But not everyone is staying home, and a couple of veteran Hall of Famers are slated to make the trip. Mike Smith and John Velazquez, both multiple winners of the Kentucky Derby, will journey to Louisville to ride high-profile mounts with serious chances to win.
Let’s review some of the key stats Smith and Velazquez bring to the equation in 2020:
Kentucky Derby record: 25-2-4-1
Win rate in 2020: 18%
Win rate in 2020 graded stakes races: 18%
When Mike Smith climbs aboard Honor A. P. in the 2020 Kentucky Derby, he’ll equal a record that has stood unchallenged for 32 years. Honor A. P. will mark Mike Smith’s 26th mount in the Run for the Roses, tying the standard set by fellow Hall of Famer Bill Shoemaker between 1952 and 1988.
Smith rode his first Derby in 1984 — 36 years ago — but didn’t reach the winner’s circle until his 12th attempt, guiding Giacomo to an upset victory in the 2005 Kentucky Derby. Smith later added a second triumph aboard Triple Crown champion Justify (2018) and has a live chance to secure a third win aboard Honor A. P.
A talented son of champion Honor Code, Honor A. P. was a decisive winner of the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby (G1) in June, rallying to score impressively by 2 3/4 lengths. Conditioned by John Shirreffs, who also trained Giacomo, Honor A. P. has been training sharply with Smith in the saddle and should be poised for a peak performance at Churchill Downs.
Kentucky Derby record: 21-2-2-0
Win rate in 2020: 17%
Win rate in 2020 graded stakes races: 8%
Having ridden in 21 previous Kentucky Derbys, Velazquez boasts almost as much experience as Smith in the Run for the Roses. Like Smith, Velazquez needed patience to secure his first victory in the Kentucky Derby, guiding a dozen mounts before securing the ride on 2011 Derby champion Animal Kingdom at the last minute.
Velazquez soon added a second Derby trophy to his collection when riding Always Dreaming to victory in 2017. Almost as impressively, Velazquez has ridden in 13 consecutive editions of the Kentucky Derby and has missed just three renewals since his Derby debut in 1996.
No fewer than 13 of Velazquez’s 21 Derby rides have come aboard horses trained by Todd Pletcher (including Always Dreaming), but Velazquez is forging a different path in 2020. The Hall of Fame jockey has picked up the mount on Haskell (G1) winner Authentic, representing the first time Velazquez will guide a Derby starter for five-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert. You can bet handicappers will be keen to play this high-profile partnership on the first Saturday in September.