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  • Writer's pictureKnox Thames

Tips for the Kentucky Derby

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports

The first Saturday in May is when the world focuses its attention on the historic Twin Spires of Churchill Downs in Louisville for the running of the Kentucky Derby. As a native Kentuckian, it's the highlight of the year (especially since Kentucky basketball disappointed). The Derby is truly the most exciting two minutes in sports. You should tune in early to NBC. Double-check the times, but the pomp from the paddock usually begins around 6 pm, with the playing of "My Old Kentucky Home" as the horses go to the starting gate around 6:25 pm.

Some additional information to help you speak knowledgeably with your friends and neighbors about the race:

  • The Derby is the longest continual sporting event in the United States, and it is the first (and in my opinion the best) jewel in the Triple Crown.

  • Triple Crown winners are horses that win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness in Baltimore, and the Belmont outside of New York near Queens.

  • After a 37 year drought without a Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah (purposefully misspelled) won all three races in 2015, and Justify won them in 2018.

  • The Derby is known as the "Run for the Roses," as the winning thoroughbred receives a blanket of roses.


  • This year's list entrants has created a massive field of horses – 20 in all – and only about the top 6 or 7 should be considered genuine contenders.

  • Legendary trainer Bob Baffert has won the Derby six times and has a strong horse in Medina Spirit.

  • Todd Pletcher, a successful trainer who won the Derby in 2010 and 2017, has four horses this year: Known Agenda, Sainthood, Bourbonic, Dynamic One. Looking at the field, Dynamic One (20-1) could be an interesting pick.

  • There is also the odds leading Essential Quality (2-1), which had several strong races leading up to the Derby. Observers believe his good speed means he doesn't need the early lead, as he came from nine lengths back to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

  • Conventional wisdom favors horses in the first or second starting gate (closest to the rail = the shortest trip to run). However, the vast Derby field makes that less certain on Saturday. Sports reporters note that since 2000, "11 of the 21 Kentucky Derby winners have broken from gate 13 or higher." This is bad news for Known Agenda (6-1) in the first post position but good news for Essential Quality in post position 14.

So who to cheer for? For myself, as someone who focuses on religion and global affairs, I'm looking closely at Sainthood and Medina Spirit. (However, after a hard year of COVID, I might switch to Midnight Bourbon or Bourbonic...)

Some other tips:

  • While watching at home, Derby hats and dapper suits are not required but certainly encouraged.

  • Please stand at the playing of "My Old Kentucky Home."

  • Mint Juleps are considered the official drink of the Derby. But for those wanting to avoid bourbon whiskey (invented in Kentucky), I suggest a locally made ginger ale named Ale 8-1.

  • Lastly, don't be embarrassed to cheer for your horse through the television. I believe it helps!

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