On a farm in Kentucky, or Florida, or Maryland, or California, or Virginia, or even New York, about 20,000 foals looked into the sky and imaged themselves blanketed in roses come May of their three-year old year. Now, only sixteen of those have reached the pinnacle of the dreams, making it to the starting gate under the Twin Spires. In a year unlike any other, a year where the First Saturday in May becomes the First Saturday in September, where Mint Juleps are sipped on the couch rather than track side, where the hats populate twitter rather than the winners circle, and the roar of the crowd is just a little bit farther away. For the breeders, this is a culmination of patience, knowledge, work, and most importantly, hope; for the owners, this is the dream of a lifetime – and one they will never forget; for the trainers, this represents everything going right; and for the jockeys, this is a career defining moment. Everyone wants to be the lucky connection to have their horse enter the gate, and even luckier be the one crossing the finish line first and taking that garland of roses in the winners circle used just once per year.
So now, we stand – distantly – and watch these stars of the sport all take time a chance at immortality – its the Run for the Roses, the Kentucky Derby. This year, it takes a special spot in the calendar… generally the kickoff of the Triple Crown and the culmination of the spring racing schedule… but now it is the second leg, following the shortened Belmont Stakes, and a major prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in just two months. To get there, fifteen of these three-year olds will need to get the heavy favorite Tiz the Law, who won that Belmont Stakes in his home state of New York before capturing the Travers Stakes in easy fashion. Since the calendar turned to 2020, he has cruised past his foes race after race, starting in Florida with the Holy Bull-Florida Derby double. And while he had to wait a bit longer to get his spot in Kentucky, he hasn’t disappointed along the way. But now, he has his toughest test – many other top three-year olds are here to contend, including the one to his outside, Authentic, the winner of the Haskell Invitational, or the one to his inside, Honor A.P, the Santa Anita Derby winner. In most years, they would be right up there in odds – but this year is far from like most, and when you have someone as accomplished and as dominant as Tiz the Law – he deserves to be odds on. And then you have the new shooters, the ones that wouldn’t have gotten into the gate had this race been in May, including Shared Belief Stakes winner Thousand Words, hard-trier Mr. Big News, and the ever improving Attachment Rate.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Derby Day without a thrilling supporting card, led by the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic and the Derby City Distaff. And even more special, the Iroquois, which will give us a glimpse at some of the horses that may be racing next May. With that, let’s get starting looking at this amazing card of stakes action.
Race 8 – American Turf (G2)
Three-year old turf stars go in this mile and a sixteenth affair. Smooth Like Strait has taken the favorite spot on the morning line following his wins in the War Chant over this course and the La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar; hall of famer John Velazquez gets the call once again and looks to take this in a stalking trip. But he takes on a much tougher group than before. He should be a short price once again, and if the Friday betting was anything, he could be close to even money; I can’t take that. Rather I like the horse to the outside, (8) Fancy Liquor; he has been improving in his last three races on turf, including a win in the Caesars at Indiana Grand. The Indiana Grand form has been holding really well, and he has been trending up in his performances. With Florent Geroux back aboard, he should get out to a clear lead and could coast away wire to wire with this one. Additionally, at a slight price I fancy (3) Sugoi on the step up. Coming out of lesser, he was a sharp winner last out Ellis Park in just his second start in the Michael Tomlinson barn. He didn’t really need to expend anything last time out but was visually impressive. Finally, don’t count out (4) Field Pass, who has made a name for himself as of late. Last out he found a lot of trouble, but if he can get a clear trip, he can contend with just about anyone.
Race 9 – Pat Day Mile (G2)
The old Derby Trial Stakes, the one turn mile, has historically been a speed favoring race. With how speed favoring the main track at Churchill was on Friday, it would not be surprising to see a gate to wire winner. That is where (7) No Parole comes in to this for me. He crushed the Grade One Woody Stephens in June and relishes these one turn sprints. While I do think the one turn race is (6) Tap It To Win‘s specialty, No Parole should be the one leading early and taking the field first down the stretch. I’ll be boxing both of these horses up as they should be the ones dueling at the end.
Race 10 – Iroquois (G3)
Future stars of the sport line up for the Iroquois, shortened back to one mile this year, which brings in eleven two-year olds with a win on their belt. For me, I am going with the Steven Asmussen trained (3) Super Stock, winner last out in the Texas Futurity at third asking. He has speed and prowess and has shown great progression in each subsequent start. Looks to be just a bit more conditioned than the rest of the field.
Race 11 – Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2)
This race always holds a special spot for me, where I saw Tepin win back to back and helping add to her amazing legacy, and where I made quite a payday with Coffee Clique leading my trifecta many years ago. This year, we have eight fillies and mares lining up, all looking to get a win on the road to the Breeders’ Cup, including last year’s Distaff Turf winner Beau Recall and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Newspaperofrecord (we all remember how easily she cruised home over this course that day). While Beau Recall was coming into last years in good form, this year she is a bit off her balance and just not looking the same. Meanwhile, (4) Newspaperofrecord is back to her old self after three head scratching efforts, with now wins in the Intercontinental and Just A Game. I like her to cruise here on this effort, even with the jockey change. However, I do think I have to give a long look at (1) She’sonthewarpath, who comes here improving and posting some of the best figures of the group. She should appreciate the mile distance and gets an advantage from the one post. Her turn of foot puts her right there with the rest of them.
