- The Kentucky Derby is traditionally run on the first Saturday in May.
- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the 2020 Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled to September 5.
- The ‘Virtual Kentucky Derby’ will be broadcast on NBC on May 2, 2020 starting at 3 PM.
Didn’t we tell you just a few weeks ago that virtual sports would have it’s moment during the COVID-19 pandemic? Sure, NASCAR attracted over a million fans to watch virtual races and Nevada’s Gaming Control Board approved betting on the ‘e-NASCAR’ series. That was nothing compared to what Churchill Downs has up their sleeve for the first Saturday in May.
If you know anything about horse racing (or if you read the list at the top of this article) you’re aware that the first Saturday in May is the traditional running date of the Kentucky Derby. This year, however, the race has been postponed until September 2 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But since horse racing loves tradition Churchill Downs is throwing a day long ‘virtual Kentucky Derby party’ that quarantined equine enthusiasts can enjoy at home.
The broadcast will air on NBC on May 2 beginning at 3 PM Eastern Daylight Time. It’ll include a replay of the 2015 Derby which began American Pharoah’s epic run to the Triple Crown. The main event will be the first ever virtual horse race run under the auspices of Churchill Downs entitled The Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown. This will be a computer simulated race featuring all 13 past Triple Crown winners going a mile and a quarter under the iconic Churchill Downs twin spires.
The virtual race component is the product of Inspired Entertainment which is a major player in the virtual sports industry. The race will use historical handicapping information about each horse along with data algorithms to determine the outcome. Inspired did a similar event in England earlier this month creating a ‘Virtual Grand National’ at Aintree to be run at the same time as the actual event which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event raised over $5 million for COVID-19 charities and the ersatz Kentucky Derby will also raise money for US charities.
One of the most remarkable things about the Virtual Grand National was the massive TV numbers it did. An audience of 4.8 million representing 30% of the total television audience. The virtual race was easily the biggest TV horse racing audience of the past year in the UK with the 1.75 million viewership of the 2019 Epsom Derby a distant second.
Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen gave the understatement of the year in the press release announcing the event before emphasizing the charitable component:
“The anticipation of which Triple Crown winner will emerge as the ultimate champion is thrilling.”
“But most importantly, we are proud to use this platform as a force for good by raising money for these worthy Covid-19 emergency initiatives.
“We urge fans to join us by donating and celebrating with us at home.”
I haven’t seen any bettable odds on the Virtual Kentucky Derby as of yet but you can be sure that it’ll end up on betting boards. I’ll pull together my numbers and try to handicap the virtual race which features an ungodly collection of legendary horses. Hard not to make Secretariat–IMO the greatest horse in history–a favorite:
VIRTUAL KENTUCKY DERBY FIELD
- Sir Barton (1919 winner)
- Gallant Fox (1930)
- Omaha (1935)
- War Admiral (1937)
- Whirlaway (1941)
- Count Fleet (1943)
- Assault (1946)
- Citation (1948)
- Secretariat (1973)
- Seattle Slew (1977)
- Affirmed (1978)
- American Pharoah (2015)
- Justify (2018)