by Jon White
August 27, 2020
The $3 million Kentucky Derby looms.
Delayed from its traditional date on the first Saturday in May due to the coronavirus nightmare, this year’s 146th running of the 1 1/4-mile classic is scheduled to be held at Churchill Downs a week from Saturday on Sept. 5.
This will be the first time in the storied history of the Run for the Roses that customers will not be in attendance.
A crowd of 150,729 roared as Maximum Security led 18 pursuers down the stretch to what initially was thought to be a 1 3/4-length triumph in last year’s Kentucky Derby. But Country House was declared the winner after Maximum Security was disqualified and placed 17th. The stewards ruled that Maximum Security committed a foul by causing interference turning for home. It was the first time in the 145-year history of the Kentucky Derby that a winner had been disqualified for an incident during the running of the race.
Unlike last year, there will be no deafening Niagara Falls-like roar from 150,000 fans or so during the stretch run at this year’s Kentucky Derby. There instead eerily will be relative peace and quiet beneath the Twin Spires.
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
A NEW NO. 1 IN NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
After Maximum Security won Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic by three lengths in front-running fashion last Saturday, he climbs to No. 1 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. He was ranked No. 4 last week.
Met Mile winner Vekoma was No. 1 last week. He moves down a notch to No. 2 this week.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 343 Maximum Security (16)
2. 297 Vekoma (8)
3. 250 Tom’s d’Etat (3)
4. 232 Improbable
5. 228 Tiz the Law (11)
6. 204 Midnight Bisou
7. 109 Zulu Alpha
8. 102 Rushing Fall
9. 96 Monomoy Girl (1)
10. 81 By My Standards
Tiz the Law once again received all 39 first-place votes in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll. This is the third consecutive week that he has garnered all of the first-place votes.
The outstanding 3-year-old fillies Gamine and Swiss Skydiver were tied for fifth last week. Gamine is alone in fifth this week due to having one more point than Swiss Skydiver.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 390 Tiz the Law (39)
2. 320 Art Collector
3. 274 Honor A.P.
4. 249 Authentic
5. 207 Gamine
6. 206 Swiss Skydiver
7. 138 Thousand Words
8. 102 King Guillermo
9. 77 Ny Traffic
10. 60 Caracaro
VARIOUS KENTUCKY DERBY TEXT MESSAGES
Considering how many hours racehorses spend each day standing in a stall in a barn at the track, it’s understandable that they get bored.
It is a well-kept secret, but in order to deal with the boredom, many racehorses actually text. That’s why I decided to send a text to this year’s Kentucky Derby candidates. Amazingly, they all replied.
This was the one question that I texted to each of them: How do you feel about your chances of winning the Kentucky Derby?
These were their responses, listed in order of their eligibility ranking as determined by points and non-restricted stakes earnings:
TIZ THE LAW (Ranked No. 1 in eligibility): I am VERY confident that I am going to win the Kentucky Derby. Just look at what I’ve done this year. If you ask me -- and you did -- I am a force to be reckoned with!
Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- has been a match for me in any of my four races this year. My closest call this year was when I won the Holy Bull by three lengths in my first start of the year. I proved in the Travers earlier this month that I have what it takes to win at 1 1/4 miles. And I didn’t just win the Travers. I won it for fun (by 5 1/2 lengths).
I would be thrilled to win the Kentucky Derby for my trainer (Barclay Tagg). He’s done such a terrific job keeping me in winning form this year from the Holy Bull (on Feb. 1) to now. I know my trainer already has won a Kentucky Derby (in 2003 with Funny Cide). I’d sure be tickled if I could win another Kentucky Derby for him. And I think I will.
But you know what? What I’d really love to do is win the Triple Crown! I honestly think I have a shot at it. My trainer took a good run at it with Funny Cide (who finished third in the Belmont Stakes after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness).
