by Jon White
August 13, 2020
Turning for home in last Saturday’s 151st running of the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga, it was odds-on favorite Tiz the Law who made Uncle Chuck “say uncle.”
Tiz the Law put away Uncle Chuck at that stage of the race. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, the 2020 Travers then was over in terms of who was going to win.
For me, it was the wrong 3-year-old who “said uncle” turning for home. That’s because Uncle Chuck had been my selection to win the Travers. I wrote before the race that there was no doubt that Tiz the Law was the one to beat.
I tried to beat Tiz the Law and I paid the price.
One of the reasons I opted for Uncle Chuck was the expectation that his odds would be quite a bit better than Tiz the Law’s. That was the case. Uncle Chuck was 5-2 when he exited the started gate, which was much more attractive than Tiz the Law’s 1-2.
If you made a $2 win wager on Tiz the Law, your profit was just $1. But guess what? If you bought a $2 win ticket on Uncle Chuck, you collected nothing. Zippo.
In “normal times” you might have torn up your $2 win ticket on Uncle Chuck in disgust. But being able to purchase mutuel tickets at a racetrack is virtually nonexistent these days due to the ongoing coronavirus nightmare in which hardly anyone is allowed to attend live racing, As a consequence of the virus, almost everyone must make a bet or bets these days by utilizing an advance deposit wagering (ADW) platform. (And hopefully that means Xpressbet.)
Following Tiz the Law’s emphatic triumph in the Travers, the New York-bred Constitution colt ascends to the top spot on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P. moves down a notch to No. 2. Caracaro, runner-up in the Travers, is a newcomer on the Top 10 this week at No. 5.
Ny Traffic, who lost the Haskell Invitational by a scant nose to Authentic, is back on the Top 10 this week at No. 9. Authentic? He is No. 6.
Uncle Chuck and Country Grammer (who finished fifth in the Travers) drop off this week’s Top 10.
Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
1. Tiz the Law
2. Honor A.P.
3. Art Collector
5. Thousand Words
7. Dr Post
8. King Guillermo
9. Ny Traffic
10. Max Player
IT WAS ALL TIZ THE LAW IN THE LANE
After Tiz the Law and jockey Manny Franco drew well clear in upper stretch to boast a 4 1/2-length lead at the furlong pole, the rider then geared down the big favorite for the final sixteenth. Tiz the Law did not run straight down the lane, but it didn’t matter because he was always so well clear of the other six starters. Allowed to “cruise home,” Tiz the Law won “in impressive fashion” by 5 1/2 lengths, according to the Equibase race chart.
Caracaro, who was 11-1 in the wagering, finished second. Max Player, likewise off at 11-1, ended up third. Uncle Chuck came in sixth, 11 lengths behind Tiz the Law.
Prior to his defeat last weekend, Uncle Chuck had been compared to Arrogate, the record-smashing 13 1/2-length winner of the 2016 Travers. But Uncle Chuck showed last Saturday that he is no Arrogate, at least not at this point.
Tiz the Law now heads to the 146th running of the Grade I Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Delayed by four months from its traditional date due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 1 1/4-mile classic will be held this year on the first Saturday in September.
In the Run for the Roses, Tiz the Law will resume his quest to become this country’s 14th Triple Crown winner.
I am looking past the Kentucky Derby with anticipatory goosebumps in terms of what could possibly happen on the first Saturday in October. What if Tiz the Law wins the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby, which he will be a strong favorite to do? And what if the filly Gamine, scintillating winner of the Acorn Stakes and Test Stakes, wins the Sept. 4 Kentucky Oaks, which she likewise will be a strong favorite to do?
Imagine the tremendous excitement that would be generated if Tiz the Law and Gamine then clashed in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Oct. 3? Tiz the Law would be seeking a Triple Crown sweep vs. a filly whose trainer, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, has called a “superstar.” Is this scenario beyond the realm of possibility? At this point it is not. That’s because Baffert has not ruled out running Gamine in the Preakness after the Kentucky Oaks.
