The 146th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs has shifted this year from the usual first Saturday in May to the first Saturday in September. Another abnormality: the Derby is the second leg of the Triple Crown this year, with the Preakness wrapping up the series on the first Saturday in October.
Tiz the Law, winner of the Belmont Stakes, comes in as a massive favorite. Two of the better horses that could have made life uneasy for Tiz have been scratched — Art Collector has a foot injury and King Guillermo came down with a fever Thursday. Finnick the Fierce was also scratched on Friday, reducing the Derby field to 16, its fewest starters since 2003.
Besides Tiz the Law, only Max Player and Sole Volante are running in the second leg after also running in the Belmont. Here are the horses that will be running Saturday (as of Friday):
Here is how I see the horses finishing Saturday at the Derby:
WIN: #17 Tiz the Law
From a talent standpoint, Tiz the Law is as impressive as recent Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify. He’s won six out of seven races, with the only loss coming at Churchill Downs, where he got trapped on the rail during a rainy, sloppy race last November. No horse has ever won the Derby out of the #17 post but that seems like more of an aberration rather than an unfavorable draw.
Tiz has improved tremendously since he was a 2-year-old, and his win at the Travers last month could have been more dominating if he hadn’t eased up at the very end with victory assured (he still won by more than six lengths).
A lot is going to have to go wrong for the Belmont Stakes winner to falter and he should go into the Preakness next month with the hopes of joining an elite group of Triple Crown winners.
PLACE: #2 Max Player
Max Player was assigned to trainer Steve Asmussen from Linda Rice after a third-place finish at the Belmont to prepare for the Kentucky Derby. Owner George Hall says he was proud of his horse’s finishes at both the Belmont and Travers this year, mentioning how “there’s no shame in losing to Tiz the Law.”
The Travers is the same distance as the Kentucky Derby so he does have experience running the mile and a quarter.
The 3-year-old Colt did win the Withers in February and Asmussen has won three Triple Crown races in his career (Preakness in 2007 and 2009, Belmont in 2016). Asmussen is happy with how the horse has trained this week, mentioning how his attitude is really good.
Is there enough talent to pull off the major upset? No, but history suggests he won’t finish near the bottom, either — and he should push Tiz the Law until the final few furlongs.
SHOW: #15 NY Traffic
Similar to Max Player, NY Traffic has shown a level of consistency ahead of the Derby. Born in New York and purchased in Maryland, the colt has raced five times in 2020 with three consecutive second-place finishes, and before that, a third-place finish at Risen Star.
NY Traffic had a good stalking pace during one of those second-place finishes at the Louisiana Derby and there shouldn’t be any rust after a month and a half layoff. Max Player has a strong bloodline but the issue is that there just isn’t enough talent to overcome the likes of such a dominating horse like Tiz the Law.
Dark horse contenders to consider including on Superfectas:
#3 Enforceable: A fifth-place finish at the Louisiana Derby may not exactly inspire a ton of confidence but his trainer Mark Casse said he’s “grown up a lot” and the late closer had good workouts this week at Churchill Downs.
A faster pace this time will bode well for his chances to finish at least in the top half of the field.
#8 South Bend: Trainer Bill Mott doesn’t typically run horses if he doesn’t think there is a chance of victory, and last year Country House at 65-1 odds delivered Mott his first career Kentucky Derby win (albeit in controversial fashion).
Despite a second-place finish at the Ohio Derby in June, South Bend was arguably the best horse in the race but just had too wide of a trip. He may have lost by ten lengths to Tiz the Law at the Travers but again he looked like he ran a good race.
The late addition to the field is a closer who won the first three races of his career and is definitely a horse to consider underneath.
#12 Sole Volante: Along with Tiz the Law and Max Player, Sole Volante is considered one of the deep closers. He finished sixth at the Belmont but that was after just a 10 day layoff after finishing first in a feature race at Gulfstream Park. Before that, he finished first at a graded Tampa race and second in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Sole Volante has the pedigree and breeding to run the ten furlong race at Churchill Downs successfully.