Suggesting that Tiz the Law is the prohibitive favorite in Saturday’s 146th running of the Kentucky Derby is a point well taken. There’s no such thing as a “sure thing” in horse racing, but most horse players understand why the year’s most dominant horse is such a heavy favorite in Tuesday’s morning lines.
Can Tiz the Law be beaten? A point worth giving is to examine overwhelming 2001 Derby favorite Point Given.
Point Given was sired by a Derby winner, won three Grade 1 races going in and looked by far the best in each. He had the speed figures, the breeding, the connections and was a big horse who it seemed would improve running a longer distance. But Point Given, at 9/5 odds, would only finish fifth, coming up empty in the stretch. No Derby horse has had shorter odds since.
With the scratch of Art Collector, who looked to be the No. 2 betting favorite, Tiz The Law’s morning line odds are set at 3/5. Those are the shortest odds in the Derby since Spectacular Bid won at the same 3/5 in 1978.
Sept. 4 update: Both King Guillermo and Finnick the Fierce have scratched. That leaves the first 16-horse Derby field since Funny Cide (trained by Tiz the Law’s trainer, Barclay Tagg) won in 2003.
Betting the Kentucky Derby in Pennsylvania
Television coverage of the 2020 Kentucky Derby and its full day of racing will run 2:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, on NBC. Post time for the race is set for 6:50 p.m. It is Race 13 on the day’s 14-race card. No fans will be admitted.
On Tuesday, it was determined that Tiz the Law will break from post 17 in an 18-horse field. As many pointed out on Twitter, it’s the only post position from which no horse has ever won the Derby — indeed a fitting narrative for 2020. Also fitting were more scratches to bring the field to 16.
Bettors in Pennsylvania can wager on the Derby at a number of retail sportsbooks and off-track betting parlors (OTBs) around the state. Also, conveniently, online horse betting is available at FanDuel Racing and PABets.
Kentucky Derby 2020 odds
|Post||Horse||Jockey||Odds Sept. 5|
|1||Finnick the Fierce (SCRATCHED)||M. Garcia||50-1|
|2||Max Player||R. Santana Jr.||30-1|
|4||Storm the Court||J. Leparoux||50-1|
|5||Major Fed||J. Graham||50-1|
|6||King Guillermo (SCRATCHED)||S. Camacho||20-1|
|7||Money Moves||J. Castellano||30-1|
|8||South Bend||T. Gaffalione||50-1|
|9||Mr. Big News||G. Saez||50-1|
|10||Thousand Words||F. Geroux||15-1|
|11||Necker Island||M. Mena||50-1|
|12||Sole Volante||L. Panici||30-1|
|13||Attachment Rate||J. Talamo||50-1|
|14||Winning Impression||J. Rocco Jr.||50-1|
|15||Ny Traffic||P. Lopez||20-1|
|16||Honor A. P.||M. Smith||5-1|
|17||Tiz the Law||M. Franco||5-8|
Everybody loves a winner
So, why is Tiz the Law such a heavy favorite in such a large-field race?
Tiz the Law is 4-for-4 in 2020, with three Grade 1 wins, including the Travers and the Belmont, winning each by at least three lengths. Tiz the Law looked great in the Travers and sprung to a 109 Beyer Speed Figure (tops in Saturday’s field), or about four lengths better than other contenders. He is 6-0-1 in seven lifetime starts.
Friday, XpressBet issued its Derby preview, and all 10 of its prognosticators chose Tiz the Law to win.
What could go wrong?
Most horse players would first suggest a bad trip — not as in a stumble out of the gate, but when a horse has to negotiate a field of 17 other entries, the horse could become compromised based on tactics used by the competing jockeys.
Many past favorites have been checked and steadied going into the first turn when the outside horses try to get into position. Sometimes horses in those outside posts get caught six or seven horses wide in that first turn and then generally are doomed.
Tiz the Law has good tactical speed, so he and jockey Manny Franco (0-2 lifetime Derby record) can probably avoid the worst of trips that occur when stuck behind a lot of horses.
Pace and speed
Pace is the other key factor. Tiz the Law is classified as a horse who presses (or runs just behind the front-runners until the final stretch). Authentic is assumed to gun for the early lead in the race.
