Secretariat

Archive for the ‘Derby Rankings’ Category

Derby Rankings Handicapping & Analysis – “Law and Order…Finally”

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020


This column marks the end of the wildest, wackiest, and most perplexing Triple Crown trail ever. Hopefully, next year we will return to a sense of normality. I want to take this time to thank all those who made the transition from Derby Dozen and Hangin’ With Haskin to
Secretariat.com and have continued to provide their comments, opinions and in depth analysis. And I want to welcome all the Secretariat fans and followers and newcomers who have joined us in this new endeavor. We will see you again in January, when we will begin what we hope will be the beginning of the traditional Derby Trail. In the meantime, please stick around for the weekly Askin’ Haskin columns, where we will continue to talk racing, both past and present, and provide more behind the scenes back stories of racing’s greats.~ Steve Haskin

Look, it doesn’t take a genius or even a novice handicapper to realize that, from the standpoint of talent, pedigree, accomplishments, and running style, there is a wide chasm that separates Tiz the Law and Honor A. P. from the rest of the horses. And there very well may be a wide chasm that separates Tiz the Law from Honor A. P. Some might put Authentic close up there as well with Art Collector dropping out, but as I have been saying, he still has to show that his pedigree and running style can get the job done. No one is doubting his talent, and his chances definitely improve now that the classy and versatile Art Collector is no longer around to possibly look him in the eye early on.

So, where does that leave you when it comes to betting on this year’s Labor Day weekend Derby, especially when so many handicapping tools are not at your disposal as in past years? Remember, we are now dealing with far more mature and experienced Derby horses, yet so many are coming off long layoffs we have no way of assessing them.

Even the overwhelming favorite, Tiz the Law, will be attempting something that has never been attempted before – winning the Derby coming off a mile and a quarter race. Will that hurt him or help him or have no affect on him at all? Unlike with your typical Derby, Tiz the Law will looking for a peak effort after having remained in peak form for seven months, with Barclay Tagg doing an excellent job spacing his races and keeping him fresh. But can he keep it going and deliver yet another bravura performance, his first being back in February in the Holy Bull Stakes? I have always referred to him as “The Machine,” and now we will see if new threats like Honor A. P., Authentic, Ny Traffic, and King Guillermo can turn him off or at least slow him down. So far, no one has been able to do either.

And then there is Honor A. P., who had his schedule disrupted early in the year, yet still would have been a leading contender for the Derby after his impressive score in the Santa Anita Derby. Now, after being cloistered away in California since then, with not many opportunities to race, he will be going into the Derby off a defeat in the non-graded mile and a sixteenth Shared Belief Stakes, which will be his only start in 13 weeks. Hardly the way trainer John Shirreffs mapped it out. But his last three works indicate he is sharp, fit, and ready to fire his best shot. Forget the Shared Belief. He was nowhere near fully cranked for that race and he made a big premature move on the first turn that I believe cost him the race. With his humongous stride, the last thing you want to do is make two moves with him. Breaking from post 16, he better break sharply and stay well clear of traffic.

With all that said, both these horses seem to tower over the others, many of whom have numerous question marks themselves. And there is an excellent chance that Tiz the Law towers over them all. His fastest Brisnet and Beyer speed figures are much faster than anything else in the race and he is the only horse who has run three negative Thoro-graph figures. So not only is he fast, he is consistently fast. And he was in a common gallop the last sixteenth of a mile in the Travers and was still drawing away.

So if you’re a big fan of Tiz the Law, who I have had ranked No. 1 for 17 straight weeks, and feel he can’t lose, you don’t want to bet him straight at odds-on, so pick three or four bombs and play them underneath or back end them on the trifecta and superfecta if you want to put Honor A. P. second.

And now we come to the post position draw, which, of course, turned out as wacky as the rest of the year with the three favorites, Honor A.P., Tiz the Law, and Authentic, drawing posts 16, 17, and 18, respectively. And remember what happened to Authentic when he broke from the outside post in the Santa Anita Derby and ducked out badly at the break. If he does that in the Derby he is cooked. As it is he will have to break very sharply and gun for the lead, as he has not shown he can win from off the pace. He has to do all that and not take too much out of himself, which means he is going to have get very lucky and have everything break perfectly for him. Fortunately, he has John Velazquez on his back, and there is no one I would rather have more under these circumstances.

