KENTUCKY DERBY SELECTIONS AND ANALYSIS
It’s Post Time by Jon White (Sept. 2, 2020)
The 156th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby will be contested Saturday at Churchill Downs. Tiz the Law no doubt will be an odds-on favorite in the field of 18 entered in the 1 1/4-mile classic.
This is going to be the first time in the long history of the Kentucky Derby that it will be contested without paying customers on hand.
I would like to be daring and pick someone to win other than Tiz the Law. Even though I was very tempted to go with Honor A.P., I’m going to go ahead and be a chalk-eating weasel, as they say. I am picking Tiz the Law to win. The way I see it, Tiz the Law just has too much going for him to do otherwise.
My Kentucky Derby selections are:
1. Tiz the Law
2. Honor A.P.
3. Attachment Rate
HORSE-BY-HORSE ANALYSIS (IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE, NOT POST POSITION ORDER)
1. TIZ THE LAW (3-5 morning-line favorite): This really is not complicated. The 2020 Kentucky Derby is his race to lose.
What makes Tiz the Law look so formidable? It’s primarily his class, dominance so far this year, speed-figure advantage, stamina, running style, trainer and jockey.
Tiz the Law has four Grade I victories to his credit (Champagne Stakes, Florida Derby, Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes). The rest of the Kentucky Derby field has only three Grade I wins among them. The other Grade I winners facing Tiz the Law are Honor A.P. (Santa Anita Derby), Authentic (Haskell Invitational) and Storm the Court (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile).
Not only is Tiz the Law undefeated this year, he has won each of his four races in dominant fashion, from three to 5 1/2 lengths.
Tiz the Law owns the highest Beyer Speed Figure in the Kentucky Derby field, a 109 for his Travers triumph. He has three triple-digit Beyers to his credit. Honor A.P. has two such Beyers, while Authentic and Ny Traffic have one each.
We already know that Tiz the Law can win going 1 1/4 miles. He just did that in the Travers.
Tiz the Law’s running style is a plus in that he’s not a front-runner or a come-from-the clouds type. He typically races from one to three lengths off the early pace.
His running style increases the chances that he will be first or second with an eighth of a mile to go in the Kentucky Derby. This is important. That’s because 54 of the last 57 winners of the Kentucky Derby have been one-two a furlong out.
Tiz the Law’s trainer, Barclay Tagg, knows how to win the Kentucky Derby. Tagg did so in 2003 with Funny Cide.
Jockey Manny Franco seems to make a wonderful partner with Tiz the Law. The 25-year-old Franco knows the New York-bred Constitution colt extremely well and rides him with much confidence.
Some are concerned that Tiz the Law is returning to Churchill Downs, the site of his lone defeat in seven career starts. He finished third in last year’s Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes when he had a troubled trip on a sloppy track.
And then there is Tiz the Law’s post position. He will begin from post 17. No horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby from post 17. Indeed, since the starting gate was first used in 1930, post 17 is 0 for 41. Only three horses have even finished second or third from post 17 (Reaping Reward third in 1937, Hampden third in 1946 and Forty Niner second in 1988).
Just two favorites have started from post 17 since the starting gate was introduced in 1930. Both lost. Arazi broke from post 17 and finished eighth as a 9-10 favorite in 1992. Point Given ended up fifth as a 9-5 favorite in 2001, the only time in his 13-race career that he finished worse than second.
I am not worried about Tiz the Law running at Churchill or breaking from post 17. What I am very worried about is the weight that he must carry.
“What?” you ask. “Isn’t Tiz the Law, like everyone else in the Kentucky Derby, carrying 126 pounds?” Well, yes, that’s technically true. But the problem for Tiz the Law is, in a way, he is carrying “a ton” of weight. That’s because Andrew Beyer said recently that he is picking Tiz the Law to win the Kentucky Derby.
Look, Beyer deserves considerable credit for being the father of the Beyer Speed Figures. These figures have become such a useful tool for many.
But even Beyer himself has acknowledged from time to time that his record through the years is woeful in terms of trying to pick the winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
Take 2015, for instance. Beyer took a stand against American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby. Beyer picked Upstart to win. But Upstart was eased and finished 60 1/2 lengths behind American Pharoah.
Beyer then picked Kentucky Derby runner-up Firing Line to win the Preakness. Firing Line stumbled at the start, was eased and finished 45 lengths behind American Pharoah.
After what happened in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Beyer finally decided to pick American Pharoah to win the Belmont Stakes, right? Nope. Beyer picked Materiality, who finished last, 22 1/4 lengths behind American Pharoah.