I know some people are going to worry that I am going back to Churchill Downs, the track the only time I ran there (when finishing third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes). And I realize there will be those who will be worried about me if the track happens to be wet since that’s how the track was the only time I’ve ever lost. But I did not have the best of trips that day at Churchill. Plus, it wasn’t as if I ran horribly that day. I finished third and didn’t lose by all that much (three-quarters of a length). I actually am looking forward to getting back to Churchill and avenging my only defeat.
By the way, another reason I am confident that I am going to win the Kentucky Derby is I feel I have an excellent chance to be first or second with an eighth of a mile left to run. This is important (because 54 of the last 57 winners of the Kentucky Derby have been first or second a furlong out).
I have been in front with a furlong left to go in six of my seven races. In the Travers, I not only was in front at that point, I had a commanding lead (4 1/2 lengths).
The only race in which I haven’t been first or second a furlong out was in that race at Churchill last year. I was third at the eighth pole in that Churchill race (a half-length off the lead). But I was younger and less experienced. Considering I’ve been able to be in front with a furlong left to run in all four of my races this year, I will be shocked if I’m not one-two a furlong out in the Kentucky Derby.
I’m telling you right now that not only am I going to win the Kentucky Derby, I am going to break the track record! Okay, okay, okay -- I’m kidding. LOL Nobody will be getting anywhere close to Secretariat’s track record.
AUTHENTIC (No. 2 in eligibility): I know just about everybody wonders if I can win a race going 1 1/4 miles, which will be farther than I’ve ever gone. It won’t be easy, but I believe I can do it.
I had a good lead (in upper stretch) last time, but then I got to goofing around and almost got beat (when winning the 1 1/8-mile Haskell Invitational by a nose). But the thing is, I did win that race, didn’t I? How many horses do you see goof around and still win a Grade I race?
Don’t forget, my trainer (Hall of Famer Bob Baffert) is pretty darn good at winning a 1 1/4-mile race called the Kentucky Derby. He’s done it five times (Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, War Emblem in 2002, American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018). I will be honored if it turns out that I’m the one who gets my trainer a sixth Kentucky Derby victory to tie the record (held by Ben Jones).
My trainer gave me an excellent, stamina-building workout Tuesday here at Del Mar (one mile in 1:38.60).
Mike Smith rode me when I won the Haskell. Yes, he’s sticking with Honor A.P. (in the Kentucky Derby). Fine. I’m going to show him that he made a big mistake by jumping ship. And, hey, it’s not like my Kentucky Derby rider (John Velazquez) is a bum. He has won the Kentucky Derby twice (aboard Animal Kingdom in 2011 and Always Dreaming in 2017).
ART COLLECTOR (No. 3 in eligibility): Even though I’ve won all of my races this year, I won’t be the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. It will be Tiz the Law. And that’s OK with me.
It really is nothing too unusual for me not to be the favorite. In my nine career starts, I’ve only been the favorite three times. Twice this year I haven’t been the favorite and I won both times. When I wasn’t the favorite in the Blue Grass Stakes, what happened? I won by 3 1/2 lengths and beat a darn nice filly (Swiss Skydiver).
Can you imagine how wonderful it would be for my trainer (Tommy Drury Jr.) if I do win the Kentucky Derby? And I know I can win it. I am four for four this year and feeling like a million bucks. I am warning Tiz the Law and everybody else that they better have their running shoes on if they’re going to beat me.
HONOR A.P. (No. 4 in eligibility): The Kentucky Derby is what I have been waiting to run in for months. And I feel that I am ready to run the best race of my life so far!
I really liked my workout last Saturday at Del Mar (five furlongs in 1:00.20, then galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.20 and on out seven furlongs in 1:25.40). I did get pretty sweaty, but it was a very muggy afternoon. Pretty much everybody was sweating at Del Mar that day.
I am really looking forward to finally get the chance to go 1 1/4 miles.
