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Kentucky Derby Trail Tracker: Kentucky Jockey Club Kicks Off Post-Breeders’ Cup Road

Kentucky Derby Trail Tracker: Kentucky Jockey Club Kicks Off Post-Breeders’ Cup Road

The bombs that blew up the tote in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) created a thick post-apocalyptic haze making it hard to even see the on-ramp for the Road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby.

The board that day read 46/1 over 28/1 over 39/1. If you didn’t shake your head in amazement after that unreal sight, then you’re not gambling on this game. It was unreal. It also makes bettors want to bet with both fists along the winding, bumpy road to Louisville on the first Saturday of May.

The Derby trail always provides big-time opportunities – if you’re following it closely. Unpredictable results like the Juvenile happen often enough with horses who are still learning what they’re doing; they can improve leaps and bounds from one start to the next. Capitalizing on these trends along the Derby trail is the key to cashing tickets.

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After the 9/10 heavy favorite Dennis’ Moment stumbled badly from the gate, the door was left wide open for longshot Storm the Court‘s gate-to-wire win. The turf-to-dirt runner Anneau D’or and the multiple graded stakes-placed Wrecking Crew followed close behind, resulting in a $1,965.25 trifecta payout on just a $0.50 bet.

Two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert’s top charge Eight Rings, the 3/2 second choice, faded when the real running started. Others, like the fourth-place finisher Scabbard, had to deal with kick-back pellets that were tough to fight through over the deep track.

Let’s turn the page and get ready to make some money betting this next series of races. There are opportunities if you’re smart, so let’s begin laying the foundation for our path to Louisville.

Storm the Court only beat Anneau d’Or by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Photo: Ernie Belmonte)

Starting at the Finish Line

Let’s begin where it’ll all end in six months, at Churchill Downs, where they’ll run the $300,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) this Saturday, where the Champagne Stakes (G1) winner Tiz the Law (pictured above) will try to make everything right in the Derby world.

It’s come to this: restoring order falls on the shoulders of a New York-bred.

It reminds me of 2003 when another New Yorker, Funny Cide, ran well enough to win the first two legs of that year’s Triple Crown. How fitting that the Empire State legend’s same ownership group – Sackatoga Stable – is back on the scene, this time with Tiz the Law.

If the son of red-hot freshman stallion Constitution takes down the KJC under the Twin Spires, he might not only be crowned the Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Male – he will also likely be the Derby winter book favorite. If that happens, then the choice to skip the Breeders’ Cup will have had paid off for Sackatoga Stable and trainer Barclay Tagg, who also trained Funny Cide. Out of a Tiznow mare, Tiz the Law has the distance pedigree to handle stretching out to 1 1/16 miles while making his first trip around two turns.

Tiz the Law showed guts in the Champagne, getting bottled up early before erupting down the lane to win the one-turn mile at Belmont Park in October. Prior to that, he won his debut by 4 1/4 lengths under wraps while going 6 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga in early August. His final work for the KJC was a bullet 5-furlong work (best of 11), going :59.60 over Belmont Park’s main track last Saturday.

“There’s a lot that goes on between now and next week, but everything is good right now,” Tagg said. “He’s an awfully nice colt. He’s interested in life, but he’s not silly. He’s all business.”

The Contenders

The undefeated Tiz The Law will have to bring his top race to Kentucky if he hopes to defeat a deep field led by the regally-bred Enforceable.

After breaking his maiden in his fourth career start at Saratoga on August 22, the Mark Casse-trained Enforceable returned with a workmanlike third in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), where he sat mid-pack early and made a good move with the eventual winner, Maxfield. Enforceable couldn’t keep up with Maxfield’s huge move that day, but he did show interest in the lane while chasing down a top Derby trail prospect in Gouverneur Morris. Words from Casse’s top assistant David Carroll are telling.

 “I think his experience going a route of ground will help him for the race,” Carroll said. “He’s a nice 2-year-old and probably still figuring things out in the afternoon. With Tapit in his bloodline, sometimes his young horses still need a little bit of schooling. He’s a very kind horse to ride in the morning, but sometimes that changes in the afternoon. I thought his work last weekend (5 furlongs in 1:00.80 at Churchill Downs) was very strong and will set him up well for the Jockey Club. He’ll need to step his game up in the afternoon, but he’s on the way to figuring things out.”

If family bloodlines are any indication, then Enforceable should have a strong Derby trail presence. Along with being a full brother to multiple graded stakes winner Mohaymen and graded stakes winner Kingly, he’s also a half-brother to the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner New Year’s Day. The latter sired Maximum Security, the original winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby.