That means that while American Pharoah was running his way into the history books by sweeping the Triple Crown, Beyer’s picks lost the three races by a combined 127 3/4 lengths.
This is why it gives me pause to pick Tiz the Law to win the Kentucky Derby after learning he’s also Beyer’s selection. But I will stick with Tiz the Law anyway.
2. HONOR A.P. (5-1 morning line): As stated earlier, I was very tempted to pick him to win the Kentucky Derby. I see him as the biggest threat to Tiz the Law. I saw him as that even if Art Collector had run. (Art Collector was not entered Tuesday after his trainer, Tommy Drury Jr., reported that the colt had nicked the bulb of his left front heel with a hind hoof while galloping Monday at Churchill.)
I believe Honor A.P. is a talented equine athlete. I also do not think we have seen his best yet.
I also have tremendous respect for Honor A.P.’s trainer, John Shirreffs, and jockey, Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
Shirreffs and Smith won the 2005 Kentucky Derby with 50-1 longshot Giacomo. Smith also won the 2018 renewal with Justify, who would go on to become the 13th horse to sweep this country’s Triple Crown.
Honor A.P. won the Grade I Santa Anita Derby going away by 2 3/4 lengths at 1 1/8 miles on June 6. That suggests he might relish Saturday’s 1 1/4-mile trip. Additionally, his Santa Anita Derby effort was flattered when runner-up Authentic then won the Grade I Haskell Invitational.
True, after the Santa Anita Derby, Honor A.P. finished second as a 1-5 favorite in Del Mar’s Shared Belief Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Aug. 1. But it should be remembered that the Shared Belief was not an end in itself for the Kentucky-bred Honor Code ridgling, but rather a means to an end.
Much like the late Charlie Whittingham, Shirreffs is someone who is masterful in terms of having a horse ready for a peak effort in an important race.
I believe Honor A.P. is a better horse than Giacomo, maybe even a much better horse. If Shirreffs and Smith could win Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, it will not be surprising to me to see Honor A.P. draped in roses Saturday.
3. ATTACHMENT RATE (50-1 morning line): This is my live longshot. And there is no doubt that his odds are going to be gigantic.
While Attachment Rate has won only once in eight career starts, I’ve had my eye on this guy ever since he closed with a gusto from 12 lengths off the pace to finish second at Gulfstream Park last Jan. 25. Flavien Prat was aboard the Virginia-bred Hard Spun colt in that seven-furlong maiden race.
I went so far as to text Prat’s agent, Derek Lawson, to tell him how much Attachment Rate had impressed me. At the time, I had visions of Attachment Rate being Prat’s 2020 Kentucky Derby horse after the rider had won the 2018 edition at odds of 65-1 on Country House, who was placed first via the disqualification of Maximum Security.
But Prat has not ridden Attachment Rate again since that Jan. 25 race. Joe Talamo will be Attachment Rate’s pilot in the Kentucky Derby.
Back in 2009, a 19-year-old Talamo was supposed to ride 3-1 morning-line favorite I Want Revenge in the Kentucky Derby. But I Want Revenge was scratched the morning of the race due to an ankle injury. It was the first time since the morning-line odds were put in the Churchill Downs program in 1949 that a Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite had been scratched on race day.
Attachment Rate has improved considerably from the inexperienced 3-year-old who was on his left lead down the lane in that Jan 25 maiden race. He ran by far his best race thus far last time out when finishing second to Art Collector in the Ellis Park Derby. After losing the Blue Grass to Art Collector by 8 1/2 lengths, Attachment Rate lost to that same foe at Ellis by 3 1/2 while finishing 5 1/4 lengths clear of Necker Island in third.
In Attachment Rate’s race at Ellis, he recorded a career-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure. He’s come a long way from the 27 Beyer in his lone race last year when he finished 11th at Churchill and the 82 Beyer in the aforementioned Jan. 25 race at Gulfstream when a fast-closing second.
I believe Attachment Rate is even more dangerous in the Kentucky Derby off his Thoro-Graph number at Ellis.
I do think Beyer Speed Figures have value or I would not refer to them as often as I do. But as I have stated many times before, I also believe that Thoro-Graph figures are much better than the Beyers.
In terms of Beyer Speed Figures, a higher number is better than a lower one. The opposite is true regarding Thoro-Graph figures.
The winner of a race will never get a lower Beyer Speed Figure than the horse who finished second, the horse who finished second will never get a lower Beyer than the horse who finished third, and so on down through the order of finish.