I expect to run even better than when I won the Santa Anita Derby (going away by 2 3/4 lengths). My trainer (John Sherriffs) has brought me along to have me peak on the first Saturday in September. And this is a trainer who knows how to win the Kentucky Derby. He did done it once before (in 2005 with 50-1 longshot Giacomo). My jockey (Mike Smith) knows how to win this race, too. He’s won it twice (aboard Giacomo in 2005 and Justify in 2018).
It would be extra special for me to win the Kentucky Derby because of what happened to my grandfather (A.P. Indy). He didn’t get his chance to run it. He was scratched (due to a blind quarter crack when Lil E. Tee won it in 1992). My grandfather went on to win the Belmont and Breeders’ Cup Classic. He not only was my grandfather Horse of the Year that year, his rider, Eddie Delahoussaye, thought he would have won the Triple Crown with him.
NY TRAFFIC (No. 5 in eligibility): I think I have a heckuva shot to hit the board and maybe even win it. I’ve finished third or better in all five starts this year.
I ran my heart out in the Haskell. It looked like Authentic had put me away (in upper stretch), but then I was able to make it real close. I lost by just a nose.
The only time I raced at Churchill (finishing second to Maxfield), I ran pretty well. I lost to a talented colt that day. And I think I’m doing better now than I was then. So look out!
KING GUILLERMO (No. 6 in eligibility): I admit that a lot of people are going to be put off by the fact that I won’t have raced in four months. I haven’t started since I ran second to Nadal (in a division of the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on May 2).
Won’t it be kinda weird if I win the Kentucky Derby off such a layoff? But this has been a year for a lot of weird things, right? All I know is I’m fresh and could not be training any better. I had a fantastic workout the other day (five furlongs in :58.20 at Churchill Downs last Saturday).
I showed what I can do off a layoff when I won the Tampa Bay Derby (by almost five lengths at 49-1 on March 7 after having not raced since Nov. 30). The Tampa Bay Derby shows it’s not a good idea to take me lightly because of a layoff.
THOUSAND WORDS (No. 7 in eligibility): I won my first three races, then got drubbed in my next two (losing by 11 1/4 and 29 3/4 lengths). I just got sour for a while. But then with the help of my trainer (Bob Baffert), I got out of my funk and ran second in the Los Al Derby behind my hyped stablemate Uncle Chuck. And then I ran even better to win my last race (the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar) while beating another hyped horse (Honor A.P).
Not only has my trainer won the Kentucky Derby five times, one of those five winners (American Pharoah) was by my sire, Pioneerof the Nile.
I’m coming off the best race of my life. What if I run an even better race in the Kentucky Derby? If I do, don’t be surprised if I’m the one draped in roses.
DR POST (No. 8 in eligibility): I’m warning everybody not to read too much into my race in the Haskell (when ending up third). I can do better than that. I got shuffled back toward the back of the field early at Monmouth. That was particularly bad because then I had to try to rally into what was not a fast pace being set by Authentic. Authentic and Ny Traffic ran one-two all the way around the track in that race. I’m telling you, just a draw a line through that race of mine. Before that, I ran second (to Tiz the Law) in the Belmont. And that was a good effort for it being only the fourth race of my life. Can I give Tiz the Law more of a run for his money this time? You bet I can.
And my trainer (Todd Pletcher) is no stranger to winning the Kentucky Derby. He’s done it twice (with Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017).
It looks like I’m probably not running in the Kentucky Derby. It will be a big disappointment if I don’t run in it. I really, really feel that I would have a chance to win it. But they’re talking about running me instead in the Jim Dandy (at Saratoga the same day as the Derby or maybe training me up to the Preakness (on Oct. 3 at Pimlico).
MAX PLAYER (No. 9 in eligibility): I feel that I can make a lot of noise in the Kentucky Derby. I’ve never finished worse than third in five career starts. And check out my Beyer Speed Figure pattern. I ran a 68 in my first race, then 72, then 86, then 92, then 99. Don’t ya love that pattern? Triple-digit Beyer in the Kentucky Derby, here I come!
