Grab Your Julep Cup And Your Best Hat, The Derby Is Back! Well, Virtually

Posted on April 27, 2020

A Kentucky Derby like no other is set for May 2 featuring a face-off among the computer-generated images of 13 previous Triple Crown legends running for a virtual garland of roses.

The simulated race set to take place on the traditional race date will have a very tangible result. The virtual Derby will raise upwards of $2 million in contributions earmarked for COVID-19 relief efforts. A small portion of the money will also support track workers whose livelihoods are impacted by closedowns.

The virus led to postponing the 146th Derby until Sept. 5, leaving fans worldwide disappointed.

NBC will broadcast a simulated Derby on May 2

Churchill Downs, the home track of the Derby, and NBC will air a special broadcast from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday, May 2.

The show will include a rebroadcast of the 2015 Derby that started American Pharoah‘s Triple Crown campaign. The highlight of the broadcast will be the virtual Triple Crown Showdown.

The virtual two-minute race, created by Inspired Entertainment, features the 13 past Triple Crown winners. The race will run based on historical data on the horses’ racing performances.

Racing fans can select their favorite to win the race. Those who get it right will automatically enter a contest for the ultimate Kentucky Derby 146 VIP Experience.

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A simulated horse race pulled in 4.8 million viewers

Inspired is a content, technology, gaming and entertainment company in New York. The 15-year-old company has, for several years, simulated the running of the Grand National field hunter racing event, pulling in 4.8 million viewers for that simulated event earlier in the year.

Brooks Pierce, the president and CEO of Inspired, said in his announcement:

“We are very excited about this opportunity to showcase our virtual sports on a much larger scale in the U.S. Churchill Downs is the world’s most legendary racetrack and the Kentucky Derby is the premier event in horse racing. We are honored to be a part of this special tradition and support Churchill Downs in this endeavor, as we work together to help fill the gap of live sports and bring people together for some relief during these difficult times.”

Raising money for coronavirus relief efforts

Fans can virtually wager by making a charitable contribution beginning on April 30 by going to kentuckyderby.com. Churchill Downs will match up to $1 million in donations.

Kevin Flanery, the president of Churchill Downs racetrack, said:

“For many fans around the country, the first Saturday in May has become a part of their family’s yearly traditions. While we eagerly look forward to the 146th Kentucky Derby this year on the first Saturday in September, we will celebrate the annual excitement of our traditional date with our fans and community by offering ways for us to join together for a great cause.”

Additional events on May 2

The Derby is making a full day of it, with suggested at-home activities beginning at noon on May 2. The events are being labeled #KYDerbyAtHome and a suggested Kentucky Derby party schedule can be found here.

The Arkansas Derby, held without spectators at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs and broadcast by NBCSN, will follow the Derby.

Oaklawn is one of a handful of US tracks that kept racing as virus restrictions shut down most meets. Online horse betting in PA has also remained an option. But May 2 is the last day of racing at the Arkansas track.

Racing events drawing fans and bettors during shutdown

The curtailment of most sports and the resulting slump in sports betting has refocused fans on horse racing.

Gov. Tom Wolf shut down racing at the same he closed land-based casinos, though some tracks remain filled with horses and support personnel. Some in the horse community hope to see racing begin again, even if it needs to be without spectators.

Resuming racing may come up for discussion on April 29 when the state’s Horse Racing Commission holds their monthly meeting virtually.

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Written by
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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