Three months later than normal we have arrived at the Kentucky Derby, as the Run for the Roses is set for Saturday at Churchill Down.
The race is the 14th on the Churchill Downs card with post time scheduled for 4:01 p.m. PDT.
To say this has been a different lead up to the Derby may be the greatest understatement in the history of horse racing. For starters, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the race was postponed from the traditional first Saturday in May to Labor Day weekend.
Along the way, it appeared the delay in the running of the race may give us the deepest Derby field possibly ever. But as we moved through the summer and into the fall, talented runners have been taken off the Derby trail.
At first, it was the Bob Baffert horses Nadal and Charlatan that dropped away. Most recently it has been Art Collector, Caracaro, and Dr. Post that have been scratched from the Derby.
In addition, horses that appeared to be superstars in the making like Cezanne and Uncle Chuck have yet to find the stride needed to be successful. Finally two days before the Derby, King Guillermo added his name to the list of scratches.
What we are left with is a heavy favorite in Tiz the Law, a few horses that could pull the upset and a whole slew of runners that never would have seen the light of day in the Kentucky Derby if not for the crazy circumstances.
The Derby this year is the second jewel in the Triple Crown as the Belmont States started the trilogy on June 20, with Tiz the Law getting the easy win.
To add to the insanity of the year, the top three horses heading into the race have drawn the three outside post positions.
Following will be my analysis of all the horses in the field, but in a few different categories probably used only this year.
The Heavy Favorite
Tiz the Law (3/5, Barclay Tagg, trainer: Manny Franco, jockey): Will be one of the heaviest favorites in a long time and knowing his racing history, it’s easy to see why. He has won six of seven starts with the lone blemish coming over the Churchill track in the slop back in November. Since then, no one has come with three lengths of him in four straight wins, including the Florida Derby, Belmont Stakes, and the Travers. He likes to sit around third until they hit the final turn and then off he goes. Last four Beyers from recent back are 109, 100, 96, 100. Another big thing in his favor is that he is one of the few that has raced at the distance and he came through in flying colors taking the Belmont. Drew the No. 17 post, but the connections don’t seem overly concerned, nor should they be.
If The Favorite Slips Up
Honor A.P. (5/1, John Shirreffs, Mike Smith): One of a few you could try to make a case for on the win. But he lost a bit of steam after finishing second to Thousand Words in the Shared Belief at Del Mar on August 1. I still like the horse who won the Santa Anita Derby, beating Authentic, another horse I like as a possibility. Has only gone to the lead out of the gate once, that coming in his maiden score in October at Santa Anita. I think we could see him sitting back in 5th to 6th until they get serious on the backstretch. He will start in the No. 16 post.
Authentic (8/1, Bob Baffert, John Velazquez): Won his first three starts, all at Santa Anita, including the Sham and San Felipe. Had the loss in the Santa Anita Derby after breaking poorly. Picked up some doubters that day, but then came back with a wire-to-wire score in the Haskell at Monmouth Park on July 18. The one big concern here is, will the horse handle the mile-and-a-quarter distance. There are more than a few people in the industry that believe his future is as a miler. That may be true, but there is no doubt Authentic has earned the right to take a shot here. This will be the first time Velazquez has ridden the horse and they will go from the No. 18 post. One consolation for the three outside horses is they are all next to each other and should not have to worry about interference from horses that do not belong in the race.
Could, If Things Go Right
Thousand Words (15/1, Bob Baffert, Florent Geroux): Had basically become a non-commodity before coming out of nowhere to take the Shared Belief, beating heavily favored Honor A.P. After starting his career with three straight wins, including the Los Al Futurity and the Robert Lewis, he started a slide, finishing fourth in the San Felipe, and 11th in the Oaklawn Stakes, a race where he stumbled out of the gate. Showed signs of life with a second in the Los Al Derby, then came through with the win in the Shared Belief, earning a 104 Beyer for the effort. A runner that should come from off the pace, something I like in the Derby.
Max Player (30/1, Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana): Running third behind Tiz the Law is nothing to be embarrassed about, but then again, he appears a notch or two below the favorite. He did win the Withers back in February at Aqueduct but was followed be thirds in the Belmont and Travers. The two second place finishers in those races – Dr. Post and Caracaro – have both scratched out of the field. One plus, the horse has seen the distance and did hit the board. A big time closer, he should have some pace to run at.
