The Grade 2, $300,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs showcases a field of nine 2-year-olds on the Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. Six of the nine enter the race off efforts in three different stakes for aspiring juveniles, with Grade 1 Champagne Stakes winner Tiz the Law deserving of top billing among that group. Owned by Sackatoga Stable, who campaigned 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, who incidentally was also a New York-bred horse trained by Barclay Tagg, Tiz the Law is undefeated in two starts to date. South Bend won the Street Sense Stakes last month, the local prep for the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Street Sense runner-up Fighting Seabee, third-place finisher Silver Prospector and fourth-place finisher Shotski are all hoping to improve and turn the tables on South Bend to win. Enforceable was last seen finishing third in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity in October and can improve as well. Two Last Words finished third in the Indiana Futurity earlier this month. New Eagle and Finnick the Fierce round out the field, each with a maiden win to their credit.
Tiz the Law was visually impressive winning the Champagne Stakes in October by four lengths. Not only was the margin of victory substantial, the way the horse ran the race suggests he has the physical and mental talent to win many more stakes races in his career. After a slight stumble at the start of the Champagne, Tiz the Law dropped back on his own to race in fifth of six in the early stages, then was a bit hard to handle as he fought jockey Manny Franco while wanting to do more. After relaxing on the backstretch, Tiz the Law had to wait for room to run. When finally angled out for a clear path he drew off without being asked by the jockey to win authoritatively. The 91 Equibase Speed Figure wasn't as high as the 97 figure earned when winning in his debut in August, but it was good nonetheless. With improvement past the debut effort possible, Tiz the Law could earn a higher figure than the 99 South Bend earned winning the Street Sense Stakes at the end of October. Having put in a strong workout before leaving trainer Tagg's home base at Belmont Park last week and with jockey Franco riding once again, Tiz the Law appears to be the top contender in this year's Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.
Among the horses coming out of the Street Sense Stakes run on Oct. 27 at Churchill Downs, I prefer Silver Prospector just a bit more than winner South Bend or runner-up Fighting Seabee. The reason for this preference is Silver Prospector had to battle head and head for the lead from the point the gate opened, then put away his rival to gain a half-length advantage with an eighth of a mile to go, before succumbing to the late charges of South Bend and Fighting Seabee and ending up a half-length behind the latter. The 96 speed figure was a career best and his pattern of improving figures suggests even better is likely forthcoming in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Additionally, there doesn't appear to be another horse who may want the early lead in this race and as such, Silver Prospector could have an easy early lead and play "come catch me" with the field, perhaps successfully.
Fighting Seabee was making his first start on dirt in the Street Sense following three races on turf to start his career. He was seventh in the early stages and really didn't do much running until the final sixteenth of a mile when he rallied from fifth to second, beaten just one length by South Bend, who was already in high gear. Having improved from a 73 figure in his debut to 80, then 82 and finally to 97 last time out, it is logical to assume Fighting Seabee will take another step forward in the Kentucky Jockey Club and if a little bit closer to the early pace than he was in the Street Sense, he can win.
South Bend isn't vulnerable as the likely first or second betting choice in the race and as a horse that's undefeated in three races he has to be taken very seriously as a win contender. The 99 figure earned in the Street Sense is the best earned by any horse in the field and can be improved upon. However, taking a contrarian position, South Bend is running around two turns for the first time in his career, the same as Tiz the Law, whereas five of the other eight entrants have experience in a two-turn race. In the Street Sense, South Bend got somewhat of a dream trip as he saved ground the whole way and easily found a seam in the stretch to run through. As such, I will consider him for exotic wagers made involving this race such as the exacta but I will be rooting for one of the other three previously mentioned contenders to win.
The rest of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Enforceable (90), Finnick the Fierce (84), New Eagle (82), Shotski (95) and Two Last Words (91).
Tiz the Law