There is no real handicapping skill in saying that Tiz The Law should win the Kentucky Derby. His four victories in Grade 1s are one more than the rest of the field combined. One of those was last month at the Derby distance of 1¼ miles.
Yet that is no guarantee it will happen again. Handicappers need more evidence. Bettors need more evidence. Bridge jumpers prepared to pound the show pool need ... well ... they just need help.
Trends based on a springtime Derby do not apply. As some columnist cracked many years ago, do not stand beneath the windows of the sports archive without getting pelted with shards of glass and falling record books.
Believe it or not, though, there is one basic tenet that still applies to this most un-Derby-like Derby. Pace still makes the race. It is no different from the usual run for the springtime roses than it is for Saturday’s run for the wilted roses.
How does Tiz The Law go the two minutes and change from post position 17 to being first under the wire the second time they pass it Saturday just after 7 p.m. EDT? Quirin Speed Points shown in some past performances provide a snapshot of where horses will be early and midway through races.
Anyone who knows how the Quirins work may skip this paragraph. Based on past performances each horse gets an alphanumeric combination. Look first at the number that is between 0 and 8. The higher it is, the more forward the horse will be nearing the first turn. Then look at the letter that says where a horse will be on the backstretch. “E” = speed (early), “E/P” = stalker (early presser), “P” = mid-pack (presser) and “S” = closer (sustainer).
Tiz The Law has an “E/P 7,” which has shown up next to the Derby winner’s name five of the last eight years; it would have been six of the last eight if Maximum Security’s name had not come down last year. Thirteen – or 14 – of the 20 first-place finishers since 2000 have been “E/P” something.
Part of the reason the “E/P 7” horses have been dominant lately is because the prep points system adopted for 2013 does not include sprint races, so that sort of early speed has been absent. In the last six years the pacesetter went 1:11.01 through three-quarters of a mile.
With that in mind here is what passes for a pace map for the early going in Saturday’s Derby. The higher the horse, the more forward he should be.
E 8 Authentic
E 7 Ny Traffic
E 6 Storm The Court
E/P 7 Money Moves, Tiz The Law
E/P 5 Necker Island, Honor A. P.
E/P 3 Thousand Words, Attachment Rate
P 3 Finnick The Fierce
P 2 Major Fed
P 0 South Bend, Winning Impression
S 2 Max Player
S 0 Enforceable, Mr. Big News, Sole Volante
Had he not spiked a fever this week, King Guillermo (E 6) would have joined Authentic and Ny Traffic in the picture for the early lead. His absence might soften a pace that five-time Derby winner Bob Baffert predicted would be “hot.” His horse, Authentic, will determine that.
If he were to repeat his 1:11.09 start to his second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, that might bring closers into the picture. But back then Authentic was ridden by Drayden Van Dyke. With Mike Smith he went out in 1:11.50 before hanging on and barely winning seven weeks ago in the Haskell. Because those races were over 1⅛ miles, it is no surprise that questions have been raised about Authentic’s ability to get 1¼ miles.
With Smith already committed to Honor A. P., fellow two-time Derby winner John Velázquez will ride Authentic for the first time. If Baffert believes the pace will be “hot,” that would seem to signal how the start of this race will go. Whether Paco López will ride Ny Traffic with him early as he did in the Haskell might be as big a question.
If Authentic is allowed a loose lead and slow fractions, that enhances his chances of winning as well as those of other horses close to the lead. They do not include Storm The Court; his speed ratings do not measure up. Money Moves is a question mark since this will be his stakes debut. And then there is Tiz The Law. He pounced on the slow, early pace of the Travers, took matters into his own hooves before the second turn and ran away to win by 5½ lengths.
Conversely, if Authentic is pushed to a hot pace by Ny Traffic and, less likely, Storm The Court, then that opens the door for a horse to come from off the pace. Tiz The Law can do that, too. He was third midway through his wins in the Florida Derby and Belmont Stakes.
If seasoning against tough competition means anything, Honor A. P. and Thousand Words have to come into the picture. And do not overlook Attachment Rate. He finished second to the likes of Art Collector and Dr Post, two horses that would have attracted good betting dollars had they not been removed from consideration for the Derby.
Since he won the Withers before New York’s early pandemic shutdown, Max Player has been battle-tested in back-to-back losses to Tiz The Law. He continues to progress with Beyer Speed Figures climbing to a career-best 99 finishing third in the Travers. He was since moved from trainer Linda Rice, who did not want to go to the Derby, to Steve Asmussen. On the one hand, Max Player joins a Hall of Famer that has won a record 22 Churchill Downs training championships. On the other hand he went from one trainer with no Derby victories to another trainer with no Derby victories.
Sole Volante and Major Fed have the best Brisnet late pace ratings, but Sole Volante has been regressing in graded stakes, and Major Fed’s résumé was propped up with his second-place finish in a weak Indiana Derby. Next best in late pace is, what do you know, Tiz The Law. Translation: His success is not pace dependent.
So there is clearly good reason that Tiz The Law is no better than 1-2 in Las Vegas futures and 3-5 on the Derby morning line. It is a signal that horizontal bets should build to singling him in the Derby, which is the last race Saturday. That also means it may be wise to put him cold on top of exactas, trifectas and superfectas.
For me the move is to key Tiz The Law with Honor A. P. and Thousand Words and then put Max Player and Ny Traffic underneath. And if Enforceable should pull off the big surprise, I will have gotten lucky with a 125-1 futures ticket that I bought in January – a ticket that I would not buy now.
Instead of getting lucky, though, it may be better to get good and play it safe with Tiz The Law.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. He hosts “Road to the Derby” on Saturday at 2 p.m. EDT on VSiN and on demand at VSiN.com. You may also hear two current episodes of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. The annual Kentucky Derby pop-up features Las Vegas bookmakers/handicappers Chris Andrews, Johnny Avello, Duane Colucci and Vinny Magliulo. The regular Friday episode includes NBC Sports race caller Larry Collmus, trainers Bob Baffert and John Shirreffs and Tiz The Law’s lead owner Jack Knowlton. The RFRP is available via Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts and is sponsored by 1/ST BET.