Kentucky Derby Futures: Prep Season Ends, September Approaches

Tiz the Law (center) takes command at the top of the stretch en route to a commanding 5 ½-length score in the Aug. 8 Travers Stakes. (Elsa Lorieul/NYRA Photo)

After several months of upheaval and major schedule adjustments, the 146thKentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is less than a month away, and Churchill Downs’ revised Road to the Kentucky Derby prep season concludes on Saturday, Aug. 15, with a final qualifying race at Monmouth Park.

In this unprecedented year, a Triple Crown race is already in the books, the Wood Memorial was canceled, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes was held in July, and the prestigious Runhappy Travers Stakes was elevated into a key prep that gave prospective Kentucky Derby horses the opportunity to try the classic mile-and-a-quarter distance before the run for the roses.

Starting last fall, the bookmakers at William Hill have offered fixed-odds future wagers on Kentucky Derby 146, and they are making final adjustments with 3 ½ weeks to go even as work begins on preparing a future book for the 147th Derby, hopefully to be run on the first Saturday in May 2021.

In addition to the Vegas futures, Churchill Downs conducted its final Derby Future Wager pool from Aug. 7-9. Tiz the Law led all individual horses at odds of even money when the pool closed, with Art Collector and Honor A. P. tied for second at 8-1.

Aug. 10 William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the 2020 Kentucky Derby:

1) Tiz the Law (6-5)

2) Art Collector (7-2)

3) Honor A. P. (8-1)

4) Authentic (10-1)

5) Thousand Words (12-1)

Complete William Hill Odds for the 2020 Kentucky Derby

Notable Changes: Tiz the Law cemented his status as the Kentucky Derby favorite when he dominated the Aug. 8 Runhappy Travers by 5 ½ lengths. The speed figures all came back excellent and he aced the eye test too, at least from this vantage point. Once Tiz the Law drew clear in early stretch, he angled out momentarily under rider Manny Franco’s urging, but when straightened up, he kicked into a higher gear and powered through the final sixteenth of a mile even after his rider eased off. There aren’t any apparent chinks in his armor, and barring any setback he should be set to atone for his only career loss when he returns to Churchill several days prior to the Derby. Last fall, he finished third behind Silver Prospector and Finnick the Fierce (175-1 in William Hill’s book) in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, losing by three quarters of a length. He had a less-than-ideal trip in the Kentucky Jockey Club over a sloppy track, and in his races since Franco has kept him to the outside of horses and rated him well. Anything can happen in an outsized Kentucky Derby field, but if Tiz the Law gets the trip he’s managed in his four overpowering 2020 wins, he’ll be very tough to defeat. His current William Hill odds of 6-5 should be very close to his post-time odds on Derby day.

Art Collector (Coady Photography)

Art Collector also tallied his fourth win without a defeat this year, leading throughout to win the Ellis Park Derby by 3 ¼ lengths on Aug. 9. He was also geared down late by jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. after rebuffing a very brief challenge from Attachment Rate (75-1 via William Hill) at the top of the Ellis Park stretch. This horse has shown improvement in each race since starting the year with trainer Thomas Drury Jr. and he also has the local-angle advantage, being based in the Louisville area and having won three of four starts at Churchill Downs. Still, his odds of 7-2 on William Hill’s Aug. 10 sheet are a bit low compared with where I think he’ll be come post time on Sept. 5 – in my opinion, I peg him more along the lines of 6-1. In his three route races this year, Art Collector has either set the pace (twice) or set just off of it (in his Toyota Blue Grass win), and that running style should benefit him in a Kentucky Derby field that, as it stands, lacks much early speed aside from Haskell Stakes winner Authentic.

Thousand Words upset Honor A. P. in the Aug. 1 Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar, but the latter remains favored in the Derby by both William Hill and Churchill Downs, and he should be. John Shirreffs’ charge was getting to pacesetter Thousand Words at the finish of the 1 1/16-mile Shared Belief and has the pedigree to handle the Kentucky Derby’s mile and a quarter. His 8-1 odds via William Hill and Churchill Downs’ parimutuel pool seem aligned with where he’ll be at post time. Thousand Words, on the other hand, may go off at higher than the 12-1 offered by William Hill. In his two starts at 1 1/8 miles earlier this year, he finished 11th in the Oaklawn Stakes (although breaking poorly from an outside post on a sloppy track) and second by four lengths to Uncle Chuck in the Los Alamitos Derby. Plus, he has a sprinter’s pedigree on his dam’s side.

King Guillermo (Coady Photography)

Upset Chances? At this late stage, making a longshot Kentucky Derby future bet among the group of horses still offered by William Hill requires formulating a series of unlikely scenarios in the hopes that, one by one, they come to pass. First of all, several remaining future-book horses are probably going to skip the Kentucky Derby as of this writing, including a handful that currently sit on the top 20 leaderboard in terms of qualifying points. Of the ones that are still targeting the Derby, I will make a case for two contenders – one of them with an outside chance of posting the upset, and one with an infinitesimal chance.

King Guillermo is currently offered at 22-1 odds by William Hill and has been stabled at Churchill Downs for weeks as he trains up to the Derby. The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner hasn’t been seen since finishing a solid second to Nadal in the second division of the Arkansas Derby on May 2. That seems long, long ago both in the world of horse racing and the world at large, but it’s worth remembering that Nadal was right up there with Tiz the Law following his Arkansas Derby win at the top of most Kentucky Derby contenders lists. Trainer Juan Avila is definitely taking an unorthodox approach by keeping King Guillermo sidelined for four months, making this colt a true Derby wild card. And he may actually go off at slightly lower odds than 22-1 on Derby day if he impresses what few onlookers are allowed on Churchill Downs’ backside over the next three weeks and generates some buzz.

Pneumatic, last seen running fourth behind Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on June 20, is targeting Saturday’s final Kentucky Derby points prep, the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park. The Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred son of Uncle Mo was a fast-rising contender on the delayed Kentucky Derby trail after posting back-to-back wins at Oaklawn Park to start his career, but lost momentum after finishing third in the Matt Winn Stakes and fourth in the Belmont. Pneumatic was competitive in both of those races, and briefly loomed a threat to at least finish second to Tiz the Law in the Belmont before he tired in deep stretch. Let’s be honest, for this colt to win the Derby, several things would have to happen. First, he’d have to win the Pegasus Stakes on Saturday to earn the 20 qualifying points he needs to move into the top 20 rankings. Second, he’d have to come out of the race in good enough shape for trainer Steve Asmussen to wheel him back to the Derby on three weeks rest. Third, he’d have to show significant improvement in the Pegasus (he’s been training steadily at Saratoga) and then even more improvement come Derby day to have the remotest of chances at winning. But even if he did, that would only happen if Tiz the Law, Art Collector, and two or three other contenders regressed in the Derby – collectively. Does this sequence of events seem likely? Of course it doesn’t, and that’s why Pneumatic is offered at 125-1 odds by William Hill. But if you’re of a mind to make a Derby future bet at this stage of the game, you might as well swing for the fences.

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