Secretariat wins virtual Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

Jockey Ron Turcotte poses aboard Secretariat after winning the Kentucky Derby in 1973.
Jockey Ron Turcotte poses aboard Secretariat after winning the 1973 Kentucky Derby. The chestnut colt, as the 7-2 favorite, won a virtual Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
(Associated Press)

Mint juleps, the “call to the post” and the sound of pounding hoofs were all imaginary Saturday, but when Secretariat crossed the finish line ahead of 12 other Triple Crown winners, there was a rose attached to NBC’s “Kentucky Derby Ultimate Showdown.”

The computer-generated imagery horse race was part of the network’s three-hour broadcast that took the place of the real 146th Kentucky Derby, which was postponed until Sept. 5 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It focused mostly on American Pharoah and the Derby-victory start to his Triple Crown run in 2015.

The animated race was a creation of Inspired Entertainment, Inc., which used past performances and other data, including opinions of horse racing experts, to generate “fundamental probabilities” of the 13 Triple Crown winners that would determine the outcome.


A morning line made by Mike Battaglia, which was independent of the computer’s picks, had Secretariat as the favorite at 7-2, followed by Citation at 4-1; Affirmed and Seattle Slew at 5-1; American Pharoah, Count Fleet and Whirlaway at 6-1; War Admiral at 8-1; Justify at 15-1; and Assault, Sir Barton, Gallant Fox and Omaha all at 20-1.

Fans could pick a winner online with bets that would go as donations to coronavirus relief. Churchill Downs said it would pledge a match of $1 million to the donations. There was also a contest featuring a VIP weekend for the winner and a guest at the Derby later this summer.

Track announcer Larry Collmus, who has called past Triple Crown races for NBC and hadn’t seen a preview of the digital version, followed the horses as they broke from the computerized gate for the 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses.

Charlatan prevailed in the first division and Nadal won in the second division Saturday at the Arkansas Derby for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.


Seattle Slew broke well and took the lead, which he kept through the quarter and half-mile marks. It looked like the 1977 winner of the Triple Crown might pull off the upset when he still led as the field turned for home.

But Secretariat, looking like he did in 1973, tracked him down and breezed past Seattle Slew in the stretch, and jockey Ron Turcotte, wearing the familiar blue and white checkered colors, rode the big colt to the finish. Citation, the 1948 champion, finished second ahead of Seattle Slew, followed by Affirmed, the 1978 champion, and American Pharoah.

There were reports of real betting on the race with a $100 on Secretariat returning $325.