SPLENDID FINAL TIME AND BEYER SPEED FIGURE
Tiz the Law completed his 1 1/4-mile journey last Saturday in a praiseworthy 2:00.95 in hundredths or 2:00 4/5 in fifths. These are the six-fastest editions of the Travers in fifths:
Time Horse (Year)
1:59 1/5 Arrogate (2016)
2:00 flat General Assembly (1979)
2:00 1/5 Honest Pleasure (1976)
2:00 4/5 Tiz the Law (2020)
2:00 4/5 Thunder Rumble (1992)
2:00 4/5 Easy Goer (1989)
Another reason I picked against Tiz the Law in the Travers is he had not ever recorded a Beyer Speed Figure higher than 100. That, to me, suggested he might be vulnerable vis-a-vis Uncle Chuck.
But Tiz the Law performed well enough in the Travers to raise his game to a 109 in the Beyer Speed Figure department. It’s the highest Beyer by a 3-year-old male this year and is exceeded only by Gamine’s figure of 110 that the filly received for her dazzling 18 3/4-length win in the Acorn Stakes at Belmont on June 20.
These are the 10 highest Beyer Speed Figures by a 3-year-old so far in 2020:
Beyer Horse (Finish, Race, Track, Date)
110 Gamine (1st, Acorn, Belmont Park, June 20
109 Tiz the Law (1st, Travers, Saratoga, Aug. 8)
108 Gamine (1st, DQ’d from purse, alw/opt claimer, Oaklawn, May 2)
108 Charlatan (1st, alw/opt claimer, Santa Anita, March 14)
106 Charlatan (1st, maiden special weight, Santa Anita, Feb. 16)
104 Thousand Words (1st, Shared Belief, Del Mar, Aug. 1)
103 Art Collector (1st, Blue Grass, Keeneland, July 11)
102 Honor A.P. (2nd, Shared Belief, Del Mar, Aug. 1)
102 Art Collector (1st, allowance/optional claimer, Churchill, June 13)
102 Honor A.P. (1st, Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, June 6)
Below are the Beyers for the Travers winners going back to 1990 (the figures prior to 2020 are listed in the American Racing Manual, which now can be purchased in a digital format):
2020 Tiz the Law (109)
2019 Code of Honor (105)
2018 Catholic Boy (104)
2017 West Coast (108)
2016 Arrogate (122)
2015 Keen Ice (106)
2014 V.E. Day (102)
2013 Will Take Charge (107)
2012 Alpha (100)*
2012 Golden Ticket (100)*
2011 Stay Thirsty (101)
2010 Afleet Express (105)
2009 Summer Bird (110)
2008 Colonel John (106)
2007 Street Sense (108)
2006 Bernardini (116)
2005 Flower Alley (110)
2004 Birdstone (108)
2003 Ten Most Wanted (112)
2002 Medaglia d’Oro (113)
2001 Point Given (117)
2000 Unshaded (109)
1999 Lemon Drop Kid (110)
1998 Coronado’s Quest (107)
1997 Deputy Commander (110)
1996 Will’s Way (114)
1995 Thunder Gulch (110)
1994 Holy Bull (115)
1993 Sea Hero (109)
1992 Thunder Rumble (109)
1991 Corporate Report (109)
1990 Rhythm (104)
TRAINER CHANGE FOR MAX PLAYER
Max Player continued his improving Beyer pattern when he was credited with a career-best figure in the Travers. The Kentucky-bred Honor Code colt recorded a 68 Beyer Speed Figure in his first start, then a 72, then an 86 when he won the Withers Stakes, a 92 when third in the Belmont, then a 99 for his third in the Travers.
I was sorry to see the news Tuesday reported by both the Daily Racing Form and BloodHorse that Max Player has undergone a trainer change from Linda Rice to Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen.
Max Player is owned by George Hall, plus the racing syndicate SportBLX Thoroughbreds. Hall is the majority owner.
I thought Rice had done a fine job with Max Player. Evidently so did Hall, even though he took Max Player away from Rice.
“I think she did a good job getting the horse this far and I think it was time for a change,” Hall was quoted as saying in David Grening’s DRF story.
Hall, according to Grening, explained that he wanted a trainer based in Kentucky to prepare Max Player for the Kentucky Derby.
“I definitely wanted someone with experience and infrastructure at Churchill,” Hall said. “I wanted someone who could take the horse to Churchill right away and to spend some time with the horse prior to the race and give him his best shot at having a good race at that track.”
Asmussen also benefitted bigtime when he took over as Midnight Bisou’s trainer from Southern California-based Bill Spawr after the filly finished third in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks in 2018. Under Asmussen’s care, Midnight Bisou was voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion older female. Midnight Bisou currently ranks fifth in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll.
