Why even bother to run the Kentucky Derby? To hear it told by the masses, Tiz The Law has already won the race and is already certain to be trying for the Triple Crown this fall at Pimlico.
The betting public appears to have fallen in lockstep with that prevailing conclusion.
After his 5½-length triumph in Saturday’s 1¼-mile Travers Stakes at Saratoga, the Belmont Stakes winner and the presumptive champion 3-year-old of 2020 was cut to as short as an odds-on futures favorite to win over another 1¼ miles Sept. 5 in the Derby.
Those minus prices, thankfully, are confined to overseas markets. Here in America, specifically Nevada, Tiz The Law still carries some value, even if it is only a morsel. He was still 6-5 at Circa Sports on Monday, when William Hill cut him to even money.
Because of Tiz The Law’s looming presence, there are no longer mere whispers of suggestion that the Derby will fall short of a full 20 entries for only the third time this century. Voices are growing louder that it may have its smallest field since 1997, when only 13 horses started. So much for using that new Australian-made, 20-horse starting gate for the first time next month.
While rival horsemen may be scared off, value-hunting bettors have some credible alternatives available that may carry the right price, especially while there is the lingering possibility of something resembling a large field. Taking that idea one step further, the skeptical, contrarian view is that Tiz The Law still has not faced any tough competition.
Uncle Chuck was supposed to provide it. Five-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert flew him back east from California to put Tiz The Law in his place in the Travers. Instead, the lightly raced colt’s nervy staredown of the rising star ended with him flinching before the two of them reached the top of the stretch. Instead of staging a coup to become the new favorite, Uncle Chuck could only see his Derby price blow up. He went from 7-1 to 30-1 at Circa, and that presumes he even shows up in Louisville.
So how good – or not so good – are the horses that Tiz The Law has left in 16½ lengths of his wake from four victories this year? Look at the horses that finished second. After losing in the Holy Bull, Été Indien won the Fountain of Youth but swung and missed in his next two before suffering a training setback in June that will keep him out of the Derby. Shivaree overachieved in the Florida Derby, and he was a last-place non-factor in the Travers. Dr Post was a credible runner-up in the Belmont, but he never threatened late in the Haskell. Caracaro closed to finish second in the Travers, but despite being highly regarded he is still only a maiden winner.
Art Collector (6-1 Circa, 7-2 William Hill), a horse that was on no one’s radar on the original Derby Day in May, takes over as the newest, biggest threat to Tiz The Law. As a 2-5 favorite Sunday, he led the whole way to win the Ellis Park Derby.
For those who believe in Beyer Speed Figures, they provide further evidence that Tiz The Law ain’t seen nothing yet. First, his 109 from the Travers is five points better than the next nearest best Beyer for any Derby hopeful. But look at the next three names on the list. Shared Belief winner Thousand Words (104), Art Collector (103) and Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P. (102). Tiz The Law has yet to face any of them. They could be real threats, or there is every chance that these horses could put up career bests next month and still fall far short.
Baffert has held open the possibility that he will send his über-talented 3-year-old filly Gamine – she of a 111 Beyer – into the Preakness, presuming she wins the Kentucky Oaks the day before Tiz The Law’s coronation against the latest bunch of stout challengers waiting to be branded as nobodies on Sept. 6. But that showdown at Baltimore is still more than eight weeks off – if ever.
Right now the question is how short will bettors push Tiz The Law’s odds at Louisville. The last time a Kentucky Derby starter was less than 2-1 at post time was 2001, when Point Given was 9-5 before finishing fifth in his only loss of what turned out to be a championship year. As long as he stays fit, Tiz The Law may be shorter priced than that.
At some point skeptics might just have to gnash their teeth and admit Tiz The Law may be the only tough horse in the 3-year-old crop. Just ask the futures bettors who got him last fall at 20-1. If they are cashing next month, they will be the ones shouting “I told you so.”
Derby futures: Who’s hot?
Tiz The Law (6-5 Circa Sports, 1-1 William Hill). Looking for bigger numbers for trainer Barclay Tagg’s biggest star since Funny Cide? How about 4, 4¼, 3¾ and 5½? Those are the lengths of Tiz The Law’s victories in the Champagne, Florida Derby, Belmont and Travers, all Grade 1 races. In less than two weeks his 25-year-old jockey Manny Franco is expected to report to Kentucky to take his required coronavirus tests. In his case it will be worth it to skip the last two weeks at Saratoga to get the ride of a lifetime.
Caracaro (30-1, 35-1). He may have been a distant second to Tiz The Law in the Travers, but he lived up to expectations that he was progressing as a lightly raced colt that can get 1¼ miles. His Beyers have gone from 72 to 92 to 96 to 100. If he keeps moving forward, maybe he looms as a threat on the long homestretch at Churchill Downs. Bettors who got him at 55-1 last week at William Hill are hoping so.
Attachment Rate (60-1, 75-1). His only win in seven starts was in the winter slop at Aqueduct. After finishing out of the money in the Matt Winn and the Blue Grass, he finished second to Art Collector in the Ellis Park Derby. After Dennis’ Moment flopped, this $200,000 Hard Spun colt is now trainer Dale Romans’s long-shot Kentucky Derby ticket. But it is hard to think that this runner-up in a second-tier prep will give Romans his first win in his hometown’s signature race.
Derby futures: Who’s not?
Uncle Chuck (30-1, 25-1). The Travers loss in only his third race was one of those Mike Tyson punches in the mouth that spoils a good plan. Even if his connections wanted to go to the Derby, Uncle Chuck does not have enough points to get in without defections ahead of him. He was touted as the next Arrogate, the Baffert prodigy that set a track record in winning the 2016 Travers. It was too much too soon for a horse that may yet prove himself once he is afforded some seasoning.
Anneau d’Or (100-1, 150-1). Close losses last fall to Storm The Court in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and to Thousand Words in the Los Alamitos Futurity raised hopes for this Medaglia d’Oro colt. But he has since lost by 12, 9½, 5¾ and, most recently, by 14¼ lengths in the Ellis Park Derby. In spite of his downward trend, bettors shortened his odds from 96-1 to 70-1 in the pari-mutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which closed a half-hour before his loss Sunday. What is the definition of insanity?
Shared Sense (100-1, 150-1). Like Anneau d’Or, this colt by Street Sense generated KDFW steam Sunday, going from 85-1 to 65-1. At least in his case he had seen a winner’s circle recently – last month in the Indiana Derby. With his typically deep-closing style he made up seven places in the Ellis Park Derby, but he still finished only fifth. Whether Godolphin pays the $95,000 to supplement and run him at Louisville seems a long shot, especially since he also needs some dropouts ahead of him to get in the race.