In the case of the Thoro-Graph Figures, a horse who finishes second, or even lower, can get a better figure than the winner. This is one of the things I love about Thoro-Graph. I consider a Thoro-Graph figure to be a much more realistic evaluation of a horse’s performance. Thoro-Graph’s approach reflects the reality that the winner is not necessarily the horse who ran the best race.
Beyer Speed Figures are based primarily on the time of the race relative to the track variant. The variant is an assessment of a track surface. Was the surface on which the race was run normal? If not, how much faster or slower than normal was the surface? The variant is a tool in which one can put the time of a race into perspective as opposed to raw time.
The Beyer-makers will adjust as they deem necessary in order to come up with what they feel is the most accurate figure possible to reflect a horse’s performance. One way the Beyer-makers do this is by keeping an eye on how each horse’s figure in a race compares to its previous performances. When a figure looks out of whack, it will be tweaked in order to make it more realistic in their judgment.
A major reason I believe a Thoro-Graph figure is superior to a Beyer Speed Figure is the Thoro-Graph figure takes many more factors into account. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”
As far as Thoro-Graph, after Attachment Rate posted numbers of from 4 to 5 in his five races from Feb. 15 to July 11, he showed considerable improvement when credited with a 1/2 at Ellis. His 1/2 Thoro-Graph indicates he’s capable of making a lot of noise in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Art Collector received a 100 Beyer and 1/4 Thoro-Graph at Ellis.
Louisville native Dale Romans trains Art Collector. Romans has finished third in the Kentucky Derby twice (Paddy O’Prado in 2010 and Dullahan in 2012). Romans also sent out Shackleford to finish fourth in 2011 Kentucky Derby before that colt went on to win the Preakness Stakes.
Can Romans pull off an upset in a big race? Yes, as he showed when in 2015 he sent out 16-1 Keen Ice to upset Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes. American Pharoah finished second as a heavy favorite at 35 cents to the dollar.
Attachment Rate reminds me of a late bloomer in 1999. Charismatic did not set the world on fire in his first 13 career starts, then suddenly posted his first triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure, a 108, when he won the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland by 2 1/2 lengths. Thirteen days later, Charistmatic won the Kentucky Derby at odds of 33-1 when he duplicated that 108 Beyer.
4. AUTHENTIC (8-1 morning line): Count me among those thinking 1 1/4 miles is beyond his comfort zone. Authentic is coming off a win in Monmouth Park’s Grade I Haskell Invitational at 1 1/8 miles on July 18. But he darn near blew it by turning a 2 1/2-length lead with a furlong to go into a nose victory. While there are those who have knocked Authentic for winning by such a small margin, it should be noted that he did receive a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure.
I do like the way Authentic has been training. Not only that, considering his trainer, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, has won the Kentucky Derby five times, it does not seem a good idea to underestimate Authentic, even in a 1 1/4-mile-race, especially since he does have a fine record of four wins and a second from five lifetime starts.
Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winners have been Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018). Justify, like American Pharoah, swept the Triple Crown.
Authentic’s jockey, John Velazquez, helps the cause. The Hall of Famer has won the Kentucky Derby twice (Animal Kingdom in 2011 and Always Dreaming in 2017).
If either Authentic or Thousand Words wins Saturday, Baffert will tie Ben Jones’ record for most Kentucky Derby victories by a trainer.
5. THOUSAND WORDS (15-1 morning line): The $1 million yearling purchase trained by Baffert was two for two last year, highlighted by a win in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity. Consequently, he was considered to be one of the leading Kentucky Derby candidates at the beginning of 2020.
After Thousand Words won Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 1 in his first start at 3, he ranked No. 2 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, behind only Tiz the Law.
However, Thousand Words then went off form. According to Baffert, the Florida-bred colt “got sour.” Thousand Words lost Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes by 11 1/4 lengths on March 7, then stumbled at the start and lost the Oaklawn Stakes in Arkansas by nearly 30 lengths on a sloppy track.
But to Baffert’s credit, he somehow managed to get Thousand Words to snap out of his slump. Thousand Words finished second to the highly regarded Baffert-trained Uncle Chuck in the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby on July 4, then won the Shared Belief Stakes by three-quarters of a length on Aug. 1 at Del Mar when defeating 1-5 favorite Honor A.P.
In the Los Al Derby, Thousand Words recorded a serious Beyer Speed Figure, a career-best 104. But one of the reasons I have Thousand Words ranked No. 5 rather than higher is his Thoro-Graph number in the Los Al Derby was a far-less impressive 3 1/4.