Considering what Midnight Bisou has accomplished for Asmussen, one really can’t knock the change to him by Bloom Racing and partners. But I can’t help feeling bad for Spawr, who is a very good horseman. It is a big blow for a trainer to lose a horse of the quality of Midnight Bisou. And it’s not as if Spawr does not know what to do with a top horse, as evidenced by his work with Amazombie, the Eclipse Award-winning male sprinter of 2011.
Similarly, I can’t help feeling bad for Rice. But I learned long ago that any horse can be yanked away from any trainer at any time. I especially learned that with Gato Del Sol.
Gato Del Sol, who raced for Arthur B. Hancock III and Leone J. Peters, was a good colt. But he was never, ever a world-beater. In my opinion, Eddie Gregson did a superlative training job to have Gato Del Sol prepared well enough to win the 1982 Kentucky Derby. And the truth is regardless of the job Gregson did, Gato Del Sol might not have pulled off his 21-1 upset in the Kentucky Derby if not for a stellar ride by Eddie Delahoussaye.
It turned out that not even winning a Kentucky Derby was enough for Gregson to keep Gato Del Sol. One morning shortly after Gregson lost Gato Del Sol, I visited the trainer at his barn and told him how sorry I was it had happened.
“Thank you,” Gregson said. “But it really is okay, Jon. Am I happy about it? Of course not. But a trainer knows it’s something that can always happen.”
It was yet another example of what a class individual the late Eddie Gregson was in addition to being a terrific trainer.
As for Gato Del Sol, after he was taken away from Gregson, the son of Cougar II confirmed that he was far from a world-beater. Even after Gato Del Sol joined the Charlie Whittingham barn, not even that late, great trainer was able to accomplish much with him.
MEL STUTE PASSES AWAY AT AGE 93
Xpressbet is about betting on horse races. On Wednesday came the sad news that a man who felt that betting on horses was just about as important as breathing will not be making any more wagers.
Just four days after his 93rd birthday, Mel Stute passed away. Best known as the trainer of Snow Chief, the Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old male of 1986, Stute was a respected and extremely popular member of the Southern California racing community for many decades.
“The last bet he made was a winner at Saratoga,” said Mel’s son, Gary Stute, also a trainer, in the Daily Racing Form obituary written by Jay Privman.
I am elated to learn that Mel Stute’s final wager was a winning one.
Of the hundreds of trainers I have known through the years, I can tell you none has been friendlier than Mel Stute, who died at home in Del Mar, Calif.
Born in Fort Wayne, Ind., Stute moved to California at the age of 7. At Covina High School near Los Angeles, he excelled in basketball and track and field. He grew up with his older brother, Warren, a successful trainer in his own right who died in 2007 at the age of 87.
Mel Stute began as a groom in 1945. Early in his career as a trainer, he ran horses in the Pacific Northwest. Indeed, he saddled his first winner, Egg Nog, at Portland Meadows in 1947.
Stute in 1966 won the biggest race in the Northwest, the Longacres Mile, with Aurelius II, who rallied from 10th to prevail by 4 1/2 lengths. Aurelius II paid $18.70 to win. That no doubt was the icing on the cake for Stute, who most assuredly had paid a visit to the mutuel windows.
I once told Stute that I got a chance to see Aurelius II run in the first Longacres Mile that I ever witnessed in 1967. I even told him that my dad bet on Aurelius II that day. Unfortunately for Stute and my dad, Aurelius II finished fifth behind the victorious Kings Favor in that renewal of the Longacres Mile.
Stute’s “big” horse, of course, was Snow Chief. I was working as a writer/columnist for the Daily Racing Form in 1985 at Del Mar when 2-year-old Snow Chief took the six-furlong Rancho Bernardo, his first stakes victory. Rafael Meza rode the California-bred Reflected Glory colt.
Not long after the Rancho Bernardo, I was at Stute’s barn to ask him how Snow Chief was doing and what the plans were for him.
“He’s doing good,” Stute said. “I’m going to run him in the Del Mar Futurity. And this new guy Solis is going to ride him.”
Snow Chief and “new guy” Alex Solis finished third behind Tasso and Arewehavingfunyet in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity. But before the year was over, Snow Chief and Solis won the Grade I Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita and Grade I Hollywood Futurity at Hollywood Park.
