There is every chance of knowing this weekend the identity of the post-time favorite for the Kentucky Derby. And there is every likelihood that this week is the last chance to find any semblance of value in backing current favorite Tiz The Law.
If he wins Saturday in the $1 million Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga and remains fit, he has no chance of carrying his current best price of 5-2 into the Sept. 5 running of the Derby.
Long before this summer’s Belmont Stakes brought his 2020 record to 3-for-3, Tiz The Law (5-2 at Circa Sports, 2-1 at William Hill Nevada) was already the top choice to win the Derby. The Las Vegas shops have had him at their shortest prices since he won the Florida Derby in late March. A victory at odds not much longer than even money in the Travers would leave heavily exposed bookmakers liable to the nth degree.
Even then, Tiz The Law might still be an overlay. If he rolls into Churchill Downs with four wins in a row and as many Grade 1 victories on his career resume, he could be the shortest-priced parimutuel favorite since Point Given was 9-5 at post time in 2001. If he blows away the Travers field, he might even be the first Derby starter to be odds-on at post time since Arazi was 9-10 in 1992.
The perceived gap between Tiz The Law and the rest of the 3-year-old class widened last weekend when Honor A. P. (6-1, 6-1) finished second as the 1-5 favorite in the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar. Against only three rivals, Honor A. P. had a stop-and-go trip over the 8½ furlongs that were too short for him. No matter. The betting public may still overreact to the result.
As such, Tiz The Law shortened and Honor A.P. drifted at William Hill. While both got longer odds at Circa Sports, Blue Grass winner Art Collector (plus-575, 8-1) shortened from plus-650 to become the book’s second choice.
“Still a month out, there are so many variables in play,” Circa Sports risk supervisor Paul Zilm said. “We have a few horses on the uptick, and I thought a slight rise in odds (for Tiz The Law) wasn’t a bad thing.”
Does the public agree? It will have the chance to express itself in a parimutuel way this week. Churchill Downs’ final Kentucky Derby Future Wager is open Friday-Sunday across most of the country.
Tiz The Law also has a chance to lose Saturday at the track known as the Graveyard of Champions. A real chance.
Trainer Bob Baffert is flying 2-for-2 Uncle Chuck (plus-775, 10-1) cross country to drop a gauntlet in the Travers. If he wins, comparisons will be made immediately with Arrogate and West Coast, two other slow-to-blossom Baffert colts who stole the race in 2016 and ’17 on the way to Eclipse Awards. It would also make sense that if he upsets Tiz The Law, Uncle Chuck will be the new consensus Derby favorite.
Such an outcome would also make the futures marketplace look more wide open in its final weeks. Whether it is at the Nevada books or in Sunday’s closing odds in the KDFW, it is a safe bet that Uncle Chuck will not be as short as Tiz The Law is now. And if Art Collector cruises in what looks like a paid workout Sunday in the Ellis Park Derby, he will be part of a reconfigured big four.
Asked what the odds might be if that happened, Zilm said: “This is truly a guess: Tiz The Law 3-1, Uncle Chuck 3-1 or 7-2, Art Collector 9-2 and Honor A. P. around 5-1 to 6-1. I think Tiz The Law and Uncle Chuck would draw more money in our pool, but Art Collector is a local horse in Kentucky and might draw more there. I would suspect the KDFW numbers would be a tad more conservative.”
Bettors looking for optimal value with a hot horse and a proven trainer might look to Thousand Words (12-1, 12-1). After losing three races in a row by daylight, the colt who began his career going 3-for-3 for Baffert finally won again in the Shared Belief. That makes him the new wild card in the Derby futures.
“The real Thousand Words showed up,” Baffert said. “I could tell when we got (to Del Mar) that he was a different horse. His whole mind changed. His color has changed. He had soured out on me, but we got him going the right way. I think he earned his way to the Derby.”
Said Zilm: “I am anxious to see how people start betting Thousand Words. Does he get bet down like every other Baffert horse?”
But it all starts at the top. The tenor of the entire division will be dictated by what Tiz The Law does Saturday in upstate New York and on the first Saturday of each of the next three months.
If he should add victories in the Travers, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, an asterisk will be a badge of honor. At 82, Barclay Tagg might finally have Hall of Fame credentials. And Tiz The Law might be the next star that horseplayers will admiringly shun, if only because he might make bridge jumpers of us all.
Derby futures: Who’s hot?
King Guillermo (17-1 Circa Sports, 25-1 William Hill Nevada). Sing along now. “Where in the world is that racehorse King Guillermo?” The answer as of last week was Churchill Downs. Unraced in three months, his arrival there generated some buzz and a shortening of his odds at Circa. After winning the Tampa Bay Derby in early March, trainer Juan Carlos Avila was going to train right up to the Derby on May 2. It turned out to be a different Derby; King Guillermo finished second to the now-retired Nadal in one division of the Arkansas Derby. Avila decided again to train up to the Kentucky Derby, this time Sept. 5. Bettors backing this Uncle Mo colt will have to tap into distant memories of a 99 Beyer Speed Figure at Tampa Bay — and hope the horse does too.
Country Grammer (40-1, 35-1). His Peter Pan victory last month at Saratoga was sneaky good. He had the third-best finishing fractions of any recent 9-furlong prep. Now he will try to parlay that into an upset victory Saturday in the Travers. If he were to knock off Tiz The Law and Uncle Chuck, the pacesetting Tonalist colt would be Chad Brown’s best chance to win the Derby since Good Magic finished second two years ago to Justify.
Enforceable (40-1, 40-1). Circa shortened him from 45-1 in part because he just will not go away. That is good for those of us who have not torn up a 125-1 futures bet on him. Though he finished fourth last month in the Blue Grass, his closing kick showed again that he might need every inch of the 1¼ miles at Churchill Downs and then some. Throw out his fifth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, and this Tapit colt has been making steady progress his whole career. Mark Casse is training him right up to the Derby, which comes more than seven months after his last victory.
Derby futures: Who’s not?
Cezanne (45-1, unlisted). Circa moved him from 17-1 the morning after his last-place finish in the Shared Belief. That was after William Hill wasted no time delisting the $3.65 million colt who has not lived up to his big price. Cezanne already had two less-than-impressive victories for Baffert before last weekend. Although he was competitive in the tightly bunched field of four in the Shared Belief, out of the money is still out of the money. He does not have enough points to get into the Derby unless the race is on the verge of being undersubscribed. Might the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga be a better fit on Derby day?
Dean Martini (150-1, 150-1). William Hill moved him from 125-1 ahead of his run Sunday against Art Collector in the Ellis Park Derby. But it is hard to get too excited about him. His finishing fractions in winning last month’s Ohio Derby were the slowest of any Kentucky Derby contender that has gotten at least a 95 Beyer. He did, however, beat 2019 juvenile champion Storm The Court in that race. If that is still meaningful, maybe there is room for optimism.
Tap It To Win (unlisted). His second-place finish to Echo Town in Saturday’s Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial was a clear indication that this guy is really a sprinter. Casse had already said he intended to cut back the Tapit colt who is 0-for-3 in stakes, including a fifth in the Belmont. That was when William Hill pushed his odds to 100-1. They were as high as 150-1 when he was delisted last weekend from both sets of domestic futures.