Through wars and world turmoil, Kentucky Derby runs on

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The Great Depression and World War I and World War II didn’t stop the Kentucky Derby, a race that has been run without interruption since it began in 1875.

But for the first time in 75 years, it will miss the month of May.

Churchill Downs postponed the opening leg of the Triple Crown from May 2 to Sept. 5, due to concern over the coronavirus pandemic that has wreaked havoc with the world’s sports calendar.

“At no point did we ever consider canceling the Kentucky Derby,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc.

In 1945, the track in Louisville, Kentucky, almost didn’t have a choice. That year the race for 3-year-old colts was staged over a month past its traditional date on the spring calendar.

That January, horse racing was banned nationwide. Jimmy Byrnes, director of the Office of War Mobilization in Washington, viewed it as a waste of valuable resources. Men that could be serving in the war instead were working in track operations, gambling on racing was hugely popular, and gas and tire rubber was being consumed heavily in transporting horses to tracks.

In late January, U.S. troops in Europe had just concluded the Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest fought by them in the war. Still to come in the Pacific was Iwo Jima, an equally fierce and bloody battle in which the Allies defeated Japanese forces at the end of March. An Allied victory loomed, but was not yet assured.

Not until Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, was the ban on racing was lifted. That led to the Derby being run on June 9.

The recent end of the war still kept many people from traveling long distances to Louisville. However, about 75,000 people attended and wagered a Derby day record of $2,380,796, including a record $776,408 on the Derby itself. Ridden by future Hall of Famer Eddie Arcaro, Hoop Jr. won by six lengths against 15 rivals over a muddy track.

The Derby was in peril another time, too.

Byrnes had come close to banning the sport in 1943, however, racing powers prevailed in keeping it going.

That year, there were travel restrictions imposed by World War II and no out-of-town tickets were sold. Still, the Derby endured, with Count Fleet winning in front of 65,000. He went on to win the Triple Crown that year, sweeping the Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes.

The only other Derby not run in May came in 1901, when it occurred on April 29. His Eminence led all the way in defeating four rivals.

This year’s postponement will require changes to the points system used to decide the 20-horse field for the Derby. More qualifying races at tracks around the country will be added this summer. Trainers will need to adjust training and racing schedules for their hopefuls.

“I’m going to have to back off some of them that are ready to go right now,” said four-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert, who has a handful of top prospects. “The thing is to keep them healthy.”

While the coronavirus brings daily upheaval, the Derby and its traditions of sipping mint juleps, wearing fancy hats and singing “My Old Kentucky Home” will go on, albeit on Labor Day weekend.

“We’re going to have a Kentucky Derby in September and that’s fine,” said trainer Mark Casse, whose Derby contender is Enforceable. “It would’ve been terrible if we didn’t have a Kentucky Derby at all.”

Pegasus on Jan. 28, Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Gulfstream Park announced the schedule for the 2022-23 Championship Meet, highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28.

Also on Pegasus day: The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, as well as the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Gulfstream’s top Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Florida Derby, will be run on April 1 as part of a card with 10 stakes races. Other top 3-year-old preps at Gulfstream in early 2023 include the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1, the $250,000 Holy Bull on Feb. 4 and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

The Pegasus is returning for a seventh time. The format has changed several times in the race’s infancy; the purse structure for the Pegasus World Cup no longer requires owners to put up $1 million apiece for a spot in the starting gate for what was, at its inception, the world’s richest race with a purse that reached $16 million.

This much has remained constant: Winning the Pegasus changes a horse’s resume. No Pegasus winner has ever finished worse than sixth in the yearlong earnings among North American horses, and two past winners – Arrogate and Gun Runner – are two of the three highest-earning thoroughbreds in U.S. history.

Gulfstream’s Championship Meet runs from Dec. 26 through April 2, featuring 60 stakes races, 35 of them graded, and worth a combined $13.6 million.

Stradivarius, 3-time Ascot Gold Cup winner, retired to stud

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LONDON – Stradivarius, one of the most famous racehorses in Britain and Ireland after winning the Gold Cup at Ascot three times, has been retired to stud.

Bjorn Nielsen, the owner of Stradivarius, said he felt it would be unfair to make the horse come back next season as a 9-year-old after time away with a bruised foot.

“It has been a fairytale from start to finish,” Nielsen told British newspaper The Racing Post.

Stradivarius, bred in Ireland and the son of Sea The Stars, won 20 of his 35 races – including seven Group One races – and earned almost 3.5 million pounds (now $3.8 million) in prize money.

Stradivarius won four Goodwood Cups, three Yorkshire Cups and two Doncaster Cups.