What to Know
- Brooklyn Strong is heading to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby overnight after qualifying as the 20th and final horse in the field. It took three dropouts to clear the way for the New York-bred colt named after one of the city's boroughs.
- Trainer Daniel Velasquez and owner Mark Schwartz didn't find out until Sunday their horse made it because of the defection of Caddo River. Brooklyn Strong worked at Parx outside Philadelphia on Monday.
- In other Derby news, political analyst Steve Kornacki will be part of NBC's coverage on Saturday.
Brooklyn Strong needed a few horses to drop out to make the Kentucky Derby and now needs to make it to Churchill Downs at the latest possible minute.
The defection of trainer Brad Cox's Caddo River on Sunday opened the door for Daniel Velasquez's Brooklyn Strong to be the 20th and final horse in the field for the Run for the Roses. The New York-bred named after one of New York City's five boroughs worked out at Parx outside Philadelphia on Monday and was to be vanned overnight to Louisville to get settled in for his biggest race.
“It’s absolutely insane,” Velasquez said about the quick turnaround. “I can’t put it into words. ‘Chaos’ is the only thing I can think of because it’s just been that chaotic the last 24 to 48 hours.”
Brooklyn Strong was 23rd on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard a week ago, which normally would lead Velasquez and owner Mark Schwartz to give up on the chances of making it and look toward the Preakness or Belmont. An unusual amount of dropouts paved the way for Brooklyn Strong to make it after a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Wood Memorial on April 3.
“I almost stopped paying attention last week because I was just over it,” said Velasquez, who got a feeling this was coming when he only needed two more horses to exit to make it. “I told Mark: ‘Somebody’s going to be out. From the way they’re dropping out, we’re going to get in.'”
It's still a surprise for a horse who has run only twice since November. Brooklyn Strong's 10 qualifying points from winning the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in December are the fewest by any horse to make the Derby since Giant Finish in 2013, the year the points system was introduced.
“I’m going there now with no pressure,” Velasquez said in a phone interview from Parx in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. “Now I have zero pressure because I don’t think anybody expects me to do anything anyways, so I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Schwartz, who booked jockey Umberto Rispoli to ride and is trying to get friends and family tickets and accommodations for the weekend, pointed out that Brooklyn Strong beat Derby rival Known Agenda in the Remsen and is confident going into Saturday.
"He’s not a long shot in my mind," said Schwartz, who didn't know how much respect oddsmakers would give his horse. “If he’s ready like he was in the Remsen, if he runs like he did in the Remsen, I have no problems. He’ll be there. That’s how I feel. I think the horse is tremendous.”
The story around the horse is just as insane. Schwartz got into racing through a buddy he used to play hockey with, and Velasquez is still recovering from a serious accident a month ago.
Velasquez's liver was lacerated and a labrum in one of his shoulders torn when a racehorse rear-ended his pony as he was leading another horse onto the track. He may still need shoulder surgery, but said that won't keep him from getting Brooklyn Strong ready for the Kentucky Derby.
"I’m a little stubborn," he said. “I shouldn’t even be saddling this horse, but I’m going to do it.”