Order has been somewhat restored and the race, which was run in September last year, will take place on May 1 over 1 1/4 at Churchill Downs.
The Run for the Roses will take place 50 years to the date of one of the most unlikely — and charming — victories.
On May 1, 1971, a horse from Venezuela named Canonero II appeared at the starting gate in Louisville, Ky. While he was a champion of Venezuela, Canonero II was dismissed … seemingly by everyone. He was considered a 100-1 shot
Canonero’s journey to the United States for the Derby was akin to a journey during rush hour traffic on a Los Angeles highway. The plane carrying him was forced to turn back twice due to mechanical issues. He finally arrived in Florida via a cargo plane, and then spent four days in withering heat while in quarantine.
A long van ride brought a physically drained Canonero II to Churchill Downs and a :53 4⁄5 five-furlong workout only enhanced the notion that he no chance against America’s best 3-year-olds.
“He didn’t look like he fit in the Derby and you had to wonder why his connections wanted to run in the first place,” said Bill Hirsch in a 2011 Thoroughbred Times story. “I didn’t give him much of a chance.”
Trained by Juan Arias and ridden by jockey Gustavo Avila, Canonero II was thought of so lightly that he packed in a six-horse field entry. And that is where bettors can say even when you win, you can lose.
Canonero II raced in 18th place early in the race before unleashing a torrid run that had him in front by 3 3/4 lengths at the wire.
However, because Canonero II was in the entry, he went off at 8-1 and returned $19.40 for a $2 win wager rather than the big balloons had he been alone in the win pool.
“Being from Puerto Rico, I knew how good Canonero’s jockey was,” Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. said in a Thoroughbred Times story, “I knew Gustavo was one of the best jockeys to ever to come out of Venezuela. I befriended him before the Derby and he told me his horse could really run. Coming from him, I respected what he said.
“I believed in Avila, but I never thought that horse could run like that. I’ve never seen a move that strong in the Derby.”
They said it was a fluke and another victory would not happen. Two weeks later in the Preakness Odds at Pimlico, Canonero proved them wrong, once again.
He dueled Eastern Fleet throughout the stretch and pulled away as the horses approached the wire. In the second leg of the Triple Crown, the one-time long shot was sent off as the 3-1 favorite and delivered.
A Triple Crown was not to be as Canonero II finished fourth in the Belmont, bothered by a hock injury.
Canonero II led until the three-eighths pole when Pass Catcher moved past him en route to three-quarters of a length victory. Canonero II, the 3-5 favorite, wound up beaten 4 ¾ lengths.
That didn’t take away from his championship heart per his trainer.
“He was a giant in the United States, even though no one believed in him,” Arias said in a 2011 story on the BloodHorse.
America’s Best Racing offers some fun facts about the unlikely winner of the 1971 Kentucky Derby:
- His Preakness track record stood until 1984 when it was broken by Gate Dancer (1:53 3/5). Secretariat won the 1973 Preakness in 1:53, but that time was not officially recognized until 2012.
- The Belmont Stakes attendance record of 82,694 lasted for 28 years until 1999 when Charismatic made his bid for the Triple Crown. The crowds at Belmont Park for the Triple Crown win by Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), or Affirmed (1978) reached a high of 73,857 for Seattle Slew’s sweep.
- On Aug. 12, 1972, in allowance race at Saratoga, Canonero finished second by six lengths to Onion, who would beat Secretariat a year later in the Whitney at the same track.
- Canonero’s victory in the Stymie was doubly satisfying for Kleberg since Stymie had been born at King Ranch.
For a look at this year’s Run for the Roses, check out the BetUS Kentucky Derby Odds Preview show below:
Kentucky Derby 2021
Sat, May 01, 2021, EST
|ROT||TO WIN THE KENTUCKY DERBY||MONEYLINE|
|6002||Rock Your World||+500|
|6005||Hot Rod Charlie||+850|
|6013||Like the King||+3000|
|6015||Soup and Sandwich||+2500|
|6021||Get Her Number||+4000|