Kentucky Derby Trail takes different path

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The road to the Kentucky Derby just got longer.

The announcement last week by Churchill Downs that the Derby would be delayed to Sept. 5 due to the coronavirus pandemic will cause a drastic change in how potential Derby starters qualify for a spot in the starting gate.

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Key Derby point qualifying races like the Sunland Park Derby in New Mexico, the UAE Derby in Dubai, and the Blue Grass Stakes and Lexington Stakes at Keeneland have already been canceled. The Arkansas Derby has been moved from April 11 to May 2. The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct scheduled for April 4 is in flux with that track currently shut down, and there are discussions going on this week about possibly moving the Santa Anita Derby from April 4 to a spot later in the meet.

Churchill Downs officials have said there will be additional qualifying points offered in races closer to the Derby. But some of the races most likely to be included as Derby preps have some scheduling conflicts that need to be resolved.

The Travers Stakes at Saratoga, long known as the “Summer Derby,” is scheduled for August 29. The Travers is contested at the same 1-1/4 mile distance as the Derby a week later. It is extremely doubtful top sophomores could run in both, so the New York Racing Association will likely have to move the Travers to earlier in the Saratoga meet, which will impact the timing of their prep for the Travers, the Jim Dandy Stakes.

The Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park is scheduled for July 18, so the timing is good as far as a Derby prep. The Pennsylvania Derby held in September is usually the last major dirt race for three-year-olds, but that race will be severely impacted unless Parx Racing moves their race to an earlier date to make it a Derby prep. Currently the Pennsylvania Derby is not listed on the stakes calendar at Parx.

Del Mar is discussing the possibility of adding a Derby prep race during their summer meet. Since their stakes program for three-year-olds is mainly on turf, there should be a demand from horsemen based in Southern California to earn the qualifying points needed to compete in the Derby.

There has been no official word from The Stronach Group about potentially moving the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico from May 16 to sometime in September after the Derby has been run. The same goes for NYRA regarding the Belmont Stakes scheduled for June 6. If either race is contested before the Kentucky Derby, they could be in a unique position as a Triple Crown race that actually offers Derby qualifying points.

The timing of the announcements could be impacted by delays in returning to normal racing schedules following the containment of the coronavirus. In the meantime, trainers will have to find ways to get horses on schedule to peak on the first Saturday in May back up to top form and peaking for the first Saturday in September.

It would be no surprise to see the list of contenders in September much different from the ­current list of top Derby qualifying point leaders.

Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Oaklawn Park Thursday, Race 6 – Esposito (No. 1). Seven-year-old gelding is vastly improved since joining the Bill Martin stable. He was far clear of the rest of the field when beaten a neck last out and gets a confident class boost. Look for a pace-pressing trip from the advantageous inside post going one mile.

About the Author

Jon Lindo

Jon Lindo is a syndicated handicapper, long-time thoroughbred owner, and publisher of the Lindo Report. Jon is also a regular contributor to Race Day Las Vegas Radio show on KSHP 1400 in Las Vegas and Thoroughbred Los Angeles Radio show, heard in Las Vegas at thoroughbredla.com.

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