Derby Details 2020 Edition 14
Derby Day Ahead
by Tom Carley
We are 8 days away from Derby Day. For the first time the historic “first-Saturday-in-May” event has been delayed until the first Saturday in September. The field is starting to shape up. There will be no fans at Churchill Downs this year. But, while the day might be a little different this year, it still is Kentucky Derby Day.
Remove the Uncertainty
Each year one of the biggest challenges in handicapping the Derby is trying to determine which horse has the stamina to be endure 10 furlongs (1 ¼ miles) in the spring. That puzzle has been solved this year with the race being delayed until September. From May to September there have been preps all across America at the 10 furlong distance. Other horses have built up stamina by racing in 9 furlong races multiple times.
This should make it easier to select a winner this year than in the past. However, do not forget to review the workouts for each contender. Some trainers have chosen to build stamina with frequent workouts as opposed to running in races. No matter how they have prepared their horses, the trainers have no excuse this year if a horse is not properly conditioned to run 10 furlongs.
War of Attrition
The other day I compared the Derby points leaderboard of early March 2020 with the current leaderboard and was amazed at how few names were on both lists. While some of this can be attributed to horses not wanting to race against Tiz the Law or distance concerns, the major reason for this is injury.
This made me aware of how fragile our top equine performers are. Keeping a horse in peak racing shape for a long period of time is difficult. Keeping them injury free has become almost impossible. The four horses on my birthday (February 28) that I thought were Derby contenders have all suffered some sort of an injury that has taken them off of the Derby trail.
So, the story of this year’s Derby is not so much who is running, but might possibly be who has gotten injured including Nadal, Charlatan, Maxfield, Wells and Wells Bayou. Those horses all won major prep races (including two Arkansas Derbies and the Louisiana Derby) and were peaking as the calendar neared May. While you are drinking your Mint Julep Derby Day just take a moment and remember these horses are animals and not machines. They deserve our love and admiration as much as our support at the betting windows.
While the distance piece of the puzzle might be solved for handicappers, a new piece is created. This relates to the horses that mature later in their 3-year-old year. This could be due to a late birthday or a growth spurt that occurred after the traditional Derby Day.
Horse racing is not like other sports which frequently publicize the height and weight of the performers. However, one thing I will be focusing on is what horse has filled out, both height (measured in hands) and weight since the first of May. As long as the horse is not made awkward by the extra size (this will be proven by the performance in recent races or the improvement in workouts), he should be looked at more favorably in September than he was in early May.
I do not think height and weight will be an area that is covered much by the media. So a keen observer will give themselves an advantage singling out horses that have grown and matured. This is not only limited to physical traits but also in mannerism. A horse that was hesitant to enter the gate as a two-year-old or had a hard time running a straight line earlier in the racing season might now be able to save that energy due to good behaviors.
Declining Derby Jockey Colony
In Edition 13 I focused on certain big-time jockeys who are not coming to Louisville to compete in the Derby. The list of elite riders skipping the Derby has grown, allowing some local riders to get the chance of a lifetime to ride a Derby horse. Note that it is not always easy to race a horse the first time that you ride him. Therefore, if you like a horse with a new jockey make sure that the new jockey has worked him out in the mornings or is successful with new horses he rides.
I will review my Edition 13 thoughts on the jockey situation below. Let’s look at these pointers again for emphasis:
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 as in prior years. The rule barring their return to Saratoga and other tracks has eliminated the practice of riders travelling on day trips to other tracks to follow their main horses.
Again, 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 all know that derby week can be stressful for trainers and other connections. Yesterday, trainer Kenny McPeek attempted to provide some humor. He is the trainer of Swiss Skydiver, a filly (girl) that has enough points to run in the Derby. While I would take the chance and run her against the boys (especially against this group) the owner and trainer have decided to run her in the Kentucky Oaks the day before.
The media outlets have well reported this and it was assumed to be a given. Yesterday, the horse came to the racetrack wearing her Kentucky Derby saddle towel instead of her Kentucky Oaks saddle. This led many (including myself) to change their way of thinking (and for me handicapping the race) based on this change of opinion.
Late yesterday morning after being barraged by inquiries, the trainer admitted he was trying to have a little fun during a stressful week.
We have discussed the human element. Now let’s look at the horses themselves.
Tiz The Law
Had a strong workout early this week and appears in good shape for the Derby. Will ship to Louisville over the weekend.
No matter what saddle towel she is wearing in the morning, she will be running Friday in the Oaks. With the other fillies
Dr. Post/Todd Pletcher
At this time this looks like to be the first Kentucky Derby without Todd Pletcher in over 15 years. He has run the most Derby horses (over 52) of any trainer ever. Dr. Post– who ran 2nd in the Belmont and 3rd in the Haskell– is being pointed to the Preakness. He has a work tomorrow and that may change the connections’s mind, but they seem set on the Preakness.
Has shown improvement working over the Churchill Downs track for new trainer Steve Asmussen.
Arrived at Churchill Wednesday and is getting acclimated to the track. Should work this weekend.
Had a very eventful week. On Monday he began a workout, but about ¼ mile into it a non-related horse got loose on the track and the siren was sounded. Authentic was pulled up. He came back on Tuesday and worked a strong 1 mile workout in 1:38 3/5. This mile workout is a typical Bob Baffert move that gets a horse ready to take on a new longer distance. This makes this horse more of a factor.