With the revamping of the Derby Prep Schedule this year, normal handicapping rituals have been disrupted. Today marks eight weeks left before the running of the 2020 Kentucky Derby. After today’s edition of the Blue Grass Stakes, we still have 7 more preps to come.
Ballysax at Dunfolk on July 12th.
Peter Pan at Saratoga on July 16th.
The Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on the 18th.
The Shared Belief Stakes on August 1st.
The Travers Stakes at Saratoga on August 8th.
Ellis Park Derby on August 11th.
The Pegasus at Monmouth on Aug 15th.
Much will transpire over the next 8 weeks, as these last preps surely will produce a few main players for the big show. These players may or may not be the actual winners of the prep itself which is the main part of handicapping for a 10f race. The real work begins this week in preparation for the biggest race of the year.
Because of the extra 3 months tacked onto this 2020 edition, we have literally gone through a full year of tracking these colts. It is normally 9 months. To put this year in perspective, my normal tracking consists of one copybook per Derby Edition which holds all the info, notes, workouts, beyers, rumors, breeding, numbers, etc. of each probable contender. This year I filled two.
It was just 6 weeks ago when it had appeared that the Derby was an easy lock this year. No handicapping required. It had all of the markings of another year like 2016. The year that Nyquist, Exaggerator, Gun Runner and Mohaymen completely and totally dominated over that crop that year.
We lost two of the top three contenders in the blink of an eye. Nadal and Maxfield. Both exhibited exceptional performances, magnificent talent and determination, and both had the 10f without a shadow of a doubt. It was almost too good to be true. An easy single on top with Nadal, boxing Maxfield and Tiz the Law in the 2nd and 3rd spot and slamming at least seven in the 4th spot. Done. Wagered. Cashed.
Then it all blew up.
It’s just as well. The payout would have been non-existent and that’s no fun. But it is a shame for those two exceptional horses. I dare-say that whoever ends up with the roses this year, he will inevitably be second string to Nadal and Maxfield. The winner by default. The sole recipient of luck due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Had the race been run on the first Saturday in May, Nadal would have been crowned the Champ already.
So here we are. Eight weeks away til the big day and seven more preps to go. In reviewing the top 25 colts out there, several do stand out which actually do not even align with the actual winners of the past preps. As every year proves time and time again, those colts who win those 8 to 9 furlong preps are not necessarily equipped to reproduce those types of performances at 10f. It is the ones who lagged behind but miraculously secured a gate. These are the guys who actually have a fighting chance now that Maxfield and Nadal are out.
It all revolves around projection and inheritance. The bias this year will be front and center at Churchill Downs because what has consistently won on a May track in the past, may not be the same for a September track. This is uncharted territory but much time has been dedicated to comparing the effects of the winners between the Spring meets and the Fall meets of the past in order to determine what may fall in between. As always, no stone will go un-turned. Even though this year has a dark cloud hovering over it, it is still the Derby and there will still be money pouring in all over that tote board.
Something in the back of my mind is telling me that this year has been so disrupted to the point that many may have neglected the lead-up. I feel like many have no idea what is actually going on concerning the Prep runners, as it was quite a tumultuous year for many. They lost interest, plain and simple. They may know the name Tiz the Law and that's probably it. Could be the makings of a nicely spread-out odds board which, of course, results in a nice payout.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m still going to shoot for a piece of it with everything I have. That being said, it is now time to retire the “Kentucky Derby Prep Winners” article for 2020. I will not be updating that article starting today which means that the Bluegrass Stakes winner, Art Collector will have to wait just a bit. All in due time.
In one month, sometime just after the Travers Stakes, I will post the 2020 Kentucky Derby analysis. It should take at least the full month to fully study each and every contender, their progression, their past performances with replays, the bias tendencies, history from May to September, etc. This is also most likely the last open article until after the Breeders Cup at Keeneland. Passwords will resume shortly. To put it bluntly, some will receive a new password, most will not.