Tiz the Law, who could wind up as the shortest-priced Derby favorite ever or certainly close to it, drew post 17, the only post that has never produced a Kentucky Derby winner. I don’t see this post hurting him one bit and he should get a good outside stalking position. And how about Finnick the Fierce of all horses drawing the rail? He has 17 horses outside him and is blind in his right eye. To further demonstrate what a screwball race this is, 12 of the 18 starters are listed at 30-1 or higher on the morning line.

I believe, Storm the Court, breaking from post 4 with three closers inside him, will be the first to strike the front before Authentic comes charging up from the far outside along with Ny Traffic. A fresh and sharp King Guillermo and Thousand Words will also be right up there with Tiz the Law and Honor A. P. tracking them on the outside.

With Art Collector out, watch out for King Guillermo and Ny Traffic to become the two wise guy horses, which means horses who will take a great deal of money in the wagering and get bet way down from their 20-1 morning line odds. They also will benefit from Art Collector’s absence from a strategy standpoint, as they can now sit right off the pace without having to contend with him occupying the same space. And both horses drew well with King Guillermo breaking from post 6 and Ny Traffic from post 15, where he can show his customary early speed and try to keep at least two of the three favorites parked outside him going into the first turn. Ny Traffic is the one who could be the proverbial thorn in Authentic’s side, because of his stalking style and the fact that he never goes away. He is like the terrier who grabs your pant leg and doesn’t let go. Like Authentic, it’s just a question of how far his pedigree will carry him, but he is always running hard at the wire, and having Dr. Fager in his sire’s pedigree twice doesn’t hurt when it comes to carrying your speed. I just fear he is going to be overbet.

THE LONGSHOTS

I know none of the longshots can match the top choices in ability, and on paper should not beat them. But one thing I have learned about the Derby is that longshots have won on occasion and finished in the money on numerous occasions. Very few thought anyone could beat Bellamy Road, Afleet Alex, and Bandini, all spectacular winners of their final prep, in 2005, but somehow 50-1 shot Giacomo managed to run by them all.

That probably won’t happen this year, but in a field this large you never know. Trying to pick out longshots, with so many who look similar and are fairly slow on speed ratings, is not easy, so I am going to make it simple. I am sticking with the horses I have been high on all year and who have been prominent in previous columns.

With that said, the horse who ranks way at the top of that list is SOLE VOLANTE, who was ranked in the top six 16 times, and as high as No. 2 six times. I am not crazy about his lack of racing and not having run a meaningful race since June 10, but here is what I wrote about him on Feb. 11 when he made his debut at No. 2:

“The reason he debuts so high on the rankings is because this is what a Derby horse is supposed to look like. He has a devastating closing kick on dirt and grass, in the Sam F. Davis Stakes he blew right on by an undefeated dual stakes winner and one of the leading Derby contenders and won going away with his ears pricked, with a gap of 11 1/4 lengths to Remsen runner-up Ajaaweed in third. To show what a spectacular move he made, he ran his third quarter in an eye-catching :23.26, according to Trakus, making up 13 lengths, then just kept going, coming home the final sixteenth in :06 flat. What makes his story so great is that you had to go through 3,493 yearlings at the Keeneland September sale to get him for a paltry $6,000. He was pinhooked at the OBS April 2-year-old sale and went for only $20,000 to Biancone.”

He has run back-to-back 108 Brisnet late pace figures, which at the time was the fastest late pace figure by a 3-year-old, and I trust Patrick Biancone to put a lot of bottom in him with those two-minute licks on grass, his pair of mile works on grass, and a blazing five-furlong work in :57 4/5, also on grass. I feel he will appreciate going back to the dirt and Churchill Downs dirt has always been conducive to grass horses. Of all the closers, he has the quickest turn of foot and can get into the race in a flash, and I know he will relish every inch of the mile and a quarter.

