Kentucky Derby entry Tiz the Law gets a bath following a workout at Churchill Downs, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. The 146th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 5. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Kentucky Derby entry Tiz the Law gets a bath following a workout at Churchill Downs, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. The 146th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 5. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)|Darron Cummings | associated Press
Thoroughbreds

Handicapping the Kentucky Derby, part 2

There are reasons to think that Tiz the Law may be vulnerable

Chris Garrity

*** Miss Part 1? You can read it here ***

In 2009, Mine that Bird Came into the Kentucky Derby with a career-best Best Beyer Speed Figure of 81. This is ordinary; 2-year-olds run that fast. Mine That Bird won the Derby, of course, at 50-1 odds, and earned a career-best 105 Beyer in the process. This is an improvement of roughly 15 lengths, a massive step forward in a short period of time.

While this is an extreme example, horses somewhat regularly make these kinds of big jumps in the spring of their 3-year-old seasons. These are rapidly developing animals, both physically and mentally, and they can take enormous strides forward in what seems like the blink of an eye. Identifying this kind of improving horse, and cashing when he wins a race at a giant price, is like catching lightning in a bottle, a handicapping moment to be truly savored.

In the last segment, we looked at how the fact that this years’ Run for the Roses in September makes this kind of speed figure jump much less likely than when the race is in early May. How, then, should that affect how we handicap This year’s race?

We’ll start with one very obvious but very important point: in his last race, odds-on favorite Tiz the Law won the Travers Stakes in very fast time, earning a 109 Beyer figure. If he runs back to that number, he will win on Saturday. None of the other colts in the race has come close to that fast, and if Tiz brings his A game, then the rest of the field is running strictly for second money.

But there are reasons to think that Tiz the Law may be vulnerable. He had an absolutely perfect trip in the Travers, in terms of both pace and avoiding traffic trouble, but there were only seven horses in that race, and it is going to be much more difficult for Tiz to get that kind of dream trip in a field of 16. While his running style, in particular his tactical speed and his preference for pressing the pace, often results in a good trip -- put simply, he earns them, rather than lucking into them -- it is not at all far-fetched to see him having a much more difficult time at Churchill Downs on Saturday than he had at Saratoga a month ago. He may be good enough to overcome going four or five wide around the first turn, but that could also be the kind of thing that leaves Tiz the Law short at the end of the race.

He could also bounce. While we generally dislike the bounce theory, which states that horses have a tendency to regress (run much slower) after a fast race, Tiz the Law did run the best race of his life, so far, at least, in the Travers, and it would not be the first time a horse bounced after a career top. We trust Barclay Tagg, Tiz the Law’s trainer, who’s one of the best of the game, and while we think that Tiz will be ready to run on Saturday, the possibility of a bounce may enough to give one pause about backing him at such a short price.

If Tiz the Law does regress, which of the other horses might be able to step up and take advantage? We’ll start with the ones who will not: Finnick the Fierce, Enforceable, Storm the Court, Major Fed, Mr. Big News, Necker Island, and Winning Impression are all too slow; we’ve marked them all non-contenders, and are quite comfortable tossing them from win consideration.

That leaves ten other colts: Max Player, Money Moves, South Bend, Thousand Words, Sole Volante, Attachment Rate, NY Traffic, Honor A.P., and Authentic are all contenders, at least based on speed figures. Any one of them will have to improve to have a chance to win, but the kind of improvement required is within the realm of possibility.

Will one of them manage to beat Tiz the Law? Or are we headed for the first odds-on winner of the Kentucky Derby in a generation, since Spectacular Bid paid $3.20 winning in 1979?

That is going to be determined by how the race is run. In the next installment, we’ll take a look at how we expect the race to develop, and how this will determine who will win the 146th Kentucky Derby.

*** Miss Part 1? You can read it here ***

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