The blanket of roses may feel a bit of the coming autumn chill.

The stands under the fabled Twin Spires will be empty for the first time in history. The crowd of bourbon-infused, hat-bedecked, silly-suited fans that approaches 170,000 in May will gather instead at laptops or socially distanced parties. Kentucky Derby day 146 will be like no other in the history of the sport.

The First Saturday in September may be alliterative, but does not exactly roll off the tongue. But neither does Noveau Coronavirus-19, the reason the May 2 Kentucky Derby will run before an eerily empty Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY this Saturday, May 5. It will be preceded by Friday’s “Lilies for the Fillies,” the Kentucky Oaks.

Hardcore racing fans bemoan the changes made to the Triple Crown. Still, there are plenty of reasons why both races will be like no other for good reasons.

The fillies and colts that run in May are often as “green” as the famous bluegrass. A three-year-old racehorse adds considerable muscle and mass from May to September. They’ve now trained for this day nearly a full year. The changes in racing schedules allowed many horses and riders to gain experience together before the big day.

A bonus this year will be the first head-to-head face off in both races among rising stars. They spent the summer in California, Kentucky and upstate New York. They honed their racetrack skills and whetted the appetites of long-suffering supporters.

Let’s look at the field for both races and learn why they were worth the wait.

Kentucky Oaks 146, 1 1/8 dirt miles, Friday May 4, post time 5:45 p.m. EDT, 3-6 p.m. EDT on NBCSN, Horse Racing Radio

For full details on the Derby field, trainers, jockeys, connections and videos, visit

This is the long-awaited showdown for two of the most talented fillies in recent years Swiss Skydiver and Gamine. Luckily, they both come in the same year.

Speedster Gamine wins the Test in record time CREDIT Joe Labozzetta

Gamine is the even-money favorite. Ever a frontrunner, she drew the ideal post #5. Trainer Bob Baffert pulls speedballs out of a hat and this is surely one of them. The daughter of 2019 Leading Sire Into Mischief has won three of four starts. She destroyed the field in the one-mile dirt Acorn Stakes (G1) by 18 3/4 lengths in a record 1:32.55 in June at Belmont Park.

She scored a repeat performance at Saratoga in August, winning the 7-furlong dirt Longines Test Stakes (G1) by 7 3/4 lengths, setting another record in 1:20.83.

Her lineage includes Storm Cat, among history’s finest sires. Two Triple Crown winners are in her pedigree, Seattle Slew, 1974 and Affirmed, 1976.

It was thought she might go against the boys in the Kentucky Derby, but this gets to the one possible chink in her formidable armor—distance. Her sire Into Mischief was a sprinter and so far her races have been at shorter distances than the Derby’s 1 1/4 miles. Baffert chooses races wisely, so it is likely she’ll head to the 1 3/16 miles Preakness Oct. 3 Pimlico where she may meet Tiz the Law attempting a Triple Crown win.

But, before then, there’s…

Swiss Skydiver. The durable daughter of Daredevil has already raced nine times, compiling a 5-2-1 record. That includes four graded stakes wins. Purchased for what now seems a mere $35,000 at the 2018 Keeneland Sept. sale, she already has pocketed $952,980 in winnings. She’s versatile, having run at distances from 7 furlongs in her maiden to her most recent impressive win in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama Stakes just two weeks ago at Saratoga.

She’s proven she can handle the 1 1/8-mile Oaks distance. But, can she handle drawing the #1 post on the rail?

We’ll take a deeper dive into Gamine’s primary challenger and how she got that unusual moniker later on Horse Network.

Unspoken in all the buzz about Gamine and Swiss Skydiver is Speech, a more-than-able challenger to both the favorites.

The aptly named daughter of Mr. Speaker out of Scribbling Sarah (by Freud), Speech is another experienced filly with a 3-3-1 record in her seven starts. She’s coming off her first Grade 1 win, the 1/16-mile Ashland Stakes on the dirt at Keeneland July 11. She earned two G2 second-place finishes at that same distance in The Jun. 6 Santa Anita Oaks (G2) and the Mar. 8 Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3), both at Santa Anita.

If Gamine is vulnerable at 1 1/8 miles and Swiss Skydiver gets caught on the rail, Speech could be the talk of the Oaks.

Finally, there’s Donna Veloce. The daughter of rising star sire Uncle Mo turned the tables on Speech, winning the Santa Anita Oaks. She finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) last year at Santa Anita and the Starlet Stakes (G1) at Los Alamitos. Her grandsire is Indian Charlie, so there is speed in her pedigree.

At 20-1, Shedaresthedevil may gain some wagering support underneath these four challengers. The other four are regarded as having little chance.

…but that’s why they run the race.