The longshot who is starting to really intrigue me is ATTACHMENT RATE, who was ranked in the top 12 four times and was taken off mainly because he refused to change leads and was grossly underachieving. But there was always something about him I liked, including his pedigree, and I was very impressed with his maiden victory. Then came the Ellis Park Derby and it was like watching a totally different horse, who had suddenly come into his own, doing everything the right way, and wound up finishing a strong second Art Collector, with his Thoro-Graph number jumping from “4s” and “5s” to a “1/2,” which puts him right in the mix. This is now the horse I thought he’d be and why I catapulted him all the way up to No. 4. And remember, his trainer Dale Romans has already finished third in the Derby with a two longshot grass horses. Normally one to talk his horses up, he appears to be sneaking in this time holding his cards close to the vest. In short, I just feel this new, improved Attachment Rate could be sitting on a big race, especially with the turn of foot he displayed in the Ellis Park Derby and how strongly he galloped out past the wire. And wouldn’t this be a good time for the Derby gods to take over, with Romans having been born a just a few miles from Churchill Downs and in the same barn since he was a kid working for his father.

The final longshot with whom I have had a history this year is MAJOR FED, who I admit does not have the speed figures to compete with the top horses and is another who is coming into the Derby off a long layoff, but I feel he is going to love the mile and a quarter and has proven versatile enough to run well from mid-pack or from far back. But with a pair of fast bullet works at Churchill Downs recently and drawing post 5, I expect to see him closer to the pace, racing in mid-pack. But he needs to break cleanly.

Here is what I wrote about him on his in the March 24 Derby Dozen, one of his seven times ranked in the top 12: “I am looking for a horse who has the turn of foot, the pedigree, and the class to launch a bid from mid-pack. A bad start in the Louisiana Derby, in which he had his head turned at the break, cost him all position, but he still closed from 14th to finish fourth after being forced eight-wide turning for home. What I loved was the explosive move he made after being taken off the rail on the far turn, losing so much ground and shrugging off two solid bumps from Shake Some Action and then Enforceable in the stretch. The reason he couldn’t get closer than 4 3/4 lengths was because Wells Bayou was loose on an easy lead in :48 and 1:12.42 and came home his final three-sixteenths in a rapid :18.86. In his two races at two turns, Major Fed was two to three lengths off the lead and now he found himself a dozen lengths back in 14th and last. So this was a promising effort and he will be a lot more formidable when allowed to run his race, especially at 1 1/4 miles. He has a pedigree inundated with European staying power, he will run all day, and his last two races indicate there is a great deal of improvement still to come.”

So these are the three longshots I was originally going to be focusing on, considering the impression they made on me earlier in the year, with the hope they can move up and utilize their strengths going a mile and a quarter.

And then came the monkey wrench thrown into the mix at the last minute. I am referring to SOUTH BEND, who has a powerful late kick and whose pedigree has always had me drooling. Frankly, I couldn’t understand why he was not being considered for the Derby, as I have always felt he was a Derby horse, despite his disappointing fourth-place finish in the Travers Stakes, in which he was beaten over nine lengths, and according to Bill Mott had no excuses. He sure looked like Derby material when he won the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last year. But after a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes over a deep sloppy track, he went to the grass for six races, racing well on occasion but never winning. Finally he was returned to the dirt and was flying at the end of the Ohio Derby, finishing second, beaten three-quarters of a length. Then came the Travers, and if you’re willing to forgive that effort, even though he still finished on the board, then he could be an enticing prospect trying a mile and a quarter for the second time. Yes, his broodmare sire, Old Trieste, was a speedball, but you won’t find a stronger pedigree. In his first four generations he has seven different classic winners (Bernardini, A.P. Indy, St. Jovite, Seattle Slew, Avatar, Pleasant Colony, and Majestic Prince), two of them twice. So of the 15 sires in his first four generations, nine of them were classic winners. And if you go to his fifth generation, you can add Secretariat twice, Spectacular Bid, and Nashua. So now I have to throw another longshot in there.

