Secretariat Tabbed Slight Favorite for NBC’s Virtual Kentucky Derby

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Secretariat's 1973 Belmont Stakes win. (Coglianese Photo/Blood-Horse Library)

Secretariat, considered by many as the most talented and iconic Thoroughbred to have raced in America, has been established as the 7-2 morning-line favorite for the virtual Kentucky Derby that will be televised May 2 on NBC.

Known as the “Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown,” it is an animated race created by Inspired Entertainment that matches the 13 winners of the Triple Crown in a hypothetical race over 1 1/4 miles at a computer-depicted Churchill Downs.

The virtual race will be broadcast at approximately 5:45 p.m. ET as part of a package of Derby-related programming that airs Saturday from 3-6 p.m, replacing the approximate time slot in which the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve would have appeared. The Derby was postponed to Sept. 5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Announcer Larry Collmus, who calls the Triple Crown series for NBC, will fulfill the announcing duties for the virtual Derby. Collmus will also call a virtual Derby Saturday for Horse Racing Radio Network, which will be streamed to BloodHorse.com.

The NBC coverage will also include a broadcast of “The First Saturday In May: American Pharoah’s Run to the Triple Crown,” which follows American Pharaoh’s Triple Crown-winning achievements in 2015.

Secretariat, the two-time Horse of the Year who swept the 1973 Triple Crown with a stirring 31-length romp in the Belmont Stakes, landed post position No. 3 in a random draw. Calumet Farm’s multiple champion Citation, who won 27 of 29 races at age 2 and 3, including a sweep of the 1948 Triple Crown, is the 4-1 second choice with Seattle Slew and Affirmed, the 1977-’78 Triple Crown winners, respectively, each listed at 5-1.

2020 Virtual Kentucky Derby Field (with odds)

Post

Horse

Triple Crown

 Year

Jockey

Odds

1

Affirmed

1978

Steve Cauthen

5-1

2

Assault

1946

Warren Mehrtens

20-1

3

Secretariat

1973

Ron Turcotte

7-2

4

Sir Barton

1919

Johnny Loftus

20-1

5

Seattle Slew

1977

Jean Cruguet

5-1

6

American Pharoah

2015

Victor Espinoza

6-1

7

Gallant Fox

1930

Earl Sande

20-1

8

Citation

1948

Eddie Arcaro

4-1

9

War Admiral

1937

Charlie Kurtsinger

8-1

10

Whirlaway

1941

Eddie Arcaro

4-1

11

Count Fleet

1943

Johnny Longden

6-1

12

Justify

2018

Mike Smith

15-1

13

Omaha

1935

Willie “Smokey” Saunders

20-1

“I’ve got to give Secretariat the edge,” said Mike Battaglia, who assigned the morning-line for the race, as he has for other Churchill Downs races since 1974. “This was a really fun morning line to make, and I’m looking forward to the race.”

Battaglia also quipped: “I didn’t have the heart to hang more than 20-1 odds on a Triple Crown winner!” 

weekend Television schedule

Friday, May 1: 4-7 p.m. ET on FS2; 4-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN; post time varies on TVG

Saturday, May 2: 1-8 p.m. ET on FS1; 8-8:30 p.m. ET on FS2; 3-6 p.m. ET on NBC; 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN; post time varies on TVG

Sunday, May 3: 1:30-2:30 p.m. ET on FS2; 2:30-4:30 p.m. ET on FS1; 4-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN; post time varies on TVG

There is no pari-mutuel betting on the virtual race, but starting April 30 at 10 a.m., fans will be able to visit www.KentuckyDerby.com to choose their favorite horse to win the virtual race and also join Churchill Downs in making a charitable donation to COVID-19 emergency relief efforts. All participants who select the winning horse will be entered in a sweepstakes to win a Kentucky Derby VIP experience this year.

To determine the probability of each contender winning the race, select officials from Churchill Downs analyzed the historical past performances of each Triple Crown winner and incorporated the opinions of distinguished horse racing experts who evaluated each contender’s achievements and put them into historical perspective.

That information, known as “Fundamental Probabilities,” was fed into Inspire Entertainment’s computer models that will determine the final result by using these probabilities in conjunction with random number generation.

The Fundamental Probabilities only determine the chances of each horse winning the race. Those with a higher probability value are not necessarily going to win the race, they just have a greater chance of doing so.

“It’s like the NBA Draft. It’s a weighted lottery system,” said Darren Rogers, senior director of communications and media services for Churchill Downs. “So, for example, if you had 100 numbered ping-pong balls in a bin. And one of them was drawn to determine the winner, 20 of the balls might have the number of the horse that’s considered to be the favorite. And then the horse that is considered to be the longest shot in the field or the slimmest of chances among the 13, may only have a ping-pong ball number with two of them. In the end, though, the randomly drawn ball determines the winner.”

The morning-line odds are completely independent of the Fundamental Probabilities, and Battaglia was not aware of the Fundamental Probabilities for each horse when setting them.

Rogers called the graphics of the virtual race “incredible,” but said it would not take into account every detail from the 13 Triple crown winners, such as their running style or certain unique characteristics.

“I think of Secretariat wearing the blue and white checkered blinkers,” he said, noting one detail that won’t be in the virtual race. “We had some difficulties in the short time period to do that. But yes, the colors of the horses are respected. All the silks of the owners of the horses are respected.”

The Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown is part of Churchill Downs’ day-long at-home Kentucky Derby party on the first Saturday in May, which officials also hope will raise $2 million for COVID-19 emergency relief efforts.

“We think it’s important, right, for everyone in our community to acknowledge and honor the traditional first Saturday in May. It’s a date celebrated like a holiday for many of us in Louisville and then horse racing fans around the country,” said Rogers. “So we wanted to find a way we could celebrate this ‘Kentucky Derby at home’ concept and simultaneously, provide some form of entertainment, and then use the platform to raise money for COVID-19 emergency relief efforts. That’s how this came about. Actually, it came about when we saw this company provide this animated-created race for the Grand National a few weeks ago.”

Churchill Downs has pledged to match up to $1 million of donations with funds to be directed to the Team Kentucky Fund and Direct Relief. A small percentage will be earmarked for the R.E.I.N. Fund (Relief for Equine Industry Needs), a program managed by Churchill Downs Foundation designed to benefit workers of the backside whose livelihood has been impacted by COVID-19 and also to help ensure essential care for horses throughout the pandemic.

A full day of online festivities is planned Saturday, designed to encourage an interactive Kentucky Derby party at home, and the track is encouraging social media engagement with #KyDerbyatHome mentions in posts.

“The anticipation of which Triple Crown winner will emerge as the ultimate champion is thrilling,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc., “but most importantly, we are proud to use this platform as a force for good by raising money for these worthy COVID-19 emergency initiatives. We urge fans to join us by donating and celebrating with us from home.”

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