LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kentucky Derby week at Churchill Downs will start in earnest in the dark - and that's not to poke fun at the thousands of fans who admit to being clueless about which horse might win the 137th Derby here May 7.
On Saturday night, Churchill will showcase the Grade 3 Derby Trial on the opening program of the spring meet under the lighting system that was installed in the spring of 2010. Entries are out for an 11-race card that starts at 6 p.m. Eastern, with nine 3-year-olds having been entered in the Trial (race 8, post time 9:39).
With a $200,000-added purse, the Trial should be worth about $130,000 to the winner, although it appears the 20-horse lineup for the Derby will go unaffected, regardless of the result. Only J J's Lucky Train, with $122,000 in graded earnings, and Travelin Man ($120,000) would gain automatic eligibility by winning, but the connections of both colts have said they do not intend to wheel back a week later.
"Besides it being a week away, the [Derby] distance is not advantageous," said Bill Anderson, trainer of J J's Lucky Train, winner of the April 9 Bay Shore at Aqueduct in his last start. "Timing-wise, I'm looking at the Woody Stephens on Belmont Day next."
Todd Pletcher, trainer of Travelin Man, already has Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty set for the Derby.
From the rail, this is the full lineup for the Trial, a one-turn-mile:
Duca, Jon Court to ride; Travelin Man, John Velazquez; Machen, Edgar Prado; Beamer, Calvin Borel; J J's Lucky Train, Jose Ferrer; Dominus, Julien Leparoux; Indian Winter, Shaun Bridgmohan; Indiano, Garrett Gomez; and B G Suavecito, Eddie Martin.
Night racing has become quite the phenomenon at Churchill since the track first experimented with four programs at the 2009 spring meet. Four more were run last spring and one last fall, not to mention parts of both Breeders' Cup programs being run under lights in November.
Because of the late Saturday card, there will be no racing here on what would have been the first Sunday of the meet. Five straight days of racing will take place Tuesday through Derby Day.