After Snow Chief and Solis won the Grade I Florida Derby and Grade I Santa Anita Derby the following spring, the colt was sent off as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade I Kentucky Derby. But Snow Chief ended up eleventh in the Run for the Roses won by the Charlie Whittingham-trained Ferdinand.
Because Snow Chief finished up the track in the Kentucky Derby, Stute had planned to send him back to California and skip the Grade I Preakness. But it was none other than Whittingham who suggested to Stute that he forget what had happened in the Kentucky Derby and go on to the Preakness.
Snow Chief rebounded to win the Preakness by four lengths. Ferdinand finished second.
“If I hadn’t opened my mouth and told Mel that he should forget all about the Derby and run Snow Chief in the Preaknes, I would have been going for the Triple Crown with Ferdinand in the Belmont," Whittingham said to me years later one morning at Santa Anita when we were talking about the 1986 Triple Crown series.
Ferdinand would not have won the Triple Crown anyway. He finished third behind Danzing Connection and Johns Treasure in the Belmont, which was contested on a sloppy track
Snow Chief did not run in the Belmont. After the Preakness, he won the Grade II Jersey Derby by two lengths at Garden State Park.
All told, Snow Chief won 13 of 24 lifetime starts and earned $3,383,210.
Snow Chief’s daughter Anytime Ms. produced the Kris S. colt Brocco, winner of the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Stute also trained a pair of talented fillies in Brave Raj and Very Subtle.
Brave Raj won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 1986 at Santa Anita. She was voted a 1986 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly.
Very Subtle at age 3 won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 1987 by four lengths at Hollywood Park when defeating older males. Sprint star Groovy finished second. I called that official race chart for the Daily Racing Form. And this undoubtedly was another betting score for Stute. Very Subtle paid $34.80 to win.
The Stute-trained Double Discount set a world record of 1:57 2/5 for 1 1/4 miles when he won the 1977 Carleton F. Burke Handicap on Santa Anita’s turf course. Stute also trained the multiple graded stakes winner Telly’s Pop (owned by TV star Telly Savalas of “Kojak” fame), Grade I winners Right Con and Kool Arrival, plus 1961 Californian Stakes winner First Balcony.
Inducted into the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Hall of Fame in 2008, Stute trained through 2011.
Stute quite possibly would have been elected to the national Hall of Fame if the voting system was as it is today. These days, more than one trainer can be elected in the same year. This was not always the case.
Stute made it onto the Hall of Fame ballot many times. But he had the misfortune of having to compete against other trainers on the ballot at the same time.
For instance, Stute was on the same ballot as Richard Mandella in 2001. Mandella got in, Stute did not. Stute was on the same ballot as Bud Delp in 2002. Delp got in, Stute did not. Nowadays, Mandella and Stute both could have been in elected in 2001 or Delp and Stute both could have been elected in 2002.
The Hall of Fame finally saw the error in its ways and allowed more than one trainer, more than one jockey, more than one male Thoroughbred and more than one female Thoroughbred to be elected in the same year. If the Hall of Fame had not made this change, Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra would not have been able to go into the Hall of Fame in the same year, which would have been absurd. Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra both were inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2016, their first year of eligibility.
There is a possibility that Mel Stute would not have received enough support to be voted into the Hall of Fame even under today’s system. Unfortunately, we will never know. It’s just a shame that for so many years when he was appearing on the ballot so many times that a poor Hall of Fame voting system did, without question, hurt his chances.
SHERWOOD CHILLINGWORTH, DAN SMITH HONORED
I was tickled to see the memory of racing executive and racehorse owner Sherwood Chillingworth will be honored at the upcoming Santa Anita autumn meeting.
The L.A. Woman Stakes has been renamed the Chillingworth Stakes. The Grade III race originally was the Louis R. Rowan Stakes, named after one of the founders of the Oak Tree Racing Association.
The Chillingworth Stakes and the Speakeasy headline the opening-day Sept. 19 card at Santa Anita. The Chillingworth is a 6 1/2-furlong sprint on the main track for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up. The Speakeasy is a 5 1/2-furlong grass race for 2-year-olds.
Known affectionately as “Chilly,” Chillingworth died last year on Oct. 8. He was 93.
Chillingworth became an Oak Tree director in 1989 and was named executive vice president in 1993, just prior to the first of four Breeders’ Cups he oversaw at Santa Anita. He also raced a number of Thoroughbreds in the name of his Paniolo Ranch or in partnerships. Swing Till Dawn, Yashigan, Forzando and Valley Victory were Grade I winners that Chillingworth owned in partnerships.