After my last race, I got a new trainer (Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen). I’ve received a lot of texts telling me that it’s only a matter of time before this trainer wins his first Kentucky Derby. That will be a kick when I become the horse who does it for him!
CARACARO (No. 10 in eligibility): You know, I feel that I’m only scratching the surface as to what I’m capable of doing. I ran a big race (to win by six) at Gulfstream last winter, then I was off until I almost won the Peter Pan (on July 16). I couldn’t catch Tiz the Law in the Travers, but I galloped out well after the finish and now have that 1 1/4-mile race under my belt. I am looking forward to the rematch with Tiz the Law. I really think I can give him a real big scare in our rematch.
ENFORCEABLE (No. 11 in eligibility): If the pace is fast, I’m gonna mow them all down in the lane! OK, if the pace is fast and I don’t mow them all down, I like my chances to finish second, third or fourth. But if the pace isn’t fast, that’s gonna really hurt my chances.
My trainer (Mark Casse) has won two of the last three Triple Crown races (2019 Preakness with War of Will, 2019 Belmont with Sir Winston). If they zip along early, I think I can add a Kentucky Derby victory to my trainer’s wins in the Preakness and Belmont.
RUSHIE (No. 12 in eligibility): I’m not Triple Crown nominated, but I can still run in the Kentucky Derby if my owners put up the money needed to make eligible. I hope they do put up the money. I really do. Yeah, I know, it’s easy for me to spend someone else’s money, right? But if they give me the chance to compete in the Derby, I really believe that I can make some real noise. Look, I ran a decent third in both the Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass. In other words, I haven’t been disgraced when running against Honor A.P., Authentic, Art Collector and Swiss Skydiver.
From what I understand, instead of running in the Kentucky Derby, most likely I’ll be running in the Pat Day Mile that same day. If that’s what happens, it’ll be a real bummer.
MAJOR FED (No. 13 in eligibility): Yep. I’ve won just one race in six career starts. That means I’m still eligible for a race restricted to non-winners of two races lifetime. So what business do I have running in the Kentucky Derby. But guess what? Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner (Country House) also went into it with just one lifetime win. Well, I’m out to make it back-to-back Kentucky Derby winners who previously had won only once.
STORM THE COURT (No. 14 in eligibility): They wrote me off in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year. And what happened? I won at odds of 45-1. Now I’m going to be written off again in the Kentucky Derby. Go ahead. Write me off. I have a lot better chance than many people think.
Did you know I earned an excellent Thoro-Graph number when I ran third in the Ohio Derby? It’s a number that puts me in the hunt with pretty much everybody other than Tiz the Law. How about my workout at Del Mar last Saturday? I worked five furlongs in :59 flat. It was the fastest of 73 works at the distance that morning! I worked five furlongs at Del Mar faster that morning than Improbable, Gamine, Law Abidin Citizen and Flagstaff.
It’ll be a real hoot when I follow my Breeders’ Cup upset with an upset in the Kentucky Derby!
ATTACHMENT RATE (No. 15 in eligibility): I admit that it’s taken me a while to get it together. In some of my early races, I ran well despite not changing leads. But I’m finally figuring it out at the right time, in time for the Kentucky Derby. The Ellis Park Derby was my best race yet. True, I was no match for Art Collector in the lane that day. But I think it would’ve been a lot closer if I hadn’t had such a wide trip. I finished well clear of everyone but Art Collector. My Thoro-Graph number in that race not only was my best by far so far, it’s a number comparable to or better than everybody but Tiz the Law.
Supposedly they are debating between running me in the Kentucky Derby and the Pat Day Mile on the same card. My hope is that it’s gonna be the Derby. If I won the Derby, it would be HUGE for my trainer (Dale Romans), who was born in Louisville!