Kentucky Derby 146, 1 1/4 dirt miles, Saturday May 5, post time 7:02 p.m. EDT, 2:30-7:30 p.m. EDT NBCSN, Horse Racing Radio

For full details on the Derby field, trainers, jockeys, connections and videos, visit

In this weird year, a weird draw that has the three favorites on the far outside of the new 20-horse gate seems normal. So weird that eight of the 19 entries are listed at 50-1 odds, known as “throwaways” to bettors.

So weird was this draw that one of those 50-1 choices drew the #1 post on the rail. That’s Finnick the Fierce—blind in his right eye.

So this still is seen as a three-horse race with all three racing from the proverbial parking lot.

There were winners and losers in the draw.

Haskell winner Authentic hopes to live up to his name in the Derby. Photo by Sueawczynski/CSM/Shutterstock (10715907d) , 2020, Oceanport, NJ, USA

The most challenged will be Authentic. He has seemed challenged by distance and now will have to break well and get inside quickly. Rider John Velazquez is up to the task. But is the horse?

This is true to a lesser extent for Honor A.P., but he has a jockey advantage with Mike Smith aboard. It’s hard to forget his last-to-first finish on a muddy track in the 2017 Dubai World Cup.

The big winner of the three in the draw was the 3-5 favorite Tiz the Law. He is a stalker and closer. He loves to run outside and off the pace. He has the quickest turn of foot—that’s acceleration—of any horse in the race. Rider Manny Franco has proven he knows when to move the horse some call “The Machine.” He seems to race all by himself.

Tiz the Law easily gallops away from the pack in the Travers

Franco does just enough to win and save his horse for the next race. That was evident in his Travers Stakes (G1) win. He could have run to a record finish, but Franco instead galloped him to victory in the last furlong.

Trainer Barclay Tagg has done a masterful job handling his training regimen. It began what seems like forever ago with a win in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont nearly a year ago on Oct. 5.

Since then have come victories in the Holy Bull (G3), the Florida Derby (G1), a shortened Belmont (G1), and most recently the Travers Aug. 8 at Saratoga. Keeping a horse sound, focused and winning through all the scheduling turmoil of the year is no small feat in itself.

Naysayers question the Belmont as not the usual “Test of Champions” at 1 1/2 miles. They claim his would not be a true Triple Crown if he went on to win the Saturday Derby and the Oct. 3 Preakness. That debate will rage on if he wins the Derby as odds makers foresee.

Chief among those trying to lay down the Law will be Honor A.P. , the Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner. The odds-makers second choice finished second in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita and in the Aug. 1 Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar.

He has the pedigree. He is a son of Honor Code, the 3rd-place finisher in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic (Honor Code also sired Derby runner Max Player). His grandsire was sire-of-sires A.P. Indy. He has the connections: Trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Smith guided Zenyatta through her memorable career. He even has a settled stallion deal with Lane’s End Farm on retirement.

Honor A.P. will try to lay down the Law in the Derby CREDIT Benoit Photo

What he does not have is experience outside California and a race at this extra 1/8-mile distance. Churchill’s track often befuddles newcomers as does the large field in the Derby. He hasn’t raced in 13 weeks. He is coming off a loss at a shorter distance. He will be a factor, possibly a winner, but he must break cleanly and avoid traffic.

The break from the gate will be the key to victory for the 3 Derby favorites CREDIT Chelsea Durand NYRA

King Guillermo drew well in post #6, but he hasn’t raced since a second-place finish in the May 2 Arkansas Derby (G1). The son of Uncle Mo has raced only five times, so he’s inexperienced, but fresh. The winner of the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) remained in training at Churchill through most of the summer and is said to have looked good. His 20-1 odds are likely to attract many as a third or even second choice.

Like King Guillermo, Baffert’s Thousand Words is a stalker. His odds also will shorten as raceday approaches.

King Guillermo is hopes to be crowned on Derby Day CREDIT Coolmore

Last among those with a real chance to be a factor is Sole Volante. He’s 4-1-1 in seven starts but hasn’t raced in nearly three months. He has switched from grass to dirt. Grass horses often do well on the Churchill dirt.

Max Player, Attachment Rate, Major Fed and even late entry South Bend might prove interesting during a normal Derby year.

But this is no normal Derby year and Tiz the Law is no normal Derby horse. He’s likely to leave post #17 at the shortest odds in Derby history.

Oh, one other intriguing fact: No horse has ever won the Derby from post #17.

Enjoy the oddest Derby in racing history, whether on your laptop or at a socially distanced Derby party.

And remember, roses are still red in September!

Stay connected with Horse Network through the week for full coverage of the Kentucky Oaks and Derby.