Race 12 – Derby City Distaff (G1)
Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint hopefuls go in this elite Grade One, formerly known as the Humana Distaff, to try and take the lead in this division with two months left. The current leader of the pack, the Madison winner Guarana, does not show up here, and instead leave it to many of the horses that finished behind her, including Mia Mischief and Bell’s The One. On the other end, (8) Serengeti Empress returns to the site of one of her greatest wins, when she won the Kentucky Oaks just last year. Now sprinting, she showed she has the stuff in wining the Ballerina last out at Saratoga ahead of Bellafina. I love her stride going the seven furlong trip and think she is a must use on all tickets. I’ll be playing her alongside Churchill Downs lover (6) Sally’s Curlin and Madison runner-up (1) Mia Mischief.
Race 13 – Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1)
One of the top turf races every year is the Turf Classic on Derby Day! This year is no different, with some of the top turf stars coming to Churchill Downs. Last out, (9) Somelikeithotbrown took the lead and shocked many in his win of the Bernard Baruch last out at Saratoga, taking it gate to wire. He is one of the only ones that shows any forward pace here and, while I’m not a huge fan of the outside post, should get a simliar trip with Gaffalione aboard. I’ll also be playing (8) Sacred Life for Chad Brown, who we have yet to really see at his best… he was pushed forward in class to try the Pegasus World Cup Turf, a valiant forth, and then only really seen storming home in the Oceanport. He could be the next Chad Brown star of the stable. And he has some top back class, finishing second to Ghaiyyath back in 2018 at Longchamp; Ghaiyyath is arguably the best horse on the planet currently.
Race 14 – Kentucky Derby (G1)
Finally, we get to the big one, the Run for the Roses! Let’s go horse by horse through this field:
(1) Finnick the Fierce – scratched
(2) Max Player – been improving well each time and looks better as the races have gotten longer. The switch to Steven Asmussen is positive and should help, but the inside post is far from ideal. While he does seem to be getting better, he also continues to grow more distant from Tiz the Law – not a great sign.
(3) Enforceable – an early bloomer that hasn’t found his stride again. His figures are improving and should be one closing late, but not sure if this track will let him gain much ground.
(4) Storm The Court – the defending Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion hasn’t shown the same prowess; his try on turf last out was more of a “we don’t know” than a good impression. If he wins, he wins… but I can’t fathom a bet on him.
(5) Major Fed – Finished second in the Indiana Derby last out after a troubled trip. His starts against this class of company haven’t been super endearing, but he may be in better form now. Worth a play depending on the price. Workouts have been a big positive.
(6) King Guillermo – scratched
(7) Money Moves – currently a wise-guy play, this Pletcher trainee will be trying takes company for the first time. It is really telling that he sent him here rather than keeping him at Saratoga for the Jim Dandy. He is worth a shot with a good stalking trip and should break much better than last out. Longshot chance for the exotics.
(8) South Bend – this ones a closer that just keeps getting better. While he had no chance to close last out at Saratoga, he should get a bit better pace in this spot. His figures put him near the top contenders and if he can get a clear run might be able to pick up some of the exotics.
(9) Mr. Big News – an intriguing one for W. Bret Calhoun; he has been training on turf as of late in the lead up for this start. Well beaten in the Blue Grass, the Oaklawn Stakes winner will try to right the ship. I’m excusing his last effort and giving him a chance at some money in the exotics.
(10) Thousand Words – the Shared Belief winner has had an up and down career, with highs like the win in the Los Al Futurity and a complete disaster in the Oaklawn Stakes. Still, he shows up when he needs to. He isn’t perfect, and is still a bit below most of this field, but isn’t one to discount. But, he is a need the lead type, and he won’t get that here.
(11) Necker Island – Chris Hartman loses the blinkers here and takes the third place finisher in the Ellis Park and Indiana Derbies to this one. Necker Island hasn’t been nearly as good as the top three, but taking the blinkers off may help him find his finishing kick – he is always well places late before fading so this could be the changer here. I’ll use him in the exotics.
(12) Sole Volante – he will definitely get overbet here. He had no chance going one turn in the Belmont Stakes and the increase in distance won’t help. Just not cut for this.
(13) Attachment Rate – he is on an upward progressing trend to watch. While he still is looking for his first stakes win, hes been getting better and getting closer with each start, albeit finding trouble. If he can just keep clear of trouble, he has a huge chance to upset here.
(14) Winning Impression – Dallas Stewart finds his longshot in this one. Fourth in the Arkansas Derby, he has been a hard trier in his last two. But with no pace to close in, he had no chance. Should get more pace today and could find himself finishing fast for a chance at the show money.
(15) Ny Traffic – the aptly named New York bred, even if traffic is a thing of the past this year, has been just missing in his last three, with a case of seconditus. But that is just more of a reason to watch out for one that has an extremely good late kick and is sitting on a huge effort. Beware!
(16) Honor A.P. – Mike Smith and John Shirreffs team up with this one, that loves to shift around on the track. He didn’t show much last out in the Shared Belief, but had a lot more winning the Santa Anita Derby. Yet, this will be his first test. I’m just not a fan.
(17) Tiz the Law – the Belmont Stakes winner has not flinched in his attempt to capture the Kentucky Derby. He cruised easily in the Travers Stakes just a month ago and has been training well. There is little that I can knock on him. A star in the making.
(18) Authentic – it was nearly a loss late in the Haskell last out as he just held off a fast closing Ny Traffic. Can this son of Into Mischief go a mile and a quarter? And can he take them gate to wire? Not quite sure.
As you can tell, I’m fully on (17) Tiz the Law and team Barclay Tagg & Sackatoga Stables. It should be a dejavu moment under the Twin Spires. I will be using (15) Ny Traffic, (13) Attachment Rate, and (8) South Bend underneath to get some value. But this should be an easy show for the current leader in the clubhouse.
With that, go grab yourself a Mint Julep, a nice seat, and a spot near the TV cause this should be one exciting Kentucky Derby Day!