The news that Churchill Downs would delay the Kentucky Derby by four months to Sept. 5 owing to the coronavirus pandemic, and that the Preakness would be delayed, too, caused trainers of leading Derby and Triple Crown contenders to ponder how they’d proceed in coming months, while realizing the situation in regards to racing’s overall schedule remains fluid.
“I think Churchill Downs and the Kentucky authorities made the right decision,” said Patrick Biancone, who has two top prospects in Ete Indien, the Holy Bull winner, and Sole Volante, runner-up most recently in the Tampa Bay Derby. “Racing is not as important compared to what is happening in the rest of the world. Let’s get rid of this virus as soon as possible. In Europe, it’s a war against the virus.”
As for having to make sure his runners are now ready for the first Saturday in September as opposed to the first Saturday in May, Biancone said, “Better to have the Derby delayed when you have the horses than to have it on the right day with no horses.”
Biancone said the delay in the Derby might alter his plans for upcoming races. For instance, he had considered the Wood Memorial on April 4 at Aqueduct as a next start for Sole Volante, because he wanted Sole Volante to have four weeks between that and the Derby. But now that the Derby has been delayed, Biancone said is strongly considering the Arkansas Derby one week later, since it has a higher purse.
Biancone said Ete Indien would run in the Florida Derby, as scheduled.
Another Florida Derby contender, Independence Hall, arrived Monday at Gulfstream from his winter base of Tampa Bay Downs. Trainer Mike Trombetta was apprehensive as to what might follow in the coming days.
“Who the heck knows about any of this?” Trombetta said. “I just hope we get to do what we set out to do, which is to run in the Florida Derby, but there’s no guarantees that’s going to happen. I went to a Dunkin Donuts near Gulfstream this morning – closed. I mean, beyond the Florida Derby? I can’t even think that far ahead. None of us has experienced what’s going on in the world right now.”
Five-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, who has several leading contenders in Authentic, Charlatan, and Nadal – all unbeaten – said he was “still digesting” the ramifications, particularly in light of Churchill Downs saying additional, as-yet unannounced races would be added to its Road to the Derby schedule for horses to earn points.
“I just hope the horses that have run in these preps so far get some extra consideration,” Baffert said. “But right now, I’m just concerned about what’s going on with the coronavirus. Keeneland canceling was pretty scary. I’m worried about my owners, employees. This could get worse before it gets better.
“They didn’t cancel, which is good,” Baffert said. “But until we get a grip on this coronavirus we just have to keep everybody healthy. You’ve got to take this really seriously.”
Baffert said his prep schedule in the summer could be impacted by what races become point-scoring races, and where those races get slotted on the calendar, citing the Travers as an example.
Trainer Bill Mott, who won last year’s Derby with Country House in controversial fashion, said he will not change his schedule with Modernist, who is entered to run in Saturday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.
“I can’t speak for the owner, but as far as Bill Mott goes, if he’s ready to run, I would take advantage of running in the prep races, whichever ones come up,” Mott said. “If I happen to have a horse left at Derby time, he’ll go to the Derby. I’m not going to wrap him up in bubble wrap til September.”
Maryland government authorities indicated Tuesday that the Preakness would be delayed until September, too. New York racing authorities have yet to decide what to do regarding the Belmont. If the races are run out of order, “So be it,” Mott said. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll have another outbreak of the coronavirus in October.”
John Servis said the postponement of the Derby may alter how he manages Mischevious Alex, who won the Grade 3 Gotham on March 7 at Aqueduct and who is tentatively scheduled to run in the Wood Memorial.
Servis said he would speak with owners Chuck Zacney and Glenn Bennett to see if they want to keep the horse in one-turn races for the time being, with the Grade 1 Woody Stephens, a seven-furlong race June 6 at Belmont, a mid-range goal.
“It’s certainly going to make us look at things differently, for sure,” Servis said. “We had discussed maybe the Bay Shore, Pat Day Mile, and Woody Stephens.”
The Pat Day Mile will not be run May 2 as scheduled as Churchill Downs plans to move that race to its Sept. 5 card.
The Derby being delayed could be beneficial to 3-year-olds who got a late start this year, including Maxfield, who has not raced since Oct. 5. Brendan Walsh, who has been playing catch-up with Maxfield, said he will re-evaluate his scheduling. Additional races offering points would be to his benefit.
“Obviously, this gives us more time to help prepare him properly,” Walsh said.
“We’ll just have to see what happens now with the points system and everything. We’ll be waiting on that, like everyone else. I guess for the short-term, I might kind of reschedule his breezes and his first race back, but we have to see what Churchill is going to do. We could be making guesses about it all day and we’d probably still be wrong.”
King Guillermo, who was scheduled to train straight into a May 2 Derby following his stunning upset in the March 7 Tampa Bay Derby, now will undergo a revised schedule, according to trainer Juan C. Avila, who said through interpreter Tito Fuentes that he will discuss the situation soon with the colt’s owner, retired Major League Baseball star Victor Martinez.
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