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When it comes to the 2020 Kentucky Derby (G1), no saying is more accurate than the old adage “Better late than never.”
We’ve waited four extra months for America’s biggest horse this year, thanks to a pandemic that turned the world upside down, but the day has finally come. Horse racing stood strong through it all, so holding this event on the first Saturday in September is a true cause for celebration, even if it happens at home.
A field of 18 colts will enter the gate Saturday with plenty on the line, starting with the heavy 3/5 favorite. Tiz the Law rides a 4-race win streak into the contest that includes a career-best effort last time out when he romped in the Travers Stakes (G1). The New York-bred also won the Belmont Stakes (G1) impressively and has become one of the most popular runners in the state’s history. A win here will push him one step closer to immortality and put the shot at a Triple Crown squarely in his sights. He drew post 17 for this race and will have regular rider Manny Franco aboard.
Three horses have shipped in from California with a chance to win, but the standout from that trio is Honor A. P., who might be the favorite’s biggest threat. He easily captured the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in stylish fashion 2 starts back, but he lost his most recent start, finishing second in the Shared Belief Stakes behind fellow California shipper Thousand Words. Regular jockey Mike Smith will ride Honor A. P. out of post 10.
Joining Thousand Words for the cross-country trek was his Bob Baffert stablemate Authentic, last seen winning the Haskell Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park. The Into Mischief colt has just a single loss on his resume, coming 2 starts back in the Santa Anita Derby. The likely pacesetter, he will break from post 18 with John Velazquez in the saddle.
The full field from the rail out: Finnick the Fierce, Max Player, Enforceable, Storm the Court, Major Fed, King Guillermo, Money Moves, South Bend, Mr. Big News, Thousand Words, Necker Island, Sole Volante, Attachment Rate, Winning Impression, Ny Traffic, Honor A. P., Tiz the Law, and Authentic.
#17 Tiz the Law – After his breathtaking Travers victory, he’ll likely go off as one of the shortest-priced Kentucky Derby favorites ever. He went from good to great with that score while giving easily the best effort of his career. He comes to Churchill Downs with a legitimate shot to win the Triple Crown and should leave with his eyes set on making history in the Preakness Stakes (G1) if he brings his usual effort.
#16 Honor A. P. – The knee-jerk reaction from his Shared Belief runner-up effort would be to panic, but this horse wants to run longer. He ran into a horse who earned a career-best Beyer for the upset, and Honor A. P. was still gaining late in the stretch. It’s not ideal to lose your final prep race, which is a cause for concern, but he’s still a top contender on the first Saturday in September – especially after his fantastic recent works at Del Mar leading up to this race.
#10 Thousand Words – It’s been a strange year for this colt. He was a prime contender to win this race early in the year, but he completely fell off form in the middle of the year. He seems to have come back around lately, though, and earned a 104 Beyer for his Shared Belief victory – the second-highest of anyone pointing for the Kentucky Derby (Tiz the Law earned a 109 in the Travers). This once-forgotten 3-year-old is back to being a logical contender.
#15 Ny Traffic – This classic grinder has a running style that should fit pretty well into this year’s pace projection. The distance shouldn’t bother him much, and we’ve seen him hit the board in several big races this season. He’s not flashy, but he could be effective here, especially if the front-runners get tired in the stretch – and they usually do.
#6 King Guillermo – This is the mystery horse who is getting plenty of “wise guy” hype after several solid workouts at Churchill Downs. He has talent, but it’s hard to back him very strongly; we haven’t seen him since a runner-up Arkansas Derby (G1) effort in May. We have no idea how he’s progressed since that race, and that makes him impossible to handicap.
#18 Authentic – As far as overall talent is concerned, this horse matches right up there with anyone, but the distance will be a major concern. His 2 worst races came when going 1 1/8 miles, and this race’s extra 1/8 of a mile will likely do him no favors – especially if he sets a hot, contested pace. If he does get away with an easy early lead, then he becomes dangerous, and that makes him mildly interesting.
#2 Max Player – He is a hit the board candidate, but his former trainer said that he was pretty tired after he finished third in the Travers and implied that she did not want to run him back in this spot. The owners disagreed and sent him to new trainer Steve Asmussen just to run for the roses. Based on that, you have to be skeptical that he can run his best here.
#12 Sole Volante – He was an interesting prospect at one time, but we haven’t seen him since he finished off the board and was well-beaten in the Belmont. His subsequent absence is concerning and that non-effort was puzzling, but he at least has a shot to hit the board if he fires his best race and the pace falls apart.
#7 Money Moves – Almost unbelievably, this horse made his way into the gate with 0 Kentucky Derby qualifying points. He’s a longshot to make any impact, but he does have early speed, which should help. He’s also more talented than half the field at this point, so with a little luck, he could have a decent showing.
#3 Enforceable – If he can work out a clean trip, then there’s a decent chance that he hits the board, but that’s his ceiling. He’ll be passing tired horses late in the stretch but will need a big pace meltdown in front of him to make an impact in the exotics.
#5 Major Fed – This colt seems to be getting better as we go along and comes into this event off of a solid second-place effort in the Indiana Derby (G3), while his workouts have been strong coming into the race. Still, he has to improve quite a bit from a speed figure standpoint to have a shot.
#13 Attachment Rate – This horse has faced some tough competition all year long and at times held his own fairly well. Last time out, he ran the best race of his career, finishing second in the Ellis Park Derby, but he still has a long way to go before he can compete with the top horses.
#11 Necker Island – Give this horse credit for running all season long and earning his way into the gate the hard way. He definitely lacks the talent to make an impact here, though, and the distance will likely give him problems.
#4 Storm the Court – It’s hard to believe that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner hasn’t been close to winning a dirt race in 2020. Not only that, no runner from that race has come back to win on American soil. That trend will likely not change in this race.
#1 Finnick the Fierce – He’s had his moments this year, hitting the board (or at least coming close) in some big races, but his recent form hasn’t been great. He’s unlikely to hit the board here.
#14 Winning Impression – There just isn’t much on his resume that makes you think that he has a shot to make an impact. Even his last race was underwhelming; he was a well-beaten seventh in the Ellis Park Derby.
#9 Mr. Big News – This late entry into the race is likely to be nothing more than filler, but you can’t blame his connections for trying. He’ll need a major pace meltdown before we see him making any impact.
#8 South Bend – Here’s another late entry who will take a swing, which at this point, why not? He has very little shot to make an impact, but it’s still fun as an owner to say that you ran a horse in the Kentucky Derby.
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