Maybe a fast track and a less congested trip will make all the difference for Tiz The Way.
Despite his third-place finish after being boxed in on the rail nine weeks ago in the slop of the Kentucky Jockey Club, he remains the 8-1 favorite in Kentucky Derby futures at William Hill Nevada.
Under a threat of rain this weekend at Florida’s Gulfstream Park, Tiz The Law (3-5 morning line) makes his 3-year-old debut for trainer Barclay Tagg in the $250,000 Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes, one of Saturday’s three Derby points preps.
The Withers at Aqueduct and the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita are also among the last six races that will award just 10 Derby qualifying points to their winners. Virtual win-and-you’re-in preps start next month.
A four-length victory in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes last October at Belmont Park got futures bettors looking at Tiz The Law. A late close only to finish third in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs did not dissuade them.
“Everybody is looking at every move you make,” said Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Tiz The Law’s owner Sackatoga Stable. “That was a tough spot with the track being (sloppy) and him caught down inside. A lot of people think like I do and draw a line through that race.”
Knowlton’s comments to the Gulfstream Park media department made it clear that he is paying attention to the Derby odds. He should then know that four of the other six 3-year-olds in Saturday’s 8½-furlong race also show up in the William Hill futures, all of them pace chasers in contrast to Manny Franco’s mid-pack style riding Tiz The Law.
* Relentless Dancer (8-1) has won has last two races by a combined 19¾ lengths, most recently Oct. 19 in a $100,000 stakes at Delta Downs for Louisiana-bred 2-year-olds. José Ortiz will be his third different rider in as many races. At 75-1 in Derby futures, he is trained by Mike Maker, who won last week’s Pegasus Turf with Zulu Alpha.
* Maiden winner Toledo (7-2) makes his fourth start for the same Juddmonte Farms that brought us Arrogate and Enable. Sired by Into Mischief, Saturday’s rail starter overcame traffic to finish second Dec. 20 in a mile allowance race at Gulfstream. Enhancing Toledo’s 80-1 futures odds are his multiple Eclipse Award-winning connections – trainer Chad Brown and jockey Írad Ortiz Jr.
* The good news for Été Indien (6-1) – French for “Indian summer” and 100-1 in the futures – is that he beat Toledo making his dirt debut in that allowance last month at Gulfstream. The bad news is that his only previous graded stakes resulted in an eighth-place finish. That was on the turf in the Grade 3 Bourbon last October at Keeneland. Where trainer Patrick Biancone and jockey Luca Panici put Été Indien early in this race with decent pace could be pivotal.
* Drawn widest Saturday, Mayberry Deputy (15-1) broke his maiden on his third try going a mile late last month at Gulfstream Park. One race earlier for trainer Ken McPeek and jockey Julien Leparoux, he finished a distant second to Gold Street, the winner of last week’s Smarty Jones Stakes in the slop at Oaklawn Park. Carrying futures odds of 150-1, Mayberry Deputy comes in off a strong 48.0-second breeze over four furlongs last Saturday.
Considering all the forward speed in this weekend’s race and with the top Beyer Speed Figure of 90 coming in, Tiz The Law may be perfectly poised to get a victorious, first run against the early leaders. Presuming Manny Franco has better luck finding space than he did last fall at Churchill – and despite the short odds – he is the horse worth keying on top of Toledo and Relentless Dancer.
Post time for the Holy Bull is Saturday at 5:04 p.m., not counting the average six-minute drag for races at Gulfstream Park.
Shotski is back for more in Withers
Last seen leading the whole way to win the Grade 2 Remsen eight weeks ago, Shotski (2-1) is the morning-line favorite to win the $200,000 Grade 3 Withers over the same nine furlongs of dirt Saturday at Aqueduct.
“He put four lengths on the (Remsen) field at the top of the stretch,” said Shotski’s trainer Jeremiah O’Dwyer, who brings back Luís Sáez from Florida for a repeat ride. “He ended up only winning by a half-length, but it was his first time going two turns.”
Portos (3-1) may attract a lot of money thanks to a 10-length win to break his maiden on New Year’s Eve, but that was in the Aqueduct slop. Monday Morning Qb (4-1) is coming off a $100,000 stakes win last month at Parx and is making his first start going two turns. The only closer in the race, Max Player (9-2) gets blinkers from Linda Rice after breaking his maiden with a mile win in the Parx slop last month.
Frontrunners and pace chasers have won 73 percent of the 1⅛-mile races this winter at Aqueduct, so it is only appropriate that seven of the eight colts in the Withers have shown a penchant for moving forward early. But this field has built its reputation on soft pace. Shotski, for instance, set uncontested fractions of 50.08 and 1:15.19 for the first half- and three-quarter mile in wiring the Remsen, the win that helped move him to 75-1 odds for the Derby. On his way to 125-1 in the same futures, Portos chased a pace of just 49.61 and 1:14.95 in his Dec. 31 victory.