“Chilly was one of the sport’s true gentlemen,” said Aidan Butler, executive director of California racing operations for The Stronach Group. “He was full of life and loved racing. He actually lived here at Santa Anita and was such a part of this place that it is only appropriate for us to honor him with the Chillingworth Stakes.
“Santa Anita is about tradition and, especially now during this pandemic when we all long for what has been traditional, we are embracing the importance of our history. That includes examining not only the names of our stakes races, but every little detail that makes Santa Anita so special.”
I only wish Chillingworth would have been honored with a stakes race named after him while he was still alive. It would have meant so much to him.
Horse racing, I believe, too often waits until someone passes away before honoring them by naming a stakes race after them. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.
The New York Racing Association changed the name of the Turf Classic to the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic while the esteemed executive columnist for the Daily Racing Form was still alive. As someone who spoke to Hirsch on the phone from time to time, I can attest to how much that meant to him.
Santa Anita’s Eddie D. Stakes (honoring retired Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye), Churchill Downs’ Pat Day Mile (honoring another retired Hall of Fame rider) and Churchill’s Lukas Classic (honoring the still-active Hall of Fame trainer) are three examples of stakes races that have been named after someone still alive. I sure would like to see horse racing do more of this rather than waiting until after someone has died.
I am happy for Dan Smith that he’s still alive to appreciate that the Del Mar press box is being named for the longtime publicist.
The Dan Smith press box naming ceremony is scheduled to take place next year.
Smith, 83, retired this year following a distinguished 60-year career in racing, including 56 years of working in various capacities at Del Mar. For many years, Smith worked in the publicity departments at all the Southern California tracks. He became Santa Anita’s publicity director in 1972 while continuing to work summers at Del Mar.
Suggestion to Del Mar: How about naming a stakes race in Smith’s honor next year? Considering his extensive contributions to the track for so many years, wouldn’t that be appropriate? After all, Del Mar already has the Grade II Eddie Read Stakes (won on July 26 by United), named after the track’s first publicity director. Smith left Santa Anita in 1975 to take over as Del Mar’s publicity director following Read’s death.
Smith, as noted by Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman, headed Del Mar’s marketing department for many years in addition to being the publicity director.
“In those dual roles,” Privman wrote, Smith “was part of Del Mar’s renovation in the early 1990s to the modern facility it is today. He also came up with the name for the track’s signature race, the Pacific Classic, inaugurated in 1991. His resume includes longtime stints working on the notes team at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.”
Smith also assisted NBC announcers Dick Enberg and Tom Hammond with their Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown broadcasts.
In recent years, Smith had worked only the live Del Mar meets after having handed over the reins as publicity director to his assistant for many years, Mac McBride.
NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL: TIZ THE LAW IS TOO LOW
While Tiz the Law received all 39 of the first-place votes in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll, he is something of an equine Rodney Dangerfield insofar as ranking sixth in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll.
It states right above the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll that it is the “current Horse of the Year ranking” of Thoroughbreds.
You’re going to tell me that if balloting was conducted today for the 2020 Horse of the Year title, five horses would receive more support than Tiz the Law? I don’t think so.
Met Mile winner Vekoma received the most first-place votes, 13. Tiz the Law received 12 first-place votes. I believe this is a truer reflection of the “current Horse of the Year ranking.”
The problem, as I see it, is not with first-place votes. It’s with too many people not voting for Tiz the Law at all from 1 through 10, which is ridiculous. This is why Tiz the Law is not ranked higher than sixth, as he should be, in my view.
For the record, my first-place vote in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week did go to Tiz the Law.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 312 Vekoma (13)
2. 271 Tom’s d’Etat (3)
3. 268 Improbable (5)
4. 239 Maximum Security (5)
5. 228 Midnight Bisou
6. 215 Tiz the Law (12)
7. 115 Monomoy Girl (1)
8. 113 Zulu Alpha
9. 96 By My Standards
10. 42 Gamine
The Top 10 this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 390 Tiz the Law (39)
2. 296 Art Collector
3. 277 Honor A.P.
4. 264 Authentic
5. 204 Gamine
6. 162 Thousand Words
7. 103 King Guillermo
8. 99 Ny Traffic
9. 78 Swiss Skydiver
10. 71 Caracaro