In other Derby trail news, Maxfield (seen here winning the Breeders’ Futurity) recently had a bone chip removed, which will keep him out for 60 days (Photo: Keeneland)

The KJC awards Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale, so field sizes often run high. Others likely for the race include American Butterfly (trainer D. Wayne Lukas) Fighting Seabee (Kenny McPeek), South Bend (Stan Hough), Mr. Tip (Jack Sisterson), and Sir Winsalot (McPeek).

American Butterfly, the Breeders’ Futurity pacesetter, may ensure some honest fractions up front. Fighting Seabee moved from turf to dirt last out in the Street Sense Stakes and finished behind only South Bend, who is now undefeated in three lifetime starts. Two of South Bend’s wins, including the Street Sense, have come over the local strip. Mr. Tip broke his maiden over the Arlington synthetic surface before just missing by a 1/2-length over the Churchill Downs main track last out.

McPeek’s other trainee, Sir Winsalot, scratched out of last Saturday’s $100,000 Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs to try this tougher spot. I always like when a trainer shows this kind of confidence, and McPeek is known for hitting the board with longshots, so I’m going to try starting my Derby trail with a bomb. Sir Winsalot won by 5 3/4 lengths over a sloppy off-turf allowance at Keeneland last out, so maybe he’s just a mud lover, or maybe he’s a threat at a huge price.

It should be noted that Baffert will not ship Thousand Words to Churchill for the KJC, as had been rumored last week. Instead, Baffert will point Thousand Words to the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) next Saturday, December 7.

Others to Watch Thanksgiving Weekend

When talking about Derby horses and what’s coming up this weekend, one horse that I want to see on Saturday will run a mile at Gulfstream Park in the $75,000 Smooth Air Stakes. I went by this horse’s stall all the time at Saratoga after he joined the Todd Pletcher barn. I remember hearing that the half-brother of the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome was with Pletcher and that he cost $1.1 million. I’ve been keeping track of Fort McHenry since before he even had a registered name, but I knew that he’d get a lot of attention.

Fort McHenry at the Pletcher barn in May (Photo: Michael Spector)

He debuted in the opening race of the Alabama Stakes (G1) undercard on August 17 at Saratoga, and it was a spectacle. A son of Tapit out of the Not For Love mare Love the Chase, Fort McHenry acted up like a jokester in the paddock, neighing at other horses and announcing his presence.

He was even unprofessional during warm-ups, but when the gates opened, he busted out of the gate on top. He attended the pace, but when he hit the turn, he was gased. His snickering paddock antics appeared to catch up to him. Pletcher’s top assistant Tristan Barry could only shake his head, as though he knew the colt would behave so greenly on debut.

Fort McHenry gave jockey Jose Ortiz all he could handle even before his debut at Saratoga (Photo: Michael Spector)

Fort McHenry continued to train at Saratoga, but in early September, he shipped down to Gulfstream Park West, where his next start showed that he may have something. After sitting tucked in early behind three others, Fort McHenry went after the leader in the far turn but was turned away. Though he wandered about at the top of the lane, he finally showed interest in deep stretch and almost caught a loose-on-the-lead Gemo, ultimately losing by only 3/4 of a length.

Fort McHenry put it all together on November 2 at Gulfstream Park West in his third lifetime start. Going a two-turn mile, Fort McHenry cut the corner early and got into contention as the even-money favorite. Jockey Edgard Zayas didn’t fight his headstrong steed when he wanted the lead on the backside, where he made a bold early move like he was Abel Tasman. He took the lead easily and never looked back, winning by 5 1/2 lengths.

Pletcher will wheel him back in the Smooth Air this Saturday, to the rejoicing excitement of Chromies everywhere; their main heartthrob sold to Japanese interests last week and will spend his future stud services overseas. Perhaps Fort McHenry can prove to be the real deal this weekend. Pletcher thinks so, having recently compared his career so far to that of another Pletcher pupil: the 2017 Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit.

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The holiday weekend will be full of great juvenile racing across the country, and you never know when you’ll see the next star. Saturday’s Churchill Downs card has slated all juvenile races on the annual “Stars of Tomorrow II” card, including Wayne O, the horse in which I own 0.01% along with Wayne O will move to allowance company after breaking his maiden at Keeneland last out.

I have never had any stake in a horse until Curtis “Magic” Kalleward convinced me to join him as a co-owner. Wayne O is a half-brother of the 2018 Alcibiades Stakes (G1) winner Restless Rider, a filly I’ve always liked, so I bought in. Here’s to all of the other MyRacehorse people out there rooting for Wayne O to win another on Saturday!

The Road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby is just beginning to take shape. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim as we make our first steps along the Derby trail and beyond!

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