Authentic Wins the Kentucky Derby, Run Without Fans
The race in Louisville ran with a smaller field than usual, no spectators and despite protests nearby over the police killing of Breonna Taylor in the city earlier this year.
By Joe Drape
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There will be no Triple Crown bid in this strangest of horse racing seasons.
Authentic upset Tiz the Law, the Belmont champ, to capture America’s most famous race, this year contested in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that has altered the whole of the sporting world.
Instead of the Kentucky Derby serving as the first leg of the Triple Crown on the first Saturday in May, the Belmont Stakes did so for the first time in history on a Saturday in June. Tiz the Law, the Belmont Stakes champion, was the strong betting favorite to win.
Authentic, ridden by John Velazquez, earning his third derby victory, covered the mile-and-a-quarter distance in 2 minutes and 0.61 hundredths of a second, paying his backers $18.80 on a $2 bet.
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It was the sixth Kentucky winner for trainer Bob Baffert, tying him with Ben Jones with most victories in America’s marquee race.
With the Derby running in the city where Breonna Taylor was killed in her apartment by the police in March, it had become a focus of the Black Lives Matter movement. A coalition of activist groups called for a boycott of the race and its sponsors. They conducted a peaceful protest in a park near Churchill Downs on Saturday and marched toward the track.
The racetrack’s leadership released a statement Thursday to explain their decision to hold the races.
“We know there are some who disagree with our decision to run the Kentucky Derby this year,” the statement said. “We respect that point of view but made our decision in the belief that traditions can remind us of what binds us together as Americans, even as we seek to acknowledge and repair the terrible pain that rends us apart.
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“Our sport shares a disconcerting history that led to the exclusion of Black jockey participation through the years,” the statement continued. “The legacy of the Kentucky Derby begins with the incredible success of Black jockeys. We feel it is imperative to acknowledge the painful truths that led to their exclusion. Churchill Downs strongly believes in preserving and sharing the stories of the Black jockeys who are a critical part of this tradition. This is not a new commitment, but we continue to seek ways to share these stories and honor these athletes.”
An African-American jockey, Oliver Lewis, won the inaugural Kentucky Derby in 1875. He claimed victory aboard Aristides, a horse trained by Ansel Williamson, who was born into slavery. In the years after the Civil War, Black jockeys dominated horse racing, winning 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derbys and becoming celebrities, much like today’s N.B.A. stars.
In their statement, Churchill Downs officials hinted at changes.
“We recognize that people in our community and across our nation are hurting right now,” it said. “The atmosphere of the Kentucky Derby will be different this year as we respond to those calls for change. This will be a Derby unlike any other. As it should be.”
Tiz the Law, the Belmont Stakes champion, was made the prohibitive 3-5 morning-line favorite to win what is this year the second leg of the Triple Crown. The New York-bred colt has won six of his seven races in dominant fashion, but his only defeat had come here, beneath Churchill’s iconic twin spires, last year.
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