Welcome to a Kentucky Derby like no other.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs is not being run on the first Saturday in May for the first time since 1945. In addition, it will provide the second leg of the Triple Crown instead of the traditional opening leg.
The Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, customarily the mile-and-a-half “Test of the Champion,” got things started in this topsy-turvy year when it was run on June 20 as a one-turn mile-and-an-eighth contest at Belmont Park. The 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes was rescheduled for Oct. 3 at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course.
Coverage of the 146th run for the roses will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. Streaming will be available on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. The network’s coverage of the Longines Kentucky Oaks starts on Friday at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Veteran NBC Sports analyst Randy Moss shared his views on what he refers to as the “Pandemic Triple Crown” as well as top contenders in the Kentucky Derby during a wide-ranging question-and-answer session conducted by Tom Pedulla in behalf of America’s Best Racing:
PEDULLA: Will it feel like the Derby to you on the first Saturday in September?
MOSS: Not really, but that is primarily because we will be doing all of our coverage from a studio in Stamford, Ct., rather than from Churchill Downs, which is obviously something I’ve never experienced for a Kentucky Derby and hope I never will again.
PEDULLA: Can you make the broadcast exciting without fans?
MOSS: I think so, because the excitement of the Kentucky Derby primarily involves the race itself, the big field of horses, the tradition of the most talented 3-year-olds in America all squaring off against each other – and that, fortunately, hasn’t been lost. I fully understand that part of the Derby experience is 150,000 fans packed into Churchill Downs, the social aspects of the Kentucky Derby as well as the sporting aspects. But, hopefully, especially in such a sports-deprived year as this has been, the sporting aspect of the Derby itself will resonate with people.
PEDULLA: With many top jockeys opting not to ride, does that impact the race?
MOSS: You’re probably asking the wrong person about that because my longstanding belief has been that, when it comes to the very, very top levels of horse racing, the jockeys are overrated. I believe when you look at the top 20, 25, maybe 30 riders in America, you’re looking at the upper echelon. All of the riders are capable of winning a race like the Kentucky Derby if they are riding the best horse.
PEDULLA: What does it say about racing that an outfit like Sackatoga Stable, that doesn’t spend a lot of money and doesn’t have a lot of horses, can be back at the Derby with the favorite in Tiz the Law?
MOSS: I think that is one of the real attractive aspects of Thoroughbred racing that resonates with the casual sports fan. Here you can have one of the richest men in the world, the ruler of Dubai, trying desperately to win the Kentucky Derby and spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to buy horses in hopes of winning the Derby but is still looking for his first Kentucky Derby win, and then you get a bunch of rag-tag guys from upstate New York who want to have a good time and want to have one horse a year that they can root for in decent New York-bred races and they’ve already won the Derby once. Now, it’s a different Sackatoga partnership. (Managing partner) Jack Knowlton is one of the only constants, but it’s really remarkable that they are back in this position again.
PEDULLA: Bob Baffert lost some formidable horses to injury. How strong a hand is he left with?
MOSS: I think he’s got a moderately strong hand. In Authentic and Thousand Words, he’s got horses that are in with a shot but that will not be among the betting favorites. I’m expecting Authentic to be in the 10-1 or 12-1 range because of distance concerns. I’m expecting Thousand Words to be in the 20-1 range because of talent concerns.
MOSS: I thought in watching the race live that he did lose a little luster. But when you look at the analytics of the race, the final time of the Shared Belief compared to the final times of other races that day, it actually was a much faster than expected race, so it’s very easy based on speed figures to make the case that Honor A. P. ran his usual race but, because of circumstances, didn’t win. To me, in handicapping the Kentucky Derby, I don’t count the Shared Belief against him at all.
PEDULLA: Can King Guillermo overcome such a long layoff?
MOSS: It’s pretty much unchartered territory, isn’t it? I mean we’ve now been taught that, going into the Kentucky Derby, a five-week layoff, a six-week layoff, is not as big a deal as it used to be. But now you are looking at a horse that has not run since May. You’re looking at a four-month layoff, a 16-week layoff. To me, that is probably a deal-breaker, especially since the horse was not among the top three or four horses anyway in terms of talent based on his performance in the Arkansas Derby. (UPDATE: King Guillermo was scratched from the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 3 with a fever.)
PEDULLA: Are there any live longshots you can share with followers of America’s Best Racing?
MOSS: Ny Traffic is consistent, he’s determined and he’s improving with every race. I love the way he didn’t give up in the Haskell Stakes. I think a lot of that had to do with Authentic coming back to him, but Ny Traffic could easily have gone in the other direction. Max Player, I thought his Belmont Stakes was pretty solid off the layoff. Predictably, he ran better in the Travers Stakes. I think Max Player could hit the board. Attachment Rate could be 30 or 40-1. In the Blue Grass Stakes, especially, he was wide around both turns. He’s had some trips that would make you think he is better than what he has shown so far. With a decent trip in the Kentucky Derby, I think he could move up and be a longshot contender for the minor awards.
PEDULLA: How good is Tiz the Law?
MOSS: I thought his win in the Travers Stakes reminded me of some of American Pharoah’s best races. I thought it looked a little like American Pharoah’s Haskell, a little like American Pharoah’s Arkansas Derby, where he stalks a horse and then just completely blows him away. He’s just so dominating that it’s a breathtaking, wow sort of moment. I think he is a very, very good horse. And I think he’s got an outstanding chance not only to win the Kentucky Derby but to sweep the Pandemic Triple Crown.
PEDULLA: If we should have a Triple Crown, in your mind would it always carry an asterisk?
MOSS: I hate to say it, but yes. The Triple Crown has always in the past been anchored by the mile-and-a-half “Test of the Champion” Belmont Stakes, where the distance has proven to be a deal-breaker for so many 3-year-olds over the years. Sweeping the Triple Crown this year would undoubtedly be an accomplishment. Any time you beat the best horses of your generation in three selected races, it’s noteworthy, never mind he won the Travers in between. But not having to go that mile and a half is always going to be viewed as an asterisk.
PEDULLA: So who are you picking to win the Derby?
MOSS: Tiz the Law, with reserving the right to change my mind if the track is sloppy on Kentucky Derby day. And even that probably won’t beat him. I think he stands out over the field.