If Thousand Words gets the job done Saturday, he will be the second Baffert-trained Pioneerof the Nile colt to win the Kentucky Derby. The Baffert-trained American Pharoah, also a son of American Pharoah, won the 2015 Run for the Roses en route to his Triple Crown sweep.
KING GUILLERMO (20-1 morning line): SCRATCHED
7. MAX PLAYER (30-1 morning line): I will not be surprised if he finishes in the superfecta. I think he even has a puncher’s chance to win.
I have said for years that I think there is a Kentucky Derby trophy with trainer Steve Asmussen’s name on it. Maybe this will finally be the year.
According to Equibase statistics through Tuesday, Hall of Famer Asmussen ranks second (behind only Dale Baird) on the list of all-time wins by a trainer (8,978). He also ranks second (behind only Todd Pletcher) on the list of all-time purse earnings by a trainer ($336,660,321).
But how many times has Asmussen won the Kentucky Derby? Zero. He’s 0 for 20.
If Asmussen does win the Kentucky Derby with Max Player, I will be happy for him to get the monkey off his back. But I will have sympathy for trainer Linda Rice. That’s because after Max Player’s last race, Rice lost him to Asmussen.
For Rice, Max Player never finished worse than third in five career starts. For Rice, he won the Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct on Feb. 1. For Rice, he finished third in both the Grade I Belmont Stakes and Grade I Travers Stakes. And yet Rice had the Kentucky-bred Honor Code colt taken away from her.
8. ENFORCEABLE (30-1 morning line): This long-fused runner is another one who just might get into the superfecta. And if the pace is fast, who knows? Maybe then the Kentucky-bred Tapit colt will mow them all down.
The word is Enforceable has been training strongly up to this race. And don’t forget, his Hall of Fame trainer, Mark Casse, has won two of the last three Triple Crown races (2019 Preakness with War of Will and 2019 Belmont with Sir Winston).
9. STORM THE COURT (50-1 morning line). Granted, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 2019 has been a disappointment so far in 2020. He has lost all five of his races this year.
The last time Storm the Court was victorious was when he took the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in a 45-1 upset at Santa Anita last Nov. 1.
Mainly because he was the champ, I had him ranked No. 1 on my first Kentucky Derby Top 10 in early January. In time, though, the Kentucky-bred Court Vision colt dropped off the Top 10. He deserves credit for at least climbing back up to No. 10 in my final Kentucky Derby rankings.
Storm the Court could be dangerous Saturday off some recent snazzy workouts at Del Mar, such as five furlongs in a bullet :59.00 on Aug. 21. It was the fastest of 74 works at the distance that morning.
There are a couple of other reasons to suggest Storm the Court might outrun his huge odds Saturday.
When Storm the Court ran third in the Grade III Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 27, he received an excellent Thoro-Graph number of 1. That number stacks up pretty well against most of his Kentucky Derby opponents.
And in Storm the Court’s most recent race, he actually acquitted himself well by finishing second in Del Mar’s Grade III La Jolla Handicap on Aug. 9. That grass contest was won by a razor-sharp Smooth Like Straight, who is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s Grade II American Turf Stakes on the turf at Churchill.
10. SOLE VOLANTE (30-1 morning line): His situation is similar to Enforceable’s in that if there is a fast pace, Sole Volante might come charging late to finish in the superfecta. And while a victory is unlikely, it’s not an absolute impossibility.
Sole Volante’s most recent performance left much to be desired. Far back early, as usual, the Kentucky-bred Karakontie colt never threatened and lost by 15 3/4 lengths while finishing sixth in the 1 1/8-mile Belmont. But perhaps that race can be tossed out the window because he was running back in just 10 days and had shipped from Florida to New York after winning an allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park.
Patrick Biancone trains Sole Volante. Biancone is quite capable of winning the Kentucky Derby. He would have won it in 2004 with Lion Heart if not for a beast by the name of Smarty Jones. Lion Heart ran a heckuva good race, but had to settle for second to Smarty Jones, who nearly swept the Triple Crown.
What Biancone did in 1983 with All Along was tremendous. All Along was more than America’s 1983 Horse of the Year. She was the Horse of the World. She won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France on Oct. 2, Canadian International in Canada on Oct. 16, Turf Classic in New York on Oct. 29, then Washington, D.C., International in Maryland on Nov. 12.
11. MAJOR FED (50-1 morning line): There are those who were talking about Major Fed being someone who had a bright future after his sparkling 4 1/4-length maiden win at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in his 3-year-old debut on New Year’s Day.