Although I likely will have no room for him unless I really stretch my bets, I will mention ENFORCEABLE, only because he has been the horse all along I was predicting could be the typical Derby longshot who rallies for second at a big price. But you can only play so many, and I have had closer ties to those mentioned above. But I know I’m going to pressure myself to add him to the exotics right before the race when I see his monster odds, which always costs me more money and adds to my losses. I could be successful if I only knew how to bet. So, let’s include him as one of the longshots, but a lesser one along with South Bend. Because of my previous comments I have to at least bet a Tiz the Law — Enforceable exacta.

I am going to mention one more horse, who, as I said earlier, likely will be lower odds than his 20-1 morning line, and about whom I am totally perplexed. I have no idea what I am going to do with him and probably will wait until race day to see what his odds are. That horse is KING GUILLERMO, who is attempting the unthinkable, which is coming into the Kentucky Derby off a four-month layoff. Normally, I would toss him, but I am a big fan of Venezuelan horsemen and there is that nagging feeling that his trainer Juan Avila might just be able to pull this off, as unlikely as it sounds. But the main reason I moved him up to No. 5 on my Derby Rankings this week is because I believe this horse is exceptionally gifted, he has that proverbial look of eagles, and his victory in the Tampa Bay Derby was too impressive to ignore.

He has already shown he can run huge (Tampa Bay Derby) off little racing, and as I wrote on my Derby Rankings, his :58 1/5 work at Churchill Downs last week may have been the best Derby work I have seen since Smarty Jones in 2004. Also, in his all-important tail-female family you will find Irish Derby winner El Gran Senor, who was beaten a nose in the English Derby, and Stage Door Johnny, winner of the Belmont Stakes and one of my favorite classic and stamina influences. I just don’t want a horse with his talent and sheer brilliance to beat me, so I likely will play him to win if his odds are enticing enough or throw him into a few exotics with the favorites. It’s just too soon to commit to anything with him.

So, as of this writing (and it could change on race day) I will be making win bets on longshots Sole Volante, Attachment Rate, and Major Fed, and lesser bets on Enforceable and South Bend, and will play them underneath Tiz the Law and Honor A.P. in the exactas and trifectas, and possibly underneath King Guillermo as well if he continues to look great in the morning. Check my Facebook page for any late changes and how I am keying the horses.

One thing I have to mention, if you are looking for the one horse who is as fast as Tiz the Law on Thoro-Graph it is Ny Traffic. So, excluding the longshots, he is the one horse at a half decent price who possibly could beat the three favorites on his best effort

So, the one bet I know I am making is a $1 trifecta box with Tiz the Law, Attachment Rate, Sole Volante, Major Fed, and Enforceable, as well as Tiz the Law, Honor A.P., Attachment Rate, Sole Volante, and Major Fed.

Last year, I had a big win bet on Country House and had him underneath Maximum Security in the exactas, so I was in good shape either way. I can’t imagine getting that lucky again, but it’s fun trying.

RED IN THE PED

With this column appearing on Secretariat.com, we must pay homage to our founding father by devoting some space to his influence on this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Of the 18 entrants, 13 have Secretariat in their pedigree, including the top three choices – Tiz the Law, Honor A. P., and Authentic. It would have been the top four choices had Art Collector not been withdrawn. Of course, 12 come from Secretariat’s Tremendous Trio — daughters Weekend Surprise, Terlingua, and Secrettame, with the other coming from his daughter Sister Dot, the dam of Dehere.

Weekend Surprise has been one of the most powerful female influences in the sport through her prolific son A.P. Indy, while Terlingua is pretty close through her son Storm Cat. And right behind those two is Secrettame through her son Gone West.

Here are the Derby entrants who trace to Secretariat at least once – Tiz the Law (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy), Ny Traffic (Sister Dot—Dehere), Sole Volante (Terlingua—Storm Cat), Enforceable (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy), Necker Island (Secrettame—Gone West), Money Moves (Secrettame—Gone West), Mr. Big News (Terlingua—Storm Cat).

Those with a double dose of Big Red include Honor A. P. (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy and Terlingua—Storm Cat), Authentic (Secrettame—Gone West and Terlingua—Storm Cat), Max Player (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy and Terlingua—Storm Cat), Finnick the Fierce (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy and Terlingua—Storm Cat), and South Bend (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy twice).

As for all the Meadow Stable fans, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion Storm the Court has both Secretariat (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy) and Riva Ridge, his Kentucky Derby winning barnmate in his fourth generation.

