The long-awaited 146th running of the $3 million, Grade 1 Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs drew 17 horses – and also Tiz the Law, for a total of 18. The reason Tiz the Law is separated from the rest is his body of work this spring and summer has been nothing short of phenomenal. Winning all four races he has run in 2020, Tiz the Law is the only horse in the field to have won at the Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles. That win came in the Runhappy Travers Stakes last month in as workmanlike a fashion as I’ve ever seen.
Looking at the rest of the field, Tiz the Law has already beaten Max Player, Sole Volante and South Bend. Max Player won the Grade 3 Withers Stakes in February but has been beaten by an average of six lengths in two tries vs. Tiz the Law since then. Sole Volante was sixth behind Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in June but he did win the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes in February and is one of just a few in the field with breeding to run the 10-furlong trip successfully. South Bend was a late entrant into this race after some withdrawals earlier in the week. His last win came last October at Churchill Downs in the Street Sense Stakes, but he’s winless in nine races since then. Authentic and Ny Traffic are likely to offer bettors who want to find potential value just that. Authentic recently won the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes by a nose over Ny Traffic. Prior to that, Honor A. P. beat Authentic in the Grade 1 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, before Honor A. P. was himself beaten by Thousand Words in the Shared Belief Stakes last month at Del Mar. Attachment Rate is another horse who has been doing okay at the graded stakes level, particularly when second behind Art Collector (who was not entered due to a slight injury this week) in the Runhappy Ellis Park Derby last month. Money Moves has never run in a stakes race but he’s a very lightly raced colt coming into the race off a career-best effort and has the breeding to run this far. Necker Island third in the Ellis Park Derby, the same position he finished in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby prior to that. Major Fed was the runner-up in the Indiana Derby, the same position he finished in a division of the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford in February. Storm the Court, who posted the 45.90-1 upset last fall in the Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, moves back to dirt after a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 La Jolla Handicap and may be able be competitive in this situation. Enforceable, Mr. Big News and Winning Impression round out the field, the first two entering off a non-threatening fourth- and sixth-place finishes, respectively, in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and the latter off a seventh-place effort in the Ellis Park Derby.
It is very difficult to envision Tiz the Law not winning this year’s Kentucky Derby. In normal years when the Derby is run in May, there may be a number of horses who are on patterns of improvement enough to give the likely favorite a run for his money. That is not the case this year, as Tiz the Law has run consistently fast in all four starts since making his first start as a 3-year-old in February. Starting with the Holy Bull Stakes, Tiz the Law earned a 117 Equibase Speed Figure, which is unheard of for a 3-year-old in the winter. Nearly two months later, the colt put on another display to win the Curlin Florida Derby with a 112 figure, then nearly two months later he ran similarly well with a 113 figure as he dominated the field by nearly four lengths in the Belmont Stakes. Running the mile and a quarter distance of the Derby last month in the Travers Stakes, Tiz the Law was even more impressive, making a move on the turn to go from third to first by a half-length, then asserting himself to win by 5 ½ lengths as he was eased up in the final yards having done the job and still saving something for this race. That effort earned a 115 figure. This is an incredibly gifted equine athlete who wants to win and can back up the desire with immense talent. He’s also seasoned, having beaten 29 different horses in his four starts this year. He’s likely to be stalking likely early leader Authentic and a couple of others going into the far turn, and when jockey Manny Franco asks Tiz the Law for his usual burst of speed, it is unlikely any horse will have any response worthy of challenging the colt in the last eighth of a mile.
That being said, there are horses who can run well – some very well – and who appear to have a better probability to finish second than may be indicated by their high morning-line odds. In the unlikely event Tiz the Law falters, one of these horses can post the upset win. Ny Traffic is the first of that group. The first time he stretched out to two turns, in January and in his fifth career start, Ny Traffic won impressively by 6 ¾ lengths. Following that the colt finished third in a division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, second in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, second in the Matt Winn Stakes, and second in the Haskell Stakes. His Haskell effort yielded a career-best 109 Equibase Speed Figure and showed he might enjoy the mile and a quarter distance in the Derby even more than the mile and one-eighth distance of the Haskell, where he was gaining ground on winner Authentic with every stride at the end. In the Haskell, Authentic was drawn inside Ny Traffic in the Haskell, allowing him to get the lead from the start. In the Derby, Authentic is drawn on the far outside, and there are more than a few horses who may try to deny him the lead. If jockey Paco Lopez can put Ny Traffic into a stalking position while not going too wide into the first turn, this colt has a big shot to be second or third at high odds.
