Tiz the Law’s luck finally ran out. Rabbit’s foot rubbed raw. Held the wrong end of the wishbone. Drew the short straw. Too bad, Tiz the Law was on quite a roll. Held the dice all year; pass after pass, point after point. Finally, Saturday, in the Kentucky Derby ‘Tiz rolled a seven.
During an extended winning streak, he’d played conservatively. Was managed expertly by 82-year-old Barclay Tagg. Spots were selected judiciously, and wagers doubled down only when 10s and face cards stuffed the shoe. Until Saturday, that is.
Tiz the Law had enjoyed nearly two months rest between each of his previous races, before he attempted to parlay an August 8, Gr. 1 Travers victory into a Sept. 5, Gr. 1 Kentucky Derby. That’s less than a month between rolls of the dice. Too soon to visit the well? Maybe. Rest seems key to ‘Tiz’s success. And there was plenty of it. Favored in every start except the first two against top competition in 4 Grade 1s, a Grade 2, a Grade 3 and a state-bred maiden his lifetime average winning margin was over 4 lengths.
Tiz the Law’s good fortune continued Derby week when a grabbed quarter forced Art Collector, the number one contender, to not enter. Next, after the post-position draw, King Guillermo, a wise-guy threat that had worked fast at Churchill and figured to be part of the early pace, was withdrawn because of fever. A depleted gathering of an original 18 shrunk once more to a possible starting 16 when one-eyed longshot Finnick the Fierce also exited stage left.
Just before the bugler played a lyric-less version of My Old Kentucky Home, in the paddock, on the move to be saddled, a finicky Thousand Words, a legitimate, pace-pressing contender from the dangerous Bob Baffert barn, decided he, too, wasn’t playing. Spooked, he reared sideways and crashed to the ground. Providing a human cushion of sorts for the colt was Baffert’s stalwart assistant Jim Barnes, breaking a wrist in 8 places. Surgery for the assistant. A vet scratch for the colt.
That untimely defection further trimmed Tiz the Law’s foes to a mere 15— 4 less than recent Derby favorites had opposed. Because most of the defections were contenders with serious pace implications and not hopeless also rans it appeared as if Lady Luck was working overtime to clear the favorite’s path toward roses. The green felt table was set for another Tiz the Law payday. Numbers covered, bets pressed, pass line and odds in play. Anything but a…nooooo!!!
Technically, it was an 18. The saddlecloth number attached to Authentic, a speedy, talented, once-beaten son of Into Mischief. He broke slowly from the far outside post, used natural speed without much encouragement from Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to get to the early lead while racing in the middle of the track. From then on, as the old adage goes, he ‘improved his position.’
Tiz the Law broke well and was confidently settled behind the early leader while racing 3-wide much of the way. Off the final turn jockey Manny Franco glanced behind to survey the field and found no mounting threats. He then turned ‘Tiz loose to pursue Authentic in earnest. In the stretch, the favorite actually gallantly stuck more than a nose in front of Authentic. However, that’s when the red die with 3 white dots settled on green felt alongside the other showing 4 white dots. The top 3-year-old in the nation’s luck had finally run out.
Turns out that in horseracing, as in life, one man’s (or horse’s) misfortune is another’s opportunity. At first, it seemed as if the rash of race defections had tipped the scales toward the heavy favorite—less challengers, weaker foes, slower early pace, etc. But a post-race review of the 2020 Kentucky Derby suggests that circumstances actually may have aided the eventual winner even more.
No doubt the presence of King Guillermo would have gigged the early pace, which was reasonably quick anyway. Authentic then might not have had such an easy time up front, especially after breaking slowly. Art Collector and Thousand Words probably wouldn’t have been interested in contesting the early lead, but both would have added heat from just behind the leaders.
In the end, though, Tiz the Law just didn’t have it. The breaks went Authentic’s way and the smart money on ‘Don’t Pass’ cashed at juicy 8-1 odds. Trainer Baffert tied Ben Jones’ record at 6 Kentucky Derby winners. But that’s not the only all-time Derby record the white-haired conditioner tied Saturday. Baffert’s roughly half-hour long emotional swing, from disturbing paddock scratch of Thousand Words to winner’s circle body block by roses-clad Authentic, equaled the all-time Derby record for an emotional roller coaster. The mark was established in the 2019 edition by the connections of Maximum Security when they tumbled from Derby elation to disqualification depression in nearly the same timeframe.
Attention now turns toward Preakness. Baffert’s already committed Derby winner Authentic with enthusiasm. What have they got to lose? The trainer knows Authentic can’t beat stablemate Maximum Security in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so why not fire off another quick round against fellow sophomores in Baltimore? What’s happening with Tiz the Law isn’t quite as clear. He wasn’t sharpest in the Derby, perhaps dulled by his Travers experience followed by just a few weeks rest. To return in the Preakness October 3, and then to race again in the Breeders’ Cup Classic November 7, doesn’t seem ideal. And yet, at this writing, no decision has been made. The trainer favors rest. The owner is thinking crab cakes. It’s a tough call. The colt’s best chance is with his age group, however, that means racing in a month after back-to-back Gr. 1 one mile and one-quarter races. Skip Preakness and take time to recover and he’ll have to face solid older handicap foes in the B.C. Classic. Ye olde rock and a hard place.
Either way, when the gates open Saturday, October 4, at Pimlico, it will be ‘New Shooter, coming out!’ and everyone will want to see if the Derby winner can hold the dice for more than one roll. Tiz the Law may attend, and possibly Art Collector, King Guillermo and Thousand Words, too, among others.
In a game of ‘What have you done for me lately?’ Tiz the Law’s early soph season domination quickly has shifted to the rear-view mirror and with just four pages left on the 2020 calendar Authentic is in a position to steal divisional honors.
Let’s see if he can get lucky.