Instead, I will go with the potential pacesetter that actually closed to finish second on New Year’s Day in the Jerome, losing only to 10-1 Derby shot Independence Hall. Sired by American Pharoah, trained by Rice and ridden by Kendrick Carmouche, Prince Of Pharoahs (8-1) led from gate to wire in his five-length, maiden win against state-breds over a one-turn mile Oct. 13 at Belmont Park. That contributed to his cut to 60-1 in the William Hill futures. Moreover, the pace of his last two races was more honest than what Shotski, Portos and Max Player dealt with in their most recent starts.
The Withers is posted for Saturday at 4:25 p.m. EST with a 30 percent chance of rain and a 43-degree high in the New York forecast.
Baffert colts headline Robert B. Lewis
Both trained by Bob Baffert, two highly regarded Derby futures colts are likely to dominate the handle for the $100,000 Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.
Thousand Words is 12-1 at William Hill and High Velocity is 25-1 going into the 8½-furlong race against four rivals on what is expected to be a clear, 82-degree day.
With blinkers added and Flavien Prat continuing to ride, Thousand Words (4-5) brings in a 2-for-2 record. The 3-year-old sired by Pioneerof The Nile won last month’s Los Alamitos Futurity going the same distance as the Lewis.
“He went two turns and beat a really good horse (Anneau d’Or),” Baffert told VSiN last month. “He looks good.”
Usually a pacesetter, High Velocity (3-1) was also 2-for-2 before finishing a distant third in the Los Al Futurity. Sired by Quality Road and ridden by Joel Rosario, Baffert said that he has plenty of room for improvement.
“He didn’t run well the last time,” Baffert said. “We ran him back a little bit quick, he lost a little bit in the paddock, he was rank early, he didn’t really relax, and he got a little tired at the end.”
The rest of the field includes 1-for-6 maiden winner and 40-1 Derby shot Tizamagician (3-1), turf graduates Encoder (8-1) and Royal Act (15-1) and third-place Sham Stakes finisher Zimba Warrior (15-1).
Thousand Words has to be included on any ticket, but the lean here is to Encoder. With competitive speed ratings, two stakes wins and Mike Smith riding, there is every chance that his move off turf will work well for this John Sadler trainee sired by English Channel out of a Hard Spun mare.
The Robert B. Lewis is scheduled to start Saturday at 6 p.m. EST.
Racing notes and opinions
The impasse that could have locked Nevada bettors out of this year’s Kentucky Derby has been resolved. Sources in Las Vegas and Kentucky confirmed to VSiN that Churchill Downs Inc. and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association have an agreement in principle to restore betting on races at Churchill Downs and Turfway Park. Both CDI tracks have been affected by a blackout dating to late October. One source said that Turfway Park betting was expected to resume late this week with Churchill Downs getting the green light in time for next weekend’s second pari-mutuel pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. The impasse had come down to a disagreement over the percentage of Nevada handle that CDI should be paid. Terms of the new deal were not available, but considering the value of the Derby as a bargaining chip, it is hard to imagine CDI getting anything less than what it originally wanted.
With trainer Brad Cox openly discussing the possibility of racing her in the Kentucky Derby, 3-year-old Taraz could conceivably be making her last winter-spring start against other fillies Saturday at 4:39 p.m. EST. That is when she will be favored in a field of five in the $150,000 Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Ark. Although the race is a points qualifier for the Kentucky Oaks, Cox has not ruled out the possibility of putting Taraz into a Derby qualifier, depending on how this weekend goes. It has been 10 years since Devil May Care was the last filly to start in the Kentucky Derby. The process got harder seven years ago, when a points system encompassing specific races was established, replacing the criteria of graded-stakes earnings from all races.
It came from out of nowhere Wednesday. Larry Collmus was unceremoniously replaced by the underrated John Imbriale as the track announcer at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga. The Times-Union of Albany, N.Y., was first to report that Collmus and the New York Racing Association could not agree on a new contract. Still NBC’s lead racing announcer for its Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup coverage, Collmus had been with NYRA for five years. Imbriale has been a fixture at New York tracks for 30 years, backing up Collmus and before him Tom Durkin. He has most recently been NYRA’s director of TV production. This marks U.S. racing’s second high-profile announcer change in the past 14 months. Last winter Frank Mirahmadi replaced Michael Wrona as the race caller at Santa Anita. It is easy to suggest that a man of Collmus’s talent will land on his feet. However, Wrona is also a top-level talent, but his current gigs at Los Alamitos and Kentucky Downs only fill so much of his calendar.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning – more frequently for big races – at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Ideas for the future of racing and a look ahead to this weekend’s Kentucky Derby preps are featured on the current episode. VSiN’s and Horse Racing Radio Network’s Dan Mason takes a long view of the sport. National Horseplayers Championship winner Scott Coles talks about defending his title next week and also handicaps Saturday’s Withers, Holy Bull and Robert B. Lewis stakes. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available via Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher and is sponsored by Xpressbet.