It is four months late, but Kentucky Derby 146 will be run on Saturday.
Tiz the Law, winner of the Belmont Stakes on June 20 and geared down victor of the Travers Stakes at the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles, will be the first odds-on favorite in the Kentucky Derby since Arazi finished eighth as the 4-5 favorite in the 1992 Derby.
With the late declaration of contender Art Collector just prior to the post draw on Tuesday, Tiz the Law is the 3-5 morning line favorite.
Tiz the Law is trained by Barclay Tagg for Sackatoga Stable, the same trainer and owner combination that won the 2003 Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide. The New York-bred is unbeaten and untested from four starts this year, and has not had so much as a hiccup in his preparation for the Derby. There are no major knocks on the favorite.
Tiz the Law, dominating winner of the Travers and Belmont Stakes, has been installed as the 3-5 morning line favorite in a field of 18 horses entered for Saturday’s 146th running of the $3 million @KentuckyDerby.
— Churchill Downs PR (@DerbyMedia) September 1, 2020
Naysayers will point out that Tiz the Law’s only defeat from seven lifetime starts came at Churchill Downs, when he raced in traffic on the inside over a sloppy track and finished an unlucky third in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November. Those same doubters will also point out that no horse has won the Derby from post 17, his assignment on Saturday. Finally, Tiz the Law comes off a series of very easy trips where he has been allowed to stalk the early pace while racing in the clear. How will he respond if he faces adversity?
A legit upset candidate
Is there anyone good enough to beat Tiz the Law? The best case can be made for California invader Honor A.P. His trainer, John Shirreffs, also has a Derby win on his resume, having saddled Giacomo to a 50-1 upset in 2005.
Honor A.P. missed some time at the start of 2020 due to a minor foot problem, and probably would have missed the Derby if it had been run on May 2 as scheduled. The son of Honor Code showed he wants a distance of ground, beating the previously unbeaten Authentic in the Santa Anita Derby in June, and his trainer used the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 1 as a prep for the Derby, finishing second behind Derby entrant Thousand Words in a race too short for his best.
Honor A.P. has put in several stamina building drills since, including three prior to the races at Del Mar so jockey Mike Smith could be aboard for the works. Everything has gone according to plan, so expect Honor A.P. to give a career best effort Saturday.
Who wins the Derby?
Authentic will have to be sent from his extreme outside post (18) and looks like the pacesetter, though his ability to get the distance is a major question mark. Ny Traffic and King Guillermo should be up close and Tiz the Law may be closer than normal to secure position from post 17. I expect Mike Smith and Honor A.P. to be positioned just behind Tiz the Law with their sights set on the heavy favorite from the outset.
When Tiz the Law makes his move, expect Smith and Honor A.P. to be in full gear, too. I think the two horses are a cut above the rest of this group and to pull away battling for the victory. Given the likely odds-on price on Tiz the Law and with Honor A.P. at or around 5-1, I will bet Honor A.P. to win and make a large Exacta box using Honor A.P. and Tiz the Law.
Who can spice up the exotic wagers? Thousand Words (15-1) is back at his best for trainer Bob Baffert after going sour in the spring. He acts like he will handle the distance, while deep closer Sole Volante (30-1) was wheeled back too soon (10 days) in the Belmont Stakes and comes into the Derby fresh and fit. He should be a big number on the tote.
Gamine vs. Swiss Skydiver in Oaks
Friday’s $1.25 million Grade I Kentucky Oaks may come down to one question: The brilliance of Gamine or the proven two-turn route form and experience of Swiss Skydiver?
Gamine, trained by Baffert, comes into the Oaks off dominating wins in the Grade I Acorn and Grade I Test Stakes. She has trained sensationally at Del Mar preparing for the Oaks, and John Velasquez, who was aboard for her last two wins, left his New York base specifically to ride Gamine.
While Gamine has crossed under the wire in front in all four lifetime starts, her toughest test to date was a neck victory over fellow Oaks entrant Speech in her only two-turn race, an Allowance at Oaklawn in May. Gamine was subsequently disqualified from the victory due to a post-race positive medication test.
Swiss Skydiver has not been as flashy, but she has been nearly as good. Trainer Kenny McPeek threw Swiss Skydiver in against the boys in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, where she battled every step of the way only to be worn down late by Art Collector.
There are no concerns about the nine furlong distance for Swiss Skydiver, as she comes into the Oaks after winning the 1-1/4 miles Grade I Alabama Stakes under a hammerlock at Saratoga just three weeks ago.
So who wins the Oaks? Look for Gamine to try and control the race from the outset. Swiss Skydiver drew the inside post, which could actually be a good thing as she figures to save ground tracking Gamine. At some point on the far turn, the two fillies figure to hook up, and given Swiss Skydiver’s proven ability to get the distance, she is the lukewarm choice to win the Oaks over Gamine.
Looking for a price horse to spice up the exotic wagers? Speech (5-1) has done her best work at tracks outside her California base. She could easily impact the Trifecta, as could Shedaresthedevil (20-1), who is unbeaten at Churchill Downs and has been improving all summer.