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By Annie Ross
Secretariat won a virtual Kentucky Derby against 12 fellow Triple Crown winners — 47 years after the super horse won the real race at Churchill Downs.
The 1¼-mile race featuring computer-generated imagery was held yesterday, the same day the 146th Derby had been scheduled, until it was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled for Sept. 5.
Secretariat was the 7-2 favorite, although there was no wagering. Instead, fans selecting the winning horse online were entered to win a VIP experience at the Derby this fall. Churchill Downs pledged to match $1 million in fan donations to COVID-19 relief.
The virtual Derby was part of NBC’s three-hour telecast that showed portions of the 2015 coverage in which American Pharoah won on his way to becoming racing’s first Triple Crown champion in 37 years.
The show opened with Churchill Downs bugler Steve Buttleman playing “Call to the Post” from the front steps of his Louisville home. It moved to the track, with shots of empty stands, betting windows and the jockeys’ room.
The track’s stable area is set to reopen May 11, with live racing expected to resume May 16.
A virtual Seattle Slew, who won the 1977 Triple Crown, led much of the way until being overtaken in the stretch.
Secretariat surged to the lead in the deep stretch in the middle of the track. No margins were provided.
The computer imagery failed to capture the dirt from the track that sticks to the horses running in the back, and there was no noise from the usual Derby Day crowd of 150,000 or more. The race lacked the cavalry charge to the first turn that is typical of the usual 20-horse Derby field.
Secretariat was a two-time Horse of the Year and swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1973, winning the last race by a record 31 lengths.
Citation, the 1948 Triple Crown champion, finished second. Seattle Slew was third. Affirmed, the 1978 champion, was fourth, followed by American Pharoah.
NBC showed the real American Pharoah at Ashford Stud, where a flat-screen TV was set up in front of his stall to show the race. Now 8 years old, he is a successful stallion with a stud fee of $200,000.
Churchill Downs analyzed the historical past performance of each Triple Crown winner and incorporated the opinions of horse racing experts who evaluated each contender’s achievements and put them into historical perspective.
That information, known as the fundamental probabilities, was fed into Inspire Entertainment’s computer models, which determined the final result by using those probabilities along with random number generation. The fundamental probabilities determined the chances of each horse winning. Those with a higher probability value weren’t necessarily going to win; they just had a greater chance of doing so.
Also in the race were 1946 champion Assault, 1919 champion Sir Barton, 1930 champion Gallant Fox, 1937 champion War Admiral, 1941 champion Whirlaway, 1943 champion Count Fleet, 2018 champion Justify and 1935 champion Omaha.