That was the distance that separated Tiz The Law from his shot at an asterisked Triple Crown.
Instead, those 10 feet — the rough equivalent of the 1¼ lengths by which he lost the Kentucky Derby to Authentic — changed the betting complexion of the rest of the 3-year-old season. The best example is on the horizon in next month’s Preakness Stakes.
Instead of having a five-time Grade 1 winner devouring most of the betting handle, his apparent absence opens the door for a new favorite to be lifted into his place. Then of course he will be torn down by some bettors making a case for a contrarian value play. No one eats its young faster than Hollywood and the grizzled horseplayer.
With trainer Barclay Tagg leaning toward giving Tiz The Law a more usual two months off until the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Authentic was left to be the consensus favorite in early global futures betting for the Oct. 3 running of the Preakness. But not at minus money.
One global market made the upset Derby winner a 3-2 favorite to win at Pimlico and add to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s record seven Preakness victories. Two bookmakers in England made Authentic no better than 6-5.
The price for Authentic should bear some resemblance to the international odds when domestic futures are posted soon in Nevada. Circa Sports has already indicated its odds are coming in a matter of days. William Hill Nevada and futures newcomer Station Casinos have not made plans for the Preakness.
Whenever the domestic markets are opened, it seems certain that Art Collector will assume the role he was meant to play before he hurt himself grabbing a quarter last week. He opened at 7-2 in global betting and, according to Oddschecker.com, 9-2 in Europe.
One thing that may buoy bettors who missed out on Art Collector in the Derby is that he, unlike Authentic and Tiz The Law, is undefeated in 2020. He has won his four races by an average of four lengths. But can he extend past his career-high 9 furlongs and get the Preakness distance of 9½?
That sounds like a familiar question. Authentic answered it by leading from go to whoa for the whole 10 furlongs last weekend. Isn’t it amazing how that tune changed in the twinkle of an eye? Or, more accurately, in 2:00.61?
So was it more a case of Authentic winning the Derby or Tiz The Law losing it?
One glaring truth that bettors chose to ignore before the Derby was that it came only four weeks after Tiz The Law’s previous race. Before that he never had a break of fewer than seven weeks. Now apply that same angle to Authentic. His breaks between races were 56, 63, 91 (his only loss), 42 and 49 days. Now it will be 28.
Does that make Authentic a toss from win tickets? If so, and if bettors lack faith in Art Collector, and if Tiz The Law is doubtful, and if fourth-place Derby finisher Honor A. P. (5-1 global, 6-1 Europe) is no certainty to be entered, where next?
How about to the other Baffert? The one that started Saturday’s rodeo making like a stunt double for Richard Collier’s horse that Alex Karras punched 46 years ago in “Blazing Saddles.” (YouTube it, kids; it is a classic.) Anyone like me who put faith in Thousand Words (10-1, 10-1) might look that way again, especially since the colt was not hurt by his spill in the Churchill Downs paddock Saturday. He will be fresh with nine weeks since his last race, a victory at Del Mar in the Shared Belief Stakes.
Coming off his win in Saturday’s Grade 2 Pat Day Mile, Rushie (10-1, 14-1) is still a tempting candidate even though he is also a question mark. “He’s back at Santa Anita,” trainer Michael McCarthy said. “No plans at the moment.” Before he could be entered, a $25,000 supplement would be required for the race that had its purse cut from last year’s $1.65 million to a pandemically temporary $1 million.
After he paid $16.80 to show by finishing third in the Derby, Mr. Big News (12-1, 16-1) seems a more likely possibility of starting at Pimlico. “Clearly, I would like to run in the Preakness,” owner Chester Thomas said. But he deferred to trainer Bret Calhoun, who said a decision was still “a couple of weeks” away.
Coloring so many decisions by owners and trainers on whether to go to Baltimore is the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Lexington, Ky. For some trainers it comes too soon after the Preakness. For others it is a gateway to get to Keeneland, since it was declared a win-and-you’re-in race for the Classic.
That could provide a fast track to the $7 million for late bloomers. Take trainer Todd Pletcher’s colt Happy Saver (25-1, 12-1). With his win Monday in the Federico Tesio, he is 3-for-3, all since breaking his maiden on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
Too heady a dream? Perhaps. But if it is just a question of winning the Preakness, at least that is within reach. Maybe it is for horseplayers, too, who still have 3½ weeks to rewrite their wrong theories about this ever-evolving Triple Crown season.