Ny Traffic (20/1, Saffie A. Joseph, Paco Lopez): A bit of a sleeper here and is one that deserves a long look for a spot on your tickets. The last four starts have all been Derby preps and he has three seconds and a third, with the last being a loss by a nose to Authentic in the Haskell. His first four starts were not impressive, but once he switched barns in November, things have been looking up. Look at his last four Beyers – 82, 89, 95, 101 – and you can see he has improved every start. He seems to have staying-power late and that could lead to big things.
Enforceable (30/1, Mark Casse, Adam Beschizza): I liked this horse earlier this year, all the way through his second in the Risen Star. Since then he was 5th in the Louisiana Derby and most recently in an average Blue Grass field. Can come from way back, which is always something to watch in the Derby, but finding your way through 17 horses can be a difficult task. In addition, gets a jockey that hasn’t been up on him before and benefits from the jockey restrictions from the pandemic. One plus – he is a regular rider and Churchill Downs, so you’ve got that going for you.
Sole Volante (30/1, Patrick Biancone, Luca Panini): He had looked good through his first six starts before he messed the bed in the Belmont Stakes, finishing a badly beaten sixth, never factoring into the race. One point to consider – he was running in the Belmont on 10 days rest. With six weeks off since then, he figures to be a lot fresher and has put together a decent work tab. Looks a reach but would not be surprised if her factored into the outcome.
Storm Court (50/1, Peter Eurton, Julien Leparoux): Outside of a bad sixth place in a division of the Arkansas Derby, this horse has not been too bad. He was fourth in the San Vincente, then third behind Authentic and Honor A.P in the San Felipe. Next came the debacle in Arkansas. That was followed by running third in the Ohio Derby and most recently a second in the Grade III La Jolla, a turf race at Del Mar. Has shown he can run with a lot of these in here, but will have a lot of work to do.
Money Moves (30/1, Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Here is a perfect example of how this field is much different than normal. Money Moves made his debut in mid-July, and has three career starts, winning twice, with neither coming in an stakes race. He was second in an optional claimer at Saratoga in his last start, overcoming a troubled start. There is very little in his three races that you can use as a comparison against the others, but he is a Pletcher horse which mean he deserves a look. Last two Beyer figures are 98 and 90.
At Least They Can Say They Ran in The Derby
Major Fed (50-1, Gregory Foley, James Graham): One win in a straight maiden win back in January. His best effort of the prep season was a second in the Risen Star back in February but followed that up with a fourth in the Louisiana Derby, a 10th in the Matt Winn, and a second in the Ohio Derby.
South Bend (50/1, Bill Mott, Tyler Gaffalione): The last to enter the race, the horse has not won a race in eight starts this year and best effort came in the Travers where he was fourth at 32/1. Does have a pair of wins over the surface, but this is asking way too much.
Mr. Big News (50/1, W. Bret Calhoun, Gabriel Saez): Took four starts to break his maiden. Ran in a pair of Derby prep races, finishing fifth in the Risen Star and a poor sixth in the Blue Grass.
Necker Island (50/1, Chris Hartman, Miguel Mena): Has no wins in seven starts this year and has only hit the board twice – a pair of show finishes. He ran in five official preps, but never finished higher than third – the Indiana Derby and the Ellis Park Derby.
Attachment Rate (50/1, Dale Romans, Joe Talamo): Has run in four official preps, with his best his last with a second in the Ellis Park Derby at 14-1 – not much a feather to put in his cap. He did get a 95 Beyer in that race but was a weak field except for Art Collector.
Winning Impression (50/1, Dallas Stewart, Joe Rocco Jr.): Has not come close to living up to his name this year, with no wins in six starts. He was fourth in a division of the Arkansas Derby, then came back with less than inspiring efforts in the Indiana Derby and the Ellis Park, finishing seventh in each.
With Tiz the Law likely to get it done at such a low price, it makes any plays dicey, certainly on the win side so exotic wagers may be the lone way to make some money. These are the likely tickets I will play: 1) Exacta with Tiz the Law over Authentic, Honor A.P., Ny Traffic, Max Player, and Sole Volante; 2) Trifecta with Tiz the Law over the same horses; 3) Exacta box with Tiz the Law, Ny Traffic, Max Player, and Sole Volante. There is always a play in taking another horse to win the race as Tiz the Law will be so low, the rest of the horses should offer decent value. Have a great time, best of fortune and enjoy the race!
By Dennis Miller