Ny Traffic is also a press horse. Midpack runners include Thousand Words, Honor A.P., Storm the Court, Necker Island, Attachment Rate and late entrants Money Moves In and Mr. Big News.
The closers are Max Player, Winning Impression, Sole Volante, Major Fed, Enforceable and late entry South Bend. A deep closer has not won since 2013 (Orb, on a sloppy track).
Horses entered with at least one triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure include Tiz the Law (109), Thousand Words (104), Honor A.P. (102), Authentic (101) and Ny Traffic (101).
Surface and strategy on Derby Day
Check the weather and track conditions. A wet, sealed track almost always favors front-running horses, potentially creating a tougher scenario for Tiz the Law.
When jockeys (and Franco has taken all but one Tiz the Law mount) become very confident in their horses, they often steer wide of other horses and willingly give up ground. They also assume that the horse will immediately answer when asked for their best near the close.
If Franco gives up ground and waits too long before going after the leaders, he might leave Law too much to do against a front-runner who is aided by the sealed track. Be mindful that post positions likely will play a key factor in determining jockey strategy, so do your homework.
That sloppy, losing day at Churchill
Tiz the Law has defeated four other Derby entrants, including Max Player twice. His lone loss came Nov. 30 on the Churchill Downs dirt (it’s the only race he’s run on a sloppy track) when he placed third behind second-place Finnick the Fierce in a 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 race, Tiz’s third career start. The speed figure for Finnick (two career wins) in that race and for his career are sizably less than the top contenders. Finnick opened at odds of 50/1 but has since scratched due to a health concern.
Tiz the Law trainer Barclay Tagg said last week of the Nov. 30 race that he thought his horse handled the surface well and “had a hind leg slip coming out of the gate (post position 3) and he lost momentum and was boxed in all the way around.” Tagg is 1 for 5 lifetime in the Derby, winning in 2003 with Funny Cide. He hasn’t entered a horse in the Run for the Roses since 2008.
At press time, the weather looks clear for Saturday: partly cloudy, low 80s and just a 10% chance of rain.
COVID-19-induced jockey musical chairs
Many of the leading riders won’t be there Saturday. Flavien Prat, Joel Rosario and Victor Espinoza are among those who have Derby wins but chose not to meet the track’s rules to arrive early enough to quarantine before race day. (Instead, they took mounts the past two weeks at other tracks to further their earnings).
They, along with top names who have yet to win the Derby, such as Irad Ortiz Jr. and Jose Ortiz, currently are not slated to ride despite having ridden on many of Saturday’s horses during the Derby prep season.
In fact, 14 of this year’s 16 jockeys will be gunning for their first Derby win. Two-time Derby winners John Velazquez (Authentic) and Mike Smith (Honor A.P.) are the only Derby-winning riders with mounts.
Doesn’t Bob Baffert always win the Kentucky Derby?
Baffert is one Derby win from tying the all-time record set by Ben Jones (from 1938 to 1952). Baffert is 5-3-3 all-time with 32 Derby starters. Saturday, he starts Authentic and Thousand Words. Several of his top contenders from the spring were injured.
Max Player (2-1-2 in 5 starts) placed third in the Belmont and the Travers. Two weeks ago, the horse switched barns and now is trained by Steve Asmussen (0 for 20, two seconds in Derby). Max Player will be ridden for the first time by Ricardo Santana (0 for 5 in Derby).
California-based track followers were raving about Honor A.P.’s last workout from over the weekend.
The latest addition to the field, South Bend, is trained by Bill Mott. Mott is 1 for 10 in the Derby after winning last year with long shot Country House in an unconventional finish.
Horse for the course
Eight entrants have raced at Churchill Downs, but only one has won on the dirt there. Necker Island has two wins in four starts.
You like big long shots?
The favorite has won the Kentucky Derby in six of the last seven years (the exception being Country House at 65/1 odds in 2019, when a rare disqualification was called on apparent winner Maximum Security for drifting not far from the finish line).
Winning Impression appears greatly outmatched, but his trainer, Dallas Stewart, has a knack for finishing in the top four in big races when no one expects it. Twice, Stewart’s horses have placed second: Golden Soul was 34-1 odds in 2013 and Commanding Curve was 37-1 in 2014.
The University of Louisville football stadium is visible from the seats at Churchill Downs. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson wore No. 8 for the Cardinals.
Lead image credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig