Alt Kentucky Derby Races: Turtles, Sims, And Arkansas Derby Fill Racing Void

Written By Kevin Shelly on May 1, 2020
Turtles help replace Kentucky Derby void Saturday

No Kentucky Derby race Saturday? No worries.

You can still watch and celebrate, with a number of televised and streamed activities to replace the postponed Derby Day. NBC will broadcast a full day of activities, including a hi-tech computer-generated race of the 13 Triple Crown winners in a simulated Triple Crown Showdown.

For those more into reality, there’s even a slow-tech turtle race, like the one that ran last time the Derby was postponed – in 1945 due to WW II.

The alt-races are a result of the suspension of most racing in the US due to virus restrictions. The Kentucky Derby, usually the first Saturday in May, is now Sept. 5. The good news is the two alternative “Derby races” go off at different times this Saturday.

And if you’d rather stick to real races with real horses on Saturday, there’s also the closing day of live racing at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Oaklawn caps off their live racing season Saturday

Racing never stopped at Oaklawn, but just ran without spectators. Saturday closes out their season.

Featured during the race day is the prestigious Arkansas Derby and also the Oaklawn Handicap.

The Handicap has a $600,000 purse, and is a Grade 2 race. It goes off at 7:04 p.m. The race can be seen on TVG, the racing and betting channel, and also on FoxSports and NBCSN.

There are 14 horses in the Handicap field. By My Standards is favored in early wagering. The horse has won both of his 2020 starts. If you live in Pennsylvania, you can wager on all the Oaklawn races on Saturday at FanDuel Racing and PABets (TVG’s PA racing app).

Arkansas Derby divisions

The Handicap’s right in the middle of the running of two divisions of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, a race won by Philly-area favorite Smarty Jones in 2004 before going on to take the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby that same year.

With limited venues racing, the Arkansas Derby has attracted a considerable field of high-quality horses looking at both the purse – $500,000 for the winner of each division – and 170 Kentucky Derby qualifying points distributed to the top four horses. NBC is broadcasting both divisions.

This is only the second time the Arkansas Derby has run in two divisions, the last time being in 1960.

The first division goes off at 6:29 p.m., and the prohibitive favorite is star trainer Bob Baffert’s Charlatan. Another ten horses are expected at the post.

The second division races at 7:43 p.m. with ten horses in the field. Another Baffert horse, Nadal, is the favorite in that one according to early odds. Nadal is already on the board with 50 Road to Kentucky Derby points. Here’s a look at the top 20 potential runners going into Saturday.

1Tiz the Law122
2Wells Bayou104
3Ete Indien74
6Mr. Monomy52
8Mischievous Alex50
9Ny Traffic50
10King Guillermo50
13Storm the Court32
14Sole Volante30
15Major Fred30
16Thousand Words25
17Silver Prospector21
19Candy Tycoon20
20Honor A.P.20

And bringing up the rear, the turtle race

And if you are feeling a wee whimsical, there is also the 2020 Old Forester Kentucky Turtle Derby which will air on the bourbon’s YouTube channel. The liquor company’s mint julep is the official Derby beverage.

Triple Crown horse racing announcer Larry Collmus will call the turtle race remotely and Steve Buttleman, the resident bugler for Churchill Downs for 23 years, will serenade viewers and the eight reptiles before they lumber out of the gate.

The race begins at 7:05 p.m., with coverage beginning at 7 p.m.

Old Forester is encouraging donations to the Hospitality Industry Emergency Relief Fund during the race, and the distiller will match dollar-for-dollar every donation, up to $100,000.

Pressure mounting to race again without crowds

Meanwhile, there are hoofbeats building encouraging jurisdictions to allow a return to racing without crowds present while following safety guidelines such as those from the National Horsemen’s Benevolent Association.

Half a dozen US tracks have continued to race without spectators during the virus shutdowns. Now several jurisdictions, including Pennsylvania, are looking ahead to how they might safely do the same.  PA has taken some early steps, but there is no timetable yet. On the other hand, West Virginia begins racing again on May 14.

France plans to begin racing again on May 11. Sweden and England are also discussing a return to racing without spectators. Most of Australia never stopped racing.

In an odd turnabout, racing, which has faded in popularity for decades, is now the central focus for live sporting competitions in the face of the virus pandemic. And legal horse betting is more popular than ever.

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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