Some years back, when I was writing extensively about Dosage and the Kentucky Derby, a quote I included in an American Turf Monthly article (November 1990) from Dosage guru Dr. Steven Roman would certainly support Dan Liebman’s proposal to simply cancel this year’s Kentucky Derby (“A Year Without a Derby Makes the Most Sense”). Delaying it four months simply makes it another stakes race, not the challenge for young horses, some of which may not even have reached their actual 3-year-old birthday.
“It is critical to understand,” Dr. Roman stated, “that the Derby mile and a quarter, because of its timing so early in the year coupled with a killing pace, is different from a mile and a quarter later in the year under other sets of conditions. Those horses which fail in May often succeed at the distance later in the year because of greater physical and emotional maturity. At Derby time, however, adolescent horses are thrown into a situation with enormous stress, perhaps never again matched in their lives, and in these circumstances only a very few can survive.
“After the Derby ‘physical and emotional maturity’ begins to occur in varying degrees for different horses, and fundamental handicapping assumes a greater importance. Some horses succumb to the stress of a Derby campaign, while others travel around for easier spots. Distances vary, the two sexes sometimes meet, the age of the combatants may be mixed, and weight can be a factor.”
In other words, despite Churchill Downs desire to perpetuate an event that brings over 100,000 fans through their turnstiles, a September race no longer relates to the historical challenge that a May date offers and thus has no business being called the Kentucky Derby.