.”
Roughly 90 percent of female attendees at this year’s Kentucky Derby are expected to embrace the time-honored tradition of wearing big expensive hats.