Kentucky Derby 2024: How to watch, what you need to know

Sports

The Kentucky Derby has been held annually at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, since 1875 and is the oldest continually run sporting event in the United States.

It is traditionally held on the first Saturday in May and is the beginning leg of a three-race series called the Triple Crown. The series also consists of the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, which is run over a duration of five weeks between May and June. The three races are exclusively for fillies and colts in their 3-year-old seasons. Horses gain entry to the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field via a point system determined by their finish in select races in their 2- and 3-year-old seasons.

The Kentucky Derby purse is $5 million this year, which is distributed to the top-five finishers. First place will receive $3.1 million, the runner-up will get $1 million and the third-place finisher will receive $500,000.

What happened at last year’s Kentucky Derby?

Mage won last year’s running at 15-1 odds over Two Phil’s and favored Angel of Empire. National Empire won the Preakness (Mage finished third) and Arcangelo won the Belmont Stakes.

Mage has since been retired, as has Forte, who was the morning line favorite for the 2023 Kentucky Derby before he was scratched by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on the morning of the race because of a bruised foot.

What is new for this year?

The Belmont Stakes, the final jewel of the Triple Crown and typically the longest race of the trio at 1½ miles, will be run at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York, this year due to renovations at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

The race will be run on June 8 and shortened to 1¼ miles, the first time outside of the COVID-shortened running in 2020 that it will not be run at the traditional distance since 1925. Churchill Downs also opened a new, $200 million paddock ahead of the Kentucky Derby after two years of construction.

Who’s in and who’s out this year?

Trainer Bob Baffert, who won the Derby six times between 1997 and 2021, remains banned from running horses at tracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc., after the company extended Baffert’s ban through 2024.

Baffert was initially suspended in 2021 after Medina Spirit failed a postrace drug test and was later disqualified. Mandaloun was placed first after Medina Spirit’s DQ.

Medina Spirit died of a heart attack while training on Dec. 6, 2021. Baffert currently trains Arkansas Derby winner Muth, who ran second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in the fall. A Kentucky appeals court judge recently denied a request by Muth’s owner, Zendan Racing Stables (who also owned Medina Spirit), to overturn the ban.

Baffert won the Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015), Justify (2018) and Authentic (2020).

Justify and American Pharoah, who are now retired to Ashford Stud in Kentucky, were the 12th and 13th Triple Crown winners. However, Justify was retroactively disqualified from the 2018 Santa Anita Derby in March because of a failed drug test that year.

Although Justify’s status as a Triple Crown winner is unchanged, his disqualification means that he would not have had the points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby that year.

The 30-year-old Silver Charm is now the oldest living Derby winner and resides at Old Friends Farm in Kentucky.

How did the horses get here?

Sierra Leone enters the Kentucky Derby as the points leader with 155 points due to his wins in the Risen Star Stakes and Blue Grass Stakes.

Fierceness, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, was second in points with a win in the Florida Derby and a third-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes. Catching Freedom was third in the points rankings after winning the Smarty Jones Stakes, placing third in the Risen Star and winning the Louisiana Derby.

T.O. Password enters the race via the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, a series of races held in Japan that allows one horse entry into the race. Undefeated Forever Young, also a Japanese-bred horse, gained entry via a win in the UAE Derby. The UAE Derby has not yet produced a Kentucky Derby winner.

What is the story with this year’s race?

While the 2023 Kentucky Derby had an unprecedented five scratches, it’s been a quiet lead-up to the 2024 running, with one scratch as of Thursday morning.

Encino, a 20-1 long shot trained by Brad Cox, was scratched Tuesday, allowing Epic Ride to draw into the field coming off a third-place finish in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Encino was supposed to start from post No. 9, but now all the horses outside of Encino’s old post will move one slot toward the inner rail. Epic Ride will take over the No. 20 post.

That could be good for Fierceness, who originally was supposed to break from post No. 17, which has never produced a winner from 44 starters. Forty Niner came in second from that spot in 1988. Fierceness will now break from post No. 16, which has produced four winners.

“I’m fine with the post,” Fierceness’ trainer Todd Pletcher said after the draw. “There’s a long enough run into the first turn to hopefully establish position.”

Sierra Leone (3-1), the second choice on the morning line, will still start from the No. 2 spot. The last horse to win from the No. 2 position was Triple Crown winner Affirmed in 1978 with only 11 horses in the field.

“Sierra Leone, he’s in just a touch farther in than I wanted but he didn’t get the one hole so I’m OK with that,” trainer Chad Brown said after the draw on Saturday. “With this particular horse, what I didn’t want was the 19 or 20. In fact, it would have been hard for him to drop over without losing ground, significant ground around the first turn.”

Ferdinand won from the No. 1 post in 1986 with only 16 horses in the field. Dornach (20-1) will break from that spot this year.

Post positions matter in a 20-horse field such as the Derby, as no other race in the United States has that many horses running at one time.

The inside posts such as No. 1 and No. 2 are difficult to win from because horses that break from that position often run into traffic jams from other horses trying to get onto the rail, the shortest distance around the track.

Churchill Downs had to use an auxiliary starting gate until 2019 to account for the extra horses, which caused a gap between the No. 14 and No. 15 spots. They have used a 20-horse starting gate since 2020 for this race.

The far outside posts pose their own challenges too, as the horse on the outside will have to use a lot of speed early to cut across the track and ahead of the pack or go far back to stay behind the traffic.

Epic Ride will be one of three horses in the race who have 50-1 morning line odds, along with Society Man, who will break from post No. 19 and West Saratoga, who will break from the No. 12 spot.

Rich Strike won from post position No. 20 in 2022 at 80-1 odds after drawing into the race late due to scratches.

How often do the favorites win?

The morning line favorite is not necessarily the horse that will be favored by the betting public when the race goes off. Instead, it’s a prediction by the track’s oddsmaker of how the public will bet.

The morning line favorite won five times between 2013 to 2018, almost perfectly lining up with the actual betting favorites with the exception of 2017. Classic Empire was 4-1 on the morning line that year but Always Dreaming was the 4-1 favorite at race time (and winner).

Neither the morning line favorite nor the betting favorite has won since Justify in 2018, although two-morning line favorites were scratched before the race (Forte in 2023 and Omaha Beach in 2019.)

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