Money Moves is the most lightly raced horse in this year’s Derby field, having run just three times. However, he may have the quality to compete favorably in this field. After winning the first two starts of his career in February and March, both around one turn at Gulfstream Park, Money Moves stretched out to 1 1/8 miles at the end of July and faced older and more mature horses at Saratoga. Nevertheless, he showed ability and maturity, rallying to miss winning by a neck with a 109 figure. Housed in the top barn of Todd Pletcher and by top sire Candy Ride, the sire of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Gun Runner, Money Moves is another who figures to be in the middle of the pack early. Any continued improvement off the stakes-quality effort and figure in his last race makes Money Moves another horse that can be in the top three at least.
Sole Volante is one of just a few in this field who should not find the 1 ¼ miles of the Derby beyond his reach. We already know Tiz the Law has handled the trip so there are no concerns there. Before a very poor sixth-place finish behind Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes, Sole Volante was first or second in three straight stakes on dirt, including a powerful effort in the Sam F. Davis Stakes in which he rallied from 15 lengths back to win by 2 ½ lengths at the end. That effort earned a 108 figure, almost as good as the 109 Ny Traffic and Authentic earned in the Haskell, and those two horses should be much lower odds than Sole Volante come post time. I am willing to ignore his poor recent Belmont Stakes effort, particularly since Sole Volante has put in three superb workouts – two at one mile and the last a sizzling five-furlong drill on grass. The reason I think Sole Volante will have the stamina to successfully contest the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles is because his dam (Light Blow), not only is by Kingmambo, who could run all day, but because she produced a horse that lost by a neck in a stakes race the only time he ran a mile and one quarter. On the other hand, Sole Volante likes to come from far back, so navigating past 15 to 17 other runners in the last quarter-mile may be difficult.
Next, there are three more just outside the bubble of what I consider the most likely horse to win (Tiz the Law) and the aforementioned trio who can finish second – Honor A. P., Thousand Words and Authentic. The reason I don't favor these horses for second mostly is because they have taken turns beating each other, with none of the three asserting himself in the process. Added to this point, all three have post positions which could be problematic given that they all have tactical speed. These factors mean that this trio will have to be as lucky as they are good to run well. Honor A. P. has never been worse than second in five races, but he doesn’t have the quick burst like Tiz the Law does and will need horses to come back to him in the late stages to succeed. Beaten by Authentic in the San Felipe Stakes in March with a 101 figure, Honor A. P. turned the tables on Authentic in the Santa Anita Derby with a 105 figure effort, and then was unable to mount the same rally last month in the Shared Belief Stakes, won by Thousand Words, although Honor A. P. did improve slightly to a 106 figure. Thousand Words had won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in February with a career-best 107 figure, then regressed badly when fourth in the San Felipe. Even ignoring his subsequent poor effort over a sloppy track in the Oaklawn Stakes in April, he was no match for Uncle Chuck in the Los Alamitos Derby in July, earning 92 figure. He rebounded to win the Shared Belief with a 107 figure, but that was a race in which Thousand Words led from start to finish, an unlikely scenario in the Derby with need-the-lead type Authentic also in the race. Authentic earned a career-best 109 figure in the Haskell, but that was earned leading from start to finish and it appears likely the colt will have to expend a good deal of energy getting past 17 other horses before the first turn to get the lead he likes. That early effort could be problematic in the last eighth of a mile when stalkers like Tiz the Law, Money Moves and Ny Traffic start to pick up steam, as well as deep closer Sole Volante.
The rest of the Kentucky Derby field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures is: Attachment Rate (99), Enforceable (97), Mr. Big News (96), Major Fed (96), Max Player (105), Necker Island (99), South Bend (103 on turf), Storm the Court (106) and Winning Impression (92).
Tiz The Law
Horses which can finish second and third, having a chance to win if the Tiz the Law does not fire, in preference order:
Honor A. P.