On Kentucky Derby Saturday, horseplayers and fans get Tiz the Law, Honor A.P., Art Collector and the rest of the Derby Trail survivors. However, to steal a phrase from late-night TV – but wait, there’s more — to Derby Day than the Derby.

Newspaperofrecord-Derby undercard
Newspaperofrecord won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs two years ago. She returns to Churchill Downs as the expected favorite in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile on Derby Saturday. (Image: Edward Whitaker)

Not only do you get prohibitive favorite Tiz the Law gunning for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, you get Serengeti Empress, Ce Ce, Echo Town, Newspaperofrecord, Cezanne and possibly two Derby ex-pats — Attachment Rate and Rushie. You also get a sneak peek at next year’s possible Derby hopefuls in one of the top juvenile races in the country.

You get all that on next Saturday’s Derby undercard, which offers bettors six graded stakes on top of the Derby. Two of those are Grade 1s – the Turf Classic and the Derby City Distaff. Horseplayers get the entire gamut of styles, ages, and distances to handicap and wager on – and that’s before the Derby gates even open.

The $1 million Turf Classic, which sends 3-year-olds and up 1 1/8 miles on the Churchill Downs turf, gives you two Chad Brown turf candidates, Digital Age and Sacred Life. There’s also Bernard Baruch Stakes winner Somelikeithotbrown, Factor This, and California import Bowie’s Hero. Expect some European imports and even bigger names as the field fills out.

Derby Saturday Brings Back Serengeti Empress

Serengeti Empress returns to the scene of her Kentucky Oaks victory last year as the headliner for the $500,000 Derby City Distaff. And she returns off her dynamic victory at the Ballerina Stakes earlier this month. Joining her in the field are defending champion Mia Mischief and Ce Ce, who beat Serengeti Empress soundly at April’s Apple Blossom Handicap.

Handicapping this race provides intrigue and challenge, because every horse in the field brings Grade 1 credentials and different running styles.

The same can be said for the $500,000 Grade 2 Pat Day Mile for 3-year-olds. The Pat Day serves as a consolation-prize race for one-time Derby hopefuls who – for whatever reason – stumbled along the trail. Runners include former Derby futures darling, Cezanne, and Liam’s Pride. It also includes horses like Grade 1 Jerkens Stakes winner Echo Town, who isn’t cut out for the Derby’s 1 ¼-mile distance, but is stretching out to a mile here.

Do They Heed the Derby Siren Call? Or Call it a Day?

The race could also include horses such as Attachment Rate and Rushie, who have Derby spots if their connections choose to roll the dice there. One or both could end up in the Pat Day instead of the Derby. Either would add contrasting styles to sprinters such as Echo Town and Sonneman.

There’s no such mystery in the $500,000 Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up. Not with standout filly Newspaperofrecord in the field. Winner of five of her eight career races, including two in three weeks in June, Newspaperofrecord comes in as the heavy favorite. Trying to spoil her three-peat bid are defending champion Beau Recall, Julie Foxtrot and Daddy is a Legend.

Rounding out the Grade 2 races is the $500,000 American Turf, which sends 3-year-olds 1 1/16 miles on the turf. One-time Derby hopeful Mr. Big News, who won the Oaklawn Stakes in April, headlines that. Multiple Grade 3 winner Field Pass and Vannzy provide his chief competition.

Iroquois Provides Derby Crystal Ball or Poisoned Chalice?

What makes the $200,000 Grade 3 Iroquois one of the most-watched races on the card is its star-making possibilities. The winner of the 2-year-old, mile race jumps to the front row of 2021 Kentucky Derby candidates and earns 10 Derby qualifying points. That said, in the Iroquois’ 37-year history, no Derby winner ever captured the race. Last year’s winner, Dennis’ Moment, went from future favorite to dead money disappointment early in 2020.

Regardless, keep an eye on Ellis Park Derby winner Pico d’Oro, Grade 2 Saratoga Special runner-up Therideofalifetime, and recent maiden-breakers Ultimate Badger, Drop Anchor, and Belafonte. They’ll try taking the first major step to becoming the Tiz the Laws, Honor A.P.s, and Art Collectors of 2021.

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