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AP photo / Secretariat and jockey Ron Turcotte pose in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs after winning the 99th Kentucky Derby on May 5, 1973, in Louisville. At left is groom Ed Sweet. Secretariat won that year's "Run for the Roses" in a record 1:59 2/5, becoming the first horse to complete the 1 1/4-mile course for the Derby in less than two minutes. It also started a dominant run to the Triple Crown.

Who said the world of virtual sporting competitions amid this COVID-19 pandemic had to be limited to human beings?

With the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby having been moved from its traditional first Saturday in May to the first Saturday in September, NBC has decided to fill the most exciting two minutes in sports with a simulated showdown of the 13 horses who have won the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. The Triple Crown consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, with the Preakness and the Belmont having yet to announce their coronavirus-postponed dates.

Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner, is the 7-to-2 iRace favorite, with Citation (1948) next at 4-to-1. The last back-to-back winners of the Triple Crown — Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978) — are both 5-to-1 favorites. The virtual event is set for approximately 5:45 p.m. on NBC, which will televise three hours of programming related to the Derby beginning at 3.

"I think this will be fun," said Barry Abrams, ESPN's horse racing analyst. "This is one of those barroom arguments that racing fans have every so often, just like fans of stick and ball sports have. It's the same as taking the 1978 Kentucky Wildcats and putting them up against the 1992 Duke Blue Devils.

"This iRace is going to have all kinds of analytical data to try to make it as authentic as possible."

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Contributed photo / Barry Abrams

When asked whether he would take Secretariat or the field in the iRace, Abrams didn't pause.

"Secretariat does have the track record at all three events," he said. "It's kind of hard not to take him."

Were the actual Kentucky Derby taking place as originally scheduled, Abrams would have picked Nadal, who won earlier this year at the San Vicente Stakes and the Rebel Stakes. Nadal, who is named for 12-time French Open tennis champion Rafael Nadal, is instead racing Saturday at the Arkansas Derby. NBC's coverage of that event will follow its Kentucky Derby showcase.

With horse racing's grandest event delayed four months, Abrams believes four horses in particular — Maxfield, Honor A.P., Gouverneur Morris and Mr Monomoy — will benefit by being stronger in early September compared to now. Maxfield won the Breeders' Futurity in October by five lengths over Gouverneur Morris but missed the Breeders' Cup in November with an injury and underwent ankle surgery.

"You can never anticipate who's going to get hurt now," Abrams said, "but this could end up in September being the most competitive Kentucky Derby of all 146 of them."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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