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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Good to see Derby back where it belongs

by Wally Hall | April 29, 2021 at 2:32 a.m.

With the Kentucky Derby moving back to the first Saturday in May, a solid piece of the comeback foundation is in place for the world of perspiring arts.

Covid-19 forced the Derby to move to the first Saturday in September last year and compete with college football.

This Derby is still affected by the virus, and attendance will be down from the normal crowd of around 100,000 because of restrictions.

Having the expected 45,000 fans is tons better than zero, but that's still a lot of overpriced mint juleps that won't be mixed at Churchill Downs.

There still will be fancy hats and silk sport coats for Friday's Oaks and Saturday's Derby, but they will mostly be worn by those who can buy a ticket without asking how much it costs.

There also will be thousands of fans who convene at their local tracks and turn them into a mini Churchill.

Oaklawn's new hotel -- a slice of pure luxury -- has been sold out for this weekend since it started taking reservations.

It is the grand finale for Oaklawn's live season, but the festive atmosphere in Louisville, Ky., will be watched in Arkansas, too.

As of this writing, the 20 horses in the Derby field are stabled at the track and working out there in the wee hours.

The Derby draw Tuesday had a predictable outcome: Some were happy and some were not.

Todd Pletcher was in the not crowd when Known Agenda drew the coffin corner No. 1 spot.

No trainer wants the Nos. 1 or 2. That's where horses get buried behind a wall of other horses.

Pletcher said after the draw that he wanted to weep.

Known Agenda was made 6-1 on the morning line, and you can't help but wonder if the winner of the Florida Derby might not have been more like 3-1 if he had a better draw.

Essential Quality is the 2-1 favorite and drew post 14, which isn't great because the jockey has to fire out of the gate so he doesn't get stuck outside or too far behind.

Essential Quality is regally bred and undefeated in five races. He won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, then took more than three months off before winning the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. He followed that up by winning the Blue Grass Stakes.

The second favorite is Rock Your World, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby.

Mostly it is a field of long shots with 15 horses who are at least 15-1.

Super Stock, winner of the Arkansas Derby, drew the No. 18 hole and is 30-1. Keepmeinmind, who was sixth in the Rebel Stakes, is 50-1 and will start in post 4.

Keepmeinmind has been beaten three times by Essential Quality, but sometimes past performances don't matter as much in the Kentucky Derby because the field is so large.

Every winner of this race has one thing in common -- the trip.

To win you almost have to have a perfect trip. That means you can't try and run with the rabbits, and you need to avoid packs of horses who are going to tire and block you out.

Post position helps jockeys control their fate.

No horse has won from the No. 1 spot since Ferdinand in 1986. He wasn't the best horse in the race, but he had a perfect trip.

Risen Star was probably the best horse in the 1988 field, but he drew the No. 1 post. Winning Colors was a front-running filly, and everyone's strategy was to let her run herself out. Risen Star had to circle almost every horse, and he finished a closing third.

Winning Colors started from the No. 8 hole and held on to win.

To win the Kentucky Derby, you have to have a good trip and some luck.

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