Derby Details 2020 Edition 13
by Tom Carley
We are less than 20 days away from Derby Day. While a lot of details are still being worked as far as fans, concessions, etc., the horse details are done.
The prep races are done. The points have all been awarded. One surprise to me is that in prior years, horses needed around 28 points to get into the race. In 2020 there were more prep races run and a review of the leaderboard shows the following:
1. The horse on top of the leaderboard roster, Tiz The Law, has 372 points. Never in my memory has a horse had over 160 points. Of course, a horse has not had the first leg of the Triple Crown and Travers already won as well.
2. The horse at the 20 roster position on the leaderboard (currently the last horse entered with the least number of points) has only 20 points. But with all the attrition in 2020, even a horse with only 10 points would most likely be able to run.
As of this writing, there is the possibility of four horses with over 23 points also entering. They are: Swiss Skydiver, Finnick the Fierce, Pneumatic, and Storm the Court.
I have also heard rumors that a horse in a Canada without points named Shirl’s Speight that has won a Grade 3 and been working well may be coming to Churchill Downs to see if he can draw in.
This year the point earnings have totally not been as expected. The force of horses falling off the Derby Trail is much greater than the effect of extra races being run which award points. I thought a horse might need 40 points to be guaranteed a spot in the race.
Derby Jockey Colony
In prior years, the Derby has been the showcase for the best jockeys in the country, if not the world. However, Saratoga and other racetracks announced that if riders in their jockey colony leave to ride in the Derby (or at other tracks for that matter) they will not be allowed back at Saratoga or the other track. This has caused many leading jockeys such as the Ortiz Brothers, Joel Rosario and others to announce they will remain at Saratoga instead of riding in the Derby and giving up the lucrative stakes races of the Saratoga meet’s final few days.
This tells me a few things:
A. These jockeys realize that unless you are riding one of a few leading horses (i.e. Tiz the Law) you really have little shot at winning the race. This should be yet another reason to look at the favorites on Derby Day to win the race.
B. The other stakes races usually held on Derby Day will either not be run or will be run for much less purse money than usual.
C. The jockeys are reluctant to expose themselves to the virus in a larger jockey room (at least 24 prepping to race) that will be at Churchill.
D. This year jockeys just are not willing to travel like in prior years. The rule mentioned above has eliminated the practice of riders travelling on day trips to other tracks to follow their main horses.
What concerns me is that this not only reduces the level of quality riders, but is also a safety issue as inexperienced riders will now be riding in much larger fields than they are accustomed to.
We have discussed the human element. Now let’s look at the horses themselves.
Tiz The Law
Followed up a strong Belmont with a win in the August Travers Stake at Saratoga. The Travers win proved he could go 10 furlongs and was very easy leaving a lot in the tank to come back on 4 weeks rest. He looks head and shoulders the one to beat.
She won the 10-furlong Alabama last Saturday in convincing fashion. She was so dominant the connections thought about running her in the Derby instead of the Oaks, but after thinking about it a few days are leaning toward the Kentucky Oaks.
Finished up his 3rd place finish in the Belmont with another on the board placing in the Travers. The owners made news this week by moving the horse to the Steve Asmussen barn from trainer Linda Rice. Asmussen is much more of a national trainer who has won the Preakness and Belmont, but never the Derby. I expect an improvement, but I do not know if this will be enough to catch Tiz the Law, who the horse has lost to in his last two races.
Followed up an impressive win the Blue Grass Stakes by going wire to wire in the Ellis Park Derby. The one thing that impressed me is that he proved that he could win on the front end, with a tactical approach (laying off the pace) or closing. Still I think this one is a step below the major contenders.
The major hope of the Baffert barn continues to look impressive in the mornings. Amazing that Baffert has gone through so many Derby horses and still has the subject horse and Thousand Words.
Horses I am looking at
While it is too early to make a selection, I have started to look at horses I think might pay out a bigger price as an alternative to Tiz the Law. Because Tiz the Law looks head and shoulders above this field, I am looking at a few upsets.
Has established West coast dominance. The winner of the Santa Anita Derby did run 2nd in his last race, but this was a tune up.
Proved in the Arkansas Derby that the Tampa win was not a fluke. Continues to surprise me and I look for him to be cranked up at a nice price on Derby Day.
Can’t wait to see what magic Steve Asmussen works on him.
I still have time to find other upsets. This year is like no other, but now is not the time to look at the road we travelled to get here, but look at the Derby with as much emphasis and excitement as we always do. The next 2 pre-Derby weeks are always magical. In that regard, I intend for this year to be no different than other years.