It was just as emphatic as Tiz The Law’s victory Saturday in the Florida Derby. The immediate adulation was predictable. But was it deserved on every level?
The shortening of his futures odds right after the race made Tiz The Law the biggest Kentucky Derby favorite since Justify’s 112-day cameo in 2018 broke the curse of Apollo on the way to a Triple Crown.
This goes beyond a 96 Beyer Speed Figure or whether a 1:50.00 time for a 9-furlong race will translate to a victory at Churchill Downs.
Look at the bigger picture. Put the extraordinary conditions of 2020 in the context of 145 years of history. Has there ever been a 7-2 Kentucky Derby favorite five months before the race?
Maybe some bookie had Arazi at that short a price somewhere in the world in December 1991. That was five months before he was the Derby’s most recent odds-on post-time favorite — a beaten favorite at that. It is doubtful that any horse since would have been that big an underlay so early, especially at any house booking dozens and maybe hundreds of would-be starters.
After leaving the field 4¼ lengths in his wake last weekend at Gulfstream Park, Tiz The Law went from 5-1 in William Hill Nevada’s Derby futures to 7-2 for a race that will not happen until Sept. 5. In the abstract, that means he is as likely to finish first in the Kentucky Derby as he was in his debut race against New York state-bred 2-year-olds last summer at Saratoga.
To say there is no value in betting Tiz The Law to win the Kentucky Derby is obvious. Between now and Labor Day weekend he could get hurt, become unfit or look bad in a prep. Or he could be opted out if the race were to be postponed again. Remember, if the Derby is run this year, all futures bets are still action.
Even if Tiz The Law lines up as the top choice on race day, his odds might actually be longer than they are now. The post-time average for the last 10 Derby favorites was 4-1. But even if he shortened to, say, 3-1 in the parimutuels, it is worth the price to get a money-back guarantee in the event he does not start. Lacking that, it is not worth the risk now to bet Tiz The Law at 7-2.
And don’t expect oddsmakers like William Hill or any on foreign shores to drift Tiz The Law’s odds very much if at all in the next four months. They are already exposed, having booked him and more than 150 other would-be Derby starters since at least October.
So this is not entirely about what Tiz The Law has done for horseplayers lately, although the dreaded recency bias is still a factor. Just look at last year.
Before he won the 2019 Florida Derby, Maximum Security was 45-1. The morning after at William Hill, he was the 4-1 Kentucky Derby co-favorite with Game Winner.
Two weeks later, Omaha Beach won the Arkansas Derby. With only two dozen horses left among the betting choices, he went from 6-1 to 7-2. In those same two weeks, the gloss of Maximum Security’s Gulfstream Park victory faded. Without setting foot on a track, he drifted overnight from 5-1 to a suddenly attractive 9-1, mostly because of Omaha Beach’s victory at Oaklawn Park. (Eventual Derby winner Country House was 40-1 at that time in the futures.)
All this prompts the question: What will happen to the odds for Tiz The Law’s most prominent rivals — Bob Baffert’s big three — next time they hit the track? With Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby called off, that leaves Authentic (9-2) in limbo. Charlatan (7-1) and Nadal (8-1) might go to the rescheduled Arkansas Derby on May 2, but that is in pencil at best.
But wherever they may go on the extended and yet-to-be-remapped Derby trail, what if they all win their next races impressively? How short can their futures odds go?
While the four extra months before the Derby create a challenge for William Hill and other futures oddsmakers, they also offer more opportunities for bettors to look again at horses they might have tossed. That includes some 3-year-olds that may have been forgotten because injuries took them off the track. Then again, how forgotten can they be if they look like underlays?
Maxfield (9-1). In October he opened as the 12-1 second choice at William Hill; Dennis’ Moment was the 10-1 favorite. After he won the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, he was expected to be among the favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but an ankle injury ruined those plans. The Godolphin-owned colt by Street Sense out of a Bernardini mare had an operation before trainer Brendan Walsh put him through five weekly workouts this winter in Florida. Walsh told the Paulick Report the postponement of the Derby means he is no longer in any hurry to rush back to the races. So while Maxfield is apparently still in the hunt for a rosy September, his plans are up in the air.
Honor A.P. (10-1). After breaking his maiden on his second try last October, the Southern California colt sired by Honor Code was quickly bet from an opening 50-1 at William Hill to odds of 16-1. Even though he was knocked off stride by a foot injury, his odds did not drift all winter. Trained by John Shirreffs and ridden by Mike Smith, he looked strong in his comeback, finishing second to Authentic last month in the San Felipe Stakes. Handily worked three times in the last three weeks, he figured to be a starter in the Santa Anita Derby. So who knows what is next?
Dennis’ Moment (16-1). He won the very first points prep this season, the Iroquois, 357 days before the Derby is set to be run. But Dale Romans’ colt by Tiznow has been a big disappointment since. He dropped to his knees coming out of the gate in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Then, after getting a long break, he never fired in the Fountain of Youth. In each race he was a 6-5 favorite. And in each race he finished last. If a horse needs a reset this spring, it is Dennis’ Moment.
Mr. Monomoy (24-1). His victory 1½ months ago in the better of the two divisions of the Risen Star cut his Derby price from 75-1 to 20-1. But trainer Brad Cox said his colt by Palace Malice came back with what he called a minor ankle injury. That trashed any thoughts of a May 2 start in the Derby. But wait. Now that the race is Sept. 5, all bets are, well, on. After being taken off the board at William Hill and most books that were paying attention in Europe, Mr. Monomoy reclaimed his place at nearly the same odds. By now Cox would usually be starting to move his horses back to Kentucky. But Churchill Downs is closed, and Keeneland is not adding newly shipped horses. So Mr. Monomoy’s plans for racing, training and even sleeping are very much on hold.
Structor (60-1). No sooner did William Hill post odds for Chad Brown’s would-be turf graduate than he got hurt on the eve of a 3-year-old debut in the Fountain of Youth. Typically coy about the extent of the injury, Brown said only that he had no immediate plans for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner who was last seen in a morning workout Feb. 17 at Palm Meadows. Remaining are the indelible impressions from the Breeders’ Cup of Brown and owner Jeff Drown eagerly anticipating a move to the dirt and a possible Derby campaign for Structor. It is now a matter of knowing how seriously Structor was hurt.
Cezanne (unlisted). As if Baffert did not have enough young talent in his barn, he also has this high-priced, unraced colt who seems to be closing in on a long-delayed debut. Cezanne was a Curlin baby out of a Bernardini mare when Coolmore bought him for $3.65 million at the Gulfstream sale almost exactly a year ago. Baffert worked him regularly last summer before an unspecified setback took him out of training the last four months of 2019. Back on the track this winter at Los Alamitos, Cezanne has two bullets among six timed works. Best priced at 50-1 in Europe, according to Oddschecker, he is still not posted at William Hill. Since this colt might be positioned to follow Justify and become Baffert’s next better-late-than-never prospect, it is only a matter of time before his number will be hung in Nevada.
With so much time until that first Saturday in September, time remains for a late impression to influence the Derby futures. And rest assured, there will be another late impression right after that.