Virtual Kentucky Derby to decide greatest Triple Crown winner

FILE PHOTO: Justify with jockey Mike Smith aboard wins the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont
FILE PHOTO: Justify with jockey Mike Smith aboard wins the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, U.S., June 9, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo)

By Steve Keating

From Sir Barton in 1919 to Justify in 2018 there have been just 13 winners of North America’s Triple Crown, which is made up of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

And all 13 will take to the gate at Churchill Downs on May 2 in a computer-simulated ‘Run for the Roses’ to decide which was the greatest thoroughbred race horse.

Horse racing is going online as the coronavirus crisis forces the cancellation or postponement of meetings, including this month’s Grand National in Britain, which was also turned into a virtual race instead.

The Grand National organizers also ran a Race of Champions featuring 40 of the best Aintree winners over the years, which was won by Red Rum.

“The anticipation of which Triple Crown winner will emerge as the ultimate champion is thrilling,” Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Incorporated, said on Thursday.

The race, which will be carried on NBC, will be the highlight of a virtual Kentucky Derby with Churchill Downs hoping to raise $2 million for COVID-19 emergency relief.

“We are proud to use this platform as a force for good by raising money for these worthy COVID-19 emergency initiatives,” Carstanjen said.

Data algorithms, including historical handicapping information about each of the 13 horses, will help to determine the probability of their potential finishing positions.

With the Kentucky Derby forced from its traditional first Saturday in May by the coronavirus outbreak, the first jewel of horse racing’s real Triple Crown was postponed until Sept. 5.

But there will still be action at a virtual Churchill Downs, with horses like Secretariat and War Admiral going head-to-head.