What to know about the 2021 Kentucky Derby

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The Kentucky Derby is one of the most iconic sporting events in the world. Every year, millions of fans tune into NBC to watch top race horses from around the globe compete in “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports.”

The 2021 Kentucky Derby will air on May 1 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Coverage is also available to stream live on NBCSports.com and on the NBC Sports app.

NBC Sports will also air the Kentucky Oaks the day before on Friday, April 30 from 12 to 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Related: How to watch the 2021 Kentucky Derby

Fans are expected to return to Churchill Downs after the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted last year’s race. The 146th Kentucky Derby was moved from Saturday, May 2 to Saturday, Sept. 5 and was run without fans in the stands. Several top jockeys were also noticeably absent, choosing to stay at their home tracks due to quarantine rules.

What is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby, historically on the first Saturday in May, is one of the most well known Grade 1 Thoroughbred stakes races in the world. First run in 1875, this 1 1/4 mile—or 10 furlongs—race kicks off the American Triple Crown of horse racing.

Related: Kentucky Derby post positions, odds

When and where is the 2021 Kentucky Derby?

The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, May 1, 2021. Watch NBC Sports’ coverage from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 on NBC, or on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Post time for the 2021 Kentucky Derby is set for approximately 6:57 p.m. ET.

The Derby is run on the dirt track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, where it has been held since its inaugural running in 1875.

Related: Recipes for traditional Kentucky Derby foods

How can I watch the 2021 Kentucky Derby?

NBC is home to the 147th Kentucky Derby, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app before, during and after. NBC will also broadcast the 2021 Kentucky Oaks, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup.

How are horses picked for the Derby?

Only 3-year-old Thoroughbreds can qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Eligible horses compete in the Race to the Kentucky Derby, a series of 35 races around the world. Horses win points for finishing in the top four spots, and the 20 horses with the most points at the end of the series gain entry into the Derby. (However, sometimes horses will scratch, giving another the opportunity to run in the Derby.)

Which horses should I watch for on Saturday?

  • Undefeated Essential Quality enters the First Saturday in May as the early favorite with 2-1 odds. The stunning grey colt breaks from the No. 14 spot out of the gate. In 2020, he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was named Champion 2-Year-Old Male, and he most recently took the G2 Blue Grass at Keeneland. All of his high-profile connections are seeking their first Kentucky Derby win. Trainer Brad Cox looks to become the first Louisville native to saddle a Derby champ. Jockey Luis Saez seeks redemption after his historic Derby disqualification aboard Maximum Security in 2019. And famed breeder/owner Sheikh Mohammed of Godolphin is hoping to finally take the race that has eluded the racing operation for so long.
  • Rock Your World comes in behind Essential Quality at 5-1. The John Sadler trainee busted out a wire-to-wire win in his prep race at Santa Anita in April. His first two starts were on the turf, but he remains undefeated in his three career races. He enters the Kentucky Derby with a new jockey in the irons: Joel Rosario, who is seeking his second Derby win (Orb, 2013).
  • Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert looks to break his tie with Ben Jones for most Derby wins by a trainer. In five starts, Medina Spirit (15-1) has never finished worse than second, but that included a 4 1/4-length finish behind Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert teams up again with last year’s winning Derby jockey, John Velazquez.
  • Wood Memorial upset winner Bourbonic could make history with Kendrick Carmouche, who becomes the first Black jockey to ride in the Derby since 2013. A Black rider hasn’t won the Derby since Jimmy Winkfield went back-to-back in 1901 and 1902. Though a 30-1 longshot, a Bourbonic victory would also be huge for owner Calumet Farm, which holds the record for most Kentucky Derby wins but hasn’t taken the race since 1968.
  • Vicki Oliver becomes the first woman to saddle a Kentucky Derby contender since Carla Gaines in 2015. No woman has ever trained a Kentucky Derby winner. Oliver’s horse Hidden Stash hasn’t had much luck on the track this year, going 0-for-3. With Rafael Bejarano in the irons, he sets off as a 50-1 longshot.
  • If you enjoy picking horses just by their names, then consider Soup and Sandwich (30-1), trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Tyler Gaffalione. His name comes from owner Charlotte Weber, who is the granddaughter of John T. Dorrance, the inventor of condensed soup and former CEO of Campbell’s Soup.

Who won the 2020 Kentucky Derby?

Authentic shut down Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law’s run at a Triple Crown when he outdueled the favorite to win an unusual September Kentucky Derby at a spectatorless Churchill Downs. This was the sixth Kentucky Derby victory for his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and it was jockey John Velazquez’s 200th Grade 1 stakes win.

He went on to place second in the 2020 Preakness Stakes behind filly Swiss Skydiver in October and won his final start in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November. He then retired to stud and was named the 2020 Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male.

Related: Enter to win a #DerbyAtHome Mint Julep kit

What are the biggest Kentucky Derby traditions?

Bold formal outfits for both men and women are synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. Celebrities and fans a like go all out, donning creative and colorful hats, bright colors and wild patterns. In fact, hats and outfits are such a big part of the Kentucky Derby that the Derby Museum has a whole exhibit for the most lavished fashions.

The Mint Julep, made with Kentucky bourbon, is the signature drink of the Derby, and Kentucky’s state song “My Old Kentucky Home” is played during the pre-race post parade. After the race, the champion horse is given the iconic garland of roses in the winner’s circle.

Betting and horse racing go hand in hand. There will be a whole weekend of stacked racing cards at Churchill Downs, but the Derby takes the betting cake.

Related: Recipes for traditional Mint Julep and other Kentucky Derby drinks

Watch the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Full coverage is also available on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert
Sam Upshaw Jr./USA TODAY NETWORK
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”