SOLE VOLANTE (No. 16 in eligibility): I recognize that I’ve fallen out of favor since being considered one of the leading Kentucky Derby candidates earlier this year after I won the Sam F. Davis at Tampa. The worst race of my life was last time out (when finishing sixth in the Belmont). But you can throw that race right out the window. That’s because I was running back in just 10 days and had traveled from Florida to New York after I won at Gulfstream.
My trainer (Patrick Biancone) should never, ever be underestimated. He would have won a Kentucky Derby with Lion Heart in 2004 if not for Smarty Jones. And what my trainer did in 1983 with All Along remains one of the all-time great training feats (victories in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France on Oct. 2, Canadian International in Canada on Oct. 16, Turf Classic in New York on Oct. 29, then Washington, D.C., International in Maryland on Nov. 12).
FINNICK THE FIERCE (No. 17 in eligibility): What a great story it will be when I do win the Kentucky Derby as a gelding who has one eye, won’t it? I know most people don’t give me a prayer of winning, but sometimes a big upset does win this race. I mean, there was a big upset just last year (when Country House won at odds of 65-1). That gives me hope!
WINNING IMPRESSION (No. 18 in eligibility): Considering I’m one for nine, hardly anyone believes I will be living up to my name in the Kentucky Derby. But after you stop laughing at my chances, keep in mind my trainer (Dallas Stewart) has been probably the best trainer in recent years for having longshots do well in big races.
NECKER ISLAND (No. 19 in eligibility): I am not surprised that I’m not getting much respect. Off my record, I get it. But my owners thought enough of me to spend $100,000 to claim me (at Churchill Downs on June 13). I have to admit, it’s pretty cool that they spent so much money for me. And it’s not like my two races since being claimed have been stinkers. I ran third in both the Indiana Derby and Ellis Park Derby.
SHIRL’S SPEIGHT (No. 20 in eligibility): Win or lose, they are going to know I’m in the race. I don’t mean to brag, but I can really run. Sure, this is about as unorthodox a way to get to the Kentucky Derby as it gets -- only two starts, a win on turf and a win on synthetic, both at Woodbine. Now I’m being asked to race on dirt for the first time and go 1 1/4 miles when I haven’t gone farther than 1 1/16 miles. I’m sure there will be skeptics that I can win going 1 1/4 miles when my sire (Speightstown) was a champion sprinter. But my dam was good enough to win a Breeders’ Cup race going 1 3/8 miles (the Filly & Mare Turf in 2011 at Churchill Downs). So I have stamina on that side of the family.
Some of my workouts have caused a buzz at Woodbine, especially when I worked on the dirt (four furlongs) in :47.60 and (five furlongs) in :57.00. Then I went a mile in 1:39.20 on the dirt (at Woodbine last Saturday) when I worked with five other horses. They kept me behind horses early to get accustomed to having dirt thrown back into my face. I didn’t like it -- who would? -- but it really wasn’t all that rough. I’m glad they did that so I could learn what that dirt kickback is all about.
My owner (Charles Fipke) has made millions in diamonds. And now he has a gem in me!
MONEY MOVES (No. 21 in eligibility): I’m currently on the outside looking in terms of eligibility to run. I don’t have any (Kentucky Derby) points. Neither does Shirl’s Speight. But Shirl’s Speight is ranked ahead of me in terms of eligibility because he gets preference due to the fact that if two or more horses have the same number of points, the tiebreaker is earnings in non-restricted stakes races. He has $55,896 in non-restricted stakes earnings, while I have none.
I get the feeling that I’m probably not going to run in the Kentucky Derby even if I can get into the race. If I do get the chance to run, it will be my stakes debut. I’m fully aware that I would be shooting for the moon. I have only three races under my belt, all this year, but my Beyers are rising. I ran a 67 Beyer in my first race, then a 90, then a 98. Before you say I don’t belong in the Kentucky Derby, a 98 Beyer is better than the career-best figure for many of the horses I would be facing if I do get to run.