When Major Fed rallied to finish second to Modernist in a division of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes in New Orleans on Feb. 15, the future looked even brighter for the Kentucky-bred son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper.
But Major Fed is going into the Kentucky Derby having lost four in a row since his maiden triumph, though his most recent effort to finish second in the Grade III Indiana Derby on July 8 probably was much better than it appears at first glance. He managed to finish second that day despite not having the best of trips.
Two splendid workouts at Churchill since the Indiana Derby could be a sign that he will make some noise in the Kentucky Derby at juicy odds. He worked four furlongs in a bullet :46.80 on Aug. 9 at Churchill. It was the fastest of 58 works at the distance that morning. Then last Friday at Churchill, he drilled five furlongs in a bullet :59.00. It was the fastest of 36 works at the distance that day.
12. FINNICK THE FIERCE (50-1 morning line): It’s easy to root for him. He’s missing his right eye, the result of a congenital cataract. Nevertheless, he’s managed to win two of nine career starts and make it into the Kentucky Derby.
Finnick the Fierce actually beat mighty Tiz the Law on one occasion last year. When Tiz the Law finished third in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill, Finnick the Fierce ran second to Silver Prospector.
The last time Finnick the Fierce finished first was all the way back when he kicked off his racing career in a five-furlong maiden race at Indiana Grand on June 14 of last year.
All in all, it’s difficult to envision the one-eyed Kentucky-bred Dialed In colt winning the Kentucky Derby.
13. MONEY MOVES (30-1 morning line): His trainer, Todd Pletcher, has won the Kentucky Derby twice (Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017). His jockey, Javier Castellano, is one of the best, though the Hall of Famer does happen to be 0 for 14 in the Kentucky Derby.
Pletcher had kept saying all the way up to the last minute that Money Moves probably would not run in the Kentucky Derby. But then it was decided to “take a shot” with the Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt.
Can Money Moves win the Kentucky Derby while making his stakes debut with just three career starts under his belt? I seriously doubt it.
The word is that Pletcher will be staying at Saratoga rather than going to the Kentucky Derby. That’s not exactly a sign of confidence. On the other hand, looking after Money Moves at Churchill for Pletcher is none other than one D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer (Winning Colors in 1988, Thunder Gulch in 1995, Grindstone in 1996 and Charismatic in 1999).
14. SOUTH BEND (50-1 morning line): Country House was 30-1 on the morning line for the 2019 Kentucky Derby. He was virtually ignored in the betting, going off at 65-1. The Bill Mott-trained colt won via the disqualification of Maximum Security.
Now Hall of Famer Mott is back for the 2020 Kentucky Derby with South Bend, an even bigger price on the morning line than Country House last year.
South Bend did win the Street Sense at Churchill Downs last year on Oct. 27. However, the Kentucky-bred Algorithms colt has lost nine straight since the Street Sense.
South Bend’s name was tossed into the entry box for the Kentucky Derby at the very last moment. That does not inspire confidence.
15. MR. BIG NEWS (50-1 morning line). If Mr. Big News somehow wins the Kentucky Derby, you really can understand it if there will be those wondering if it’s fake news due to his less-than-stellar resume.
His connections probably are praying for rain. Mr. Big News’ most significant victory to date came April 11 when he rallied from 11th to win the Oaklawn Stakes by a half-length on a sloppy track in a 46-1 stunner.
In Mr. Big News’ lone start since his April 11 victory, he lost by 10 1/4 lengths when he finished sixth at 34-1 in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on July 11. But don’t judge him too harshly for his Blue Grass. The Kentucky-bred Giant’s Causeway colt stumbled badly at the start, then had a nightmarish trip.
Will Mr. Big News run his way into the superfecta at a giant price in the betting Saturday? It’s very unlikely, but not impossible.
16. WINNING IMPRESSION (50-1 morning line): Trainer Dallas Stewart is one of the best at being able to get a longshot to run well in an important race. But it will take practically a miracle for Stewart to get Winning Impression into the superfecta Saturday off his last couple of races.
Winning Impression finished seventh in the Grade III Indiana Derby on July 8. The Kentucky-bred Paynter gelding then ran seventh again in the Ellis Park Derby on Aug. 9.
17. NECKER ISLAND (50-1 morning line). He’s winless in seven starts this year. I just can’t see the Kentucky-bred Hard Spun colt getting his first 2020 victory against Tiz the Law and the others in the Kentucky Derby.