Derby Rankings – Aug. 31, 2020

Monday, August 31st, 2020

I hope you enjoy reading my final 2020 Derby Rankings below. Later this week, I will be posting a bonus column handicapping analysis of the race they call the Labor Day Kentucky Derby. It doesn’t matter much this year whether you follow my analysis and overall betting selections or your pet parrot’s if he can read the past performances on the bottom of his cage and tell you who he likes. But at least you’ll have more fun losing with mine. And who knows, maybe we all will stumble upon the winner and cash some nice exotics tickets.

When we started Derby Dozen on that other website back in January, no one ever heard of Covid-19 and Corona was just a beer. It seems as if Tiz the Law has been ranked No. 1 for like eight months…Oh, wait, he has. But is he worth a bet as the big favorite? Is Art Collector and Honor A.P. his equal? Can anyone knock off all three of them? Who are the longshots who can fill the exotics and make you some money? That’s what we hope to discover in our September 2nd Derby Handicapping and Analysis column right here on Secretariat.com. ~ Steve Haskin

1—TIZ THE LAW (Barclay Tagg, Constitution – Tizfiz, by Tiznow)
The big question with him is whether everything can continue to go perfect for him. No one has adjusted better to the crazy changes on the road to the Derby than Barclay Tagg, and he and his horse have flourished since back in February when everything was still right with the world. Tiz the Law would have been a solid Derby favorite on the first Saturday in May, as he will be on the first Saturday in September. That says a great deal about horse and trainer. His five-furlong work in :59 2/5 at Saratoga was a thing of beauty, as he came home his last quarter in :23 4/5 and then galloped out very strongly in 1:12 4/5, pulling up seven furlongs in a powerful 1:26, which is faster than most horses work. You would think he’d have just a maintenance drill as his final prep, but he came back with another bullet work in :59 1/5, which to this horse is a maintenance drill, although it was a bit faster than expected. You couldn’t see much of it in the dark, but you had to love the way he hugged the rail on both turns and how easily he did it, and how strongly he galloped out six furlongs. As I keep saying, he is a machine; you turn on the switch and he goes…all the time. Speed-wise, although his Thoro-Graph figures are only a bit faster than the other leading contenders, he is the only horse to run three negative numbers and his 115 Brisnet figure in the Travers towers over the other horses. The only flaws he has shown in the past were a tendency to drift out and to cock his head to the right, but so far they have not affected his performance or his dominance. However, if you’re looking for a reason to bet on someone else, he hasn’t been running against anything even close to Art Collector and Honor A. P.

2—ART COLLECTOR (Tom Drury, Bernardini – Distorted Legacy, by Distorted Humor) OUT OF RACE
He turned in his final Derby work breezing five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 and was never asked to run. He hugged the rail beautifully turning for home and down the stretch with the rider never moving his hands. He did switch over to left lead at the sixteenth pole, but again hugged the rail on the gallop-out and continued strongly with his head still down into the bit. It sounds strange to say a Derby horse’s reputation was boosted by a filly, but after what he did to Swiss Skydiver in the Blue Grass Stakes, and what Swiss Skydiver did to her opponents in the subsequent Alabama Stakes, there is no doubting that Art Collector defeated a very serious horse at Keeneland whose 109 Brisnet speed figure in the Alabama is faster than any Derby horse has run other than Tiz the Law. In fact, there haven’t been many opponents tougher on the Derby trail than this brilliant filly, who has won major stakes all over the country. If Art Collector has any advantage over Tiz the Law and Honor A. P., it is that the Derby is being run over his home track, where he finished first in three consecutive races by an average margin of 5 1/2 lengths. Also, he has proven to be more versatile in that he can beat you from anywhere on the racetrack – on the lead, just off the pace or from midpack. All three of these horses have an exceptionally high cruising speed and never get tired. Unlike Tiz the Law and Honor A. P., Art Collector has taken advantage of the Derby date change and has burst on the scene much later than the other two, rattling off a series of impressive victories.

3—HONOR A. P. (John Shirreffs, Honor Code – Hollywood Story, by Wild Rush)
I admