It’s finally here. Assuming protesters don’t burn down Churchill Downs between now and Saturday evening, the long-awaited Kentucky Derby with zero fans in attendance will finally happen. And when it does, we’ll be less than eight months away from the next Kentucky Derby. But we can talk about that later. For now, we have horses to discuss. Let’s take a look at the field in post position order, shall we?
1- Finnick the Fierce (Scratched)
2- Max Player is, to me, the sucker bet of the race. That’s not going to be a popular opinion, as it seems he’s on almost everyone’s long shot list. I just don’t think he’s got the speed to be anywhere near close enough early to stay in contention. He’d need the race to completely fall apart in my opinion. I understand that there are reasons related to COVID that are keeping Joel Rosario in New York, but you have to assume that if he felt Max Player was a real threat to win, he’d be at Churchill Downs. Or maybe new trainer Steve Asmussen was giving the mount to Santana regardless. Whatever. I’m against Max Player.
3- Enforceable is another who will surely be way back early. And while he’s owned by John Oxley, Enforceable is no Monarchos. He’d need to be to win this I think. It’s within the realm of possibility that the race could totally fall apart upfront and horses like Max Player and Enforceable could pick up some or all of the pieces. But I’m just not seeing it. Pass.
4- Storm the Court shocked the world and in the process, cost me a lot of money when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year. His races since turning 3 have been uninspiring, at least on paper. If you are so inclined, I’d like you to watch two replays- the San Vicente and the Ohio Derby. In the San Vicente at 7F, Storm the Court demonstrated a willingness to keep fighting when he appeared beaten, and less than 50 yards past the wire, he had passed the field that just beat him. Again, that was a sprint. But it was his first start of the year and he was facing some good ones. In the Ohio Derby, he entered the clubhouse turn literally seven paths out from the rail while even with the leaders, stayed wide throughout the turn while losing a couple lengths which he would then make up by the time they reached the backstretch, went wide again around the far turn, and kept on in the lane while failing to catch the winner and getting passed by South Bend for 2nd. But Storm the Court lost way more ground early than did South Bend, and if you factor in that ground loss, you could, in theory, make the case that Storm the Court’s 90 Beyer Speed Figure could be much, much higher. He ran a really honest race that day. Yes, there are a few races in his running lines that don’t inspire confidence. That’s true. But he should get a really good trip breaking from Post 4, and if you think maybe the turf race woke him up, I think he’s got the look of a potential party crasher.
5- Major Fed was on my short list of Derby long shots just a month ago. But the reality is that I just don’t think he’s good enough. You can make excuses for a number of his losses, and his effort in the Indiana Derby was pretty decent. But my gut feeling is that other deep closers are better. That said, if he wins, I’m going to consider jumping off a building due to the fact that he was once my sneaky pick.
6- King Guillermo (Scratched)
7- Money Moves wasn’t even under Derby consideration a week ago, but here he is. And he’s live. Go back and watch his second career start. You’ll be impressed how he took pressure early from the rail, and then kicked clear of them all late. Then he got sick and missed some time, but came back strong in his next race, where he ran 2nd and earned a 98 Beyer Speed Figure while losing to a stakes-placed 5yo with much more experience. It was a very impressive effort. If Beyers are your thing, that 98 is better than most of his competitors have ever earned. (But was that Beyer legit?) And Money Moves did it at 9F in his first start in four months. If he takes ANY kind of step forward, he’s going to have a say in the outcome of the Kentucky Derby for Todd Pletcher. Pletcher could have sent the more-experienced Dr Post to the Derby, while sending Money Moves to the Pat Day Mile or the Jim Dandy at Saratoga. And with that $975,000 auction price tag, you know this isn’t a horse they would throw to the wolves if he wasn’t ready. No, being ready doesn’t mean he’s going to win. But this one must be respected, even if that 98 Beyer is perhaps a bit inflated.
8- South Bend is 2 for 3 at Churchill Downs, including a stakes win. And his Travers effort wasn’t bad. This is an honest horse, and he makes his second start for reigning Derby winning trainer Bill Mott. I don’t have much to say about South Bend. He beat Storm the Court in the Ohio Derby, but it’s my opinion Storm the Court’s effort was better. So is his resume. I have to pass here.
9- Mr. Big News made me a lot of money with his win in the Oaklawn Stakes at 46/1. I’ll always love him. But he’s not as good as other deep closers in here so I just can’t make a case for him. I’m not happy about that. But it’s my reality.
10- Thousand Words looked primed and ready for big things earlier this year, then he went off form before stealing the Shard Belief on the front end in his final Derby prep. He doesn’t really remind me of any of Baffert’s prior Derby winners. That doesn’t mean he can’t win, and a win wouldn’t shock me or anyone else. Ultimately, I don’t think there will be value there, and others are more likely to win anyway.
11- Necker Island probably has an honest, useful career ahead of him in smaller stakes races. This is way over his head. He does have two wins at Churchill Downs, so there’s that. I’d rate Necker Island as among the least likely winners.
12- Sole Volante is a stakes winner on dirt and turf, and if you are set on taking a closer in this race, he’s as good as any of them. I think you can excuse the Belmont Stakes dud by virtue of the fact that it was a one-turn race and they just got too far ahead of him early in there. He’s good, but it feels like maybe we’ve seen his best and his best is probably just not good enough.
13- Attachment Rate seems to be improving at the right time. The question is, can another mild forward move, even if it happens in the first place, be good enough to get the nod over the big boys? Watch the head-on replay of the start of the Blue Grass Stakes, and then watch the gallop-out. He blew past the winner, Art Collector, as they hit the turn, and that might be something or it might be nothing. Then he lost again to Art Collector in the Ellis Park Derby, but lost a ton of ground to that one in the clubhouse turn. Certainly more than the margin of victory was lost around both turns. Local connections. I would advise not letting Attachment Rate ruin all of your tickets. Let’s see how the week progresses, but all indications are this one will be a major focus of mine.
14- Winning Impression is trained by Dallas Stewart, and Dallas Stewart has been known to win races he ins’t supposed to with horses who don’t look like win candidates. That’s about all I can say about this horse.
15- Ny Traffic only has one win from five starts since being moved to Saffie Joseph’s barn, but he’s run big each time. He’s roughly four lengths from being undefeated this year. Doesn’t he sort of remind you of Funny Cide? He’s a New York-bred. He lost all of his preps but ran well. I dunno. Maybe. Fans of his will point to the fact that he darn near caught Authentic in the Haskell. His detractors will say that Authentic was stopping. He’s not the worst long shot in the bunch, but if I’m being honest, I’d rate him outside the Top 5 and the price won’t be THAT great.
16- Honor A.P. is clearly the most likely winner if Tiz the Law doesn’t fire. He’s good and getting better. The San Felipe loss was the perfect start to the 3yo campaign, and the Shared Belief loss was the perfect Derby prep. He’ll get the distance. He’s fast enough early to stay close and fast enough late to keep running through the wire. I see no vulnerabilities in his game. He’s THE major threat.
17- Tiz the Law will likely be the heaviest Derby favorite since I began following this sport in 1995. He could regress off his Travers win and still take this. On paper, there is nothing to knock. His loss at Churchill Downs last year was in the mud and he had traffic trouble. It wasn’t indicative of his ability and it does not mean he doesn’t like this track. If you want to get creative and make an argument in favor of betting against him, maybe you can say it’s unlikely Barclay Tagg could have him primed to win the Belmont AND the Travers and then win the Derby four weeks later. On the flip side, maybe he wasn’t primed for the other two. Regardless, there is no compelling reason to leave him off your tickets. He’s by far the most likely winner.
18- Authentic was at or near the top of most Derby Top 10 lists just two months ago. Then he crawled home and almost lost the Haskell. That race, combined with the disdainful ease with which Honor A.P. went by him in the Santa Anita Derby, give the appearance that perhaps Authentic isn’t as effective beyond 1 1/16th miles. Ny Traffic, who is no slouch but isn’t generally considered among the elite, almost caught him late in the Haskell. Mike Smith chose Honor A.P. over Authentic. I could go on and on. I just can’t use him.
So how am I going to bet the Kentucky Derby?
Taking anything around even money on Tiz the Law doesn’t interest me and it should not interest you. Honor A.P. stands at 8/1 as I type this, but based on Oaks/Derby Double will-pays, we may see him drop to 5/1 by post time. If you have strong conviction that he’s as good as Tiz the Law, 5/1 makes him a play. Those two will be hard to beat.
With Money Moves being bet down to 15/1 at the moment, and with my concern that the 98 Beyer Speed Figure he was assigned being a bit high, I am off him on the win end. But I’m not going to dismiss him from the rest of my wagers. I still think he’s sneaky in here.
In terms of my win/place bet, it came down to Storm the Court and Attachment Rate for me, and ultimately I landed on Attachment Rate. The deciding factor was the fact that in his final dirt prep, the Ohio Derby, Storm the Court ran against 11 horses that all came back to lose in their next race. I liked his effort that day. And I liked his prep on the grass. I like everything about him enough to use him in every bet I make. And if he wins the Kentucky Derby, I’ll cash something for sure. But I have been very impressed by Attachment Rate’s progression this year, and his effort in the Ellis Park Derby was, in my opinion, better than anything Storm the Court has done this year.
As far as the exotics go, I’m going to take the caveman approach and box Tiz the Law, Honor A.P., Attachment Rate, Storm the Court, and Money Moves in the exacta and trifecta. I realize this means I could hit the exacta and lose money if the favorites run 1-2 in either order. But I don’t feel like going through the hassle of playing multiple different exactas keying this horse here or that horse there. I will also play exactas using Attachment Rate and Storm the Court over ALL in 2nd, as well as trifectas with my long shots in 1st and 2nd over ALL in 3rd. In the superfecta, I’ll use those five in 1st through 3rd, with ALL in 4th. That’s 780 combinations, so if you play for $0.10, it’s a $78 superfecta. I’ll likely play it bigger than $0.10.