STATE OF THE DERBY
HONOR A.P. vs TIZ the LAW
The best progression from his first maiden attempt all the way through to his win in the Santa Anita Derby belongs to Honor A.P. - This gorgeous colt is so impressive and he is arguably holding the best chart and pedigree of all of the hopefuls. His line-breeding to St. Simon is 33.4% and his optimum distance is 10.3f. He came in second in his "too short" first maiden attempt. He wired his winning 2nd maiden race at 1 mile. He has Ribot and Flower Bowl on the mare side of his pedigree. He has shown an ability to lead and an ability to run mid-pack which is EXACTLY how his grandfather A.P. Indy won his early races prior to the Triple Crown. He is following A.P. Indy’s style, at the same distances, as opposed to following his immediate sire Honor Code. Hopefully he follows those same killer A.P. Indy characteristics as well at the same distances going forward. He's well on his way.
His last race, the Santa Anita Derby, exhibited a horse who has a strong and powerful late surge of thunder which is key to the success in the Derby. He has the stamina to progress off of that magnificent performance. This race was run on June 6th, which means Honor AP will most likely make one last appearance prior to the Derby. That race will be seriously important. It will separate him from board hit material to the one to beat.
The pivotal key here is Honor's 3.00 index up against the 4.33 index of Tiz the Law. The second key is the bias from May to September. Too much inbred speed up top may not hold the strongest advantage later in the season.
Tiz the Law needs Tapit. So far, we have not had the pleasure of an ideal situation where we could see it. As his numbers stand, at face value, he can't do it without it. We cannot assume it is there, nor can we assume that it isn't there. It's a Catch 22 either way. But, as luck would have it, Tiz the Law is heading to the Travers Stakes. If he wins this race at Saratoga, it will be because of that Tapit stamina. That will be the red flag to single this guy on top in the Derby and then we can handicap only for the bottom spots. No excuses, no hitting the board. He must win the race at Saratoga to be confident at Churchill at the same distance. If he can't do it then it will not magically appear in September. We got lucky with this placement.
Highly doubtful we’ll see any colts from abroad this year due to the virus and quite frankly, the trek would be futile anyway. So far, the top point-holders from across the sea do not have the proper breeding anyway. There is no Mendelssohn, there is no Thunder Snow. Highest point guys consist of Herrshaft with his 7.00 index. There’s Café Pharoah with his 5.00 index. And then there is Chares, a turf runner.
Dr. POST, SOLE VOLANTE, THOUSAND WORDS, SOUTH BEND, EIGHT RINGS
These guys are sitting with the goods but they need a breakthrough between now and September. At this point, it is a matter of hitting the absolute most advantaged spot and if they don’t get it, they can kiss their Derby dreams goodbye.
Sole Volante MUST go to Saratoga and run in the Travers on August 8th if Biancone wants a shot at the roses. If he goes anywhere else, his probability will decrease substantially. It is the best spot to highlight his breeding and the first race that he will actually hold an advantage to date.
South Bend has only 8 points and he desperately needs the perfect race to grab his gate because this horse truly wants those additional lengths that only the Derby (& the Travers) can provide. Another guy who would do well at Saratoga running with Sole Volante.
Dr. Post sparkled in his second place in the Belmont Stakes. He ran one hell of a race on a bias that was against him. A complete stand-out up against Tiz the Law who held every advantage in the world in that race. Since he held his own on that souped up Belmont track (and at Gulfstream), it truly wouldn’t matter which prep Pletcher decides to put him in with the exception of Saratoga. That track would be a shock to his system based on his previous races.
Thousand Words (astonishingly) has the breeding for 10f. Not quite for a win but he has potential for a board hit at that distance. Baffert still has this guy and Eight Rings who have basically remained lost in the crowd. Ironically, these are the two that Baffert has the best shot at a “clean” run in the Derby since his loss of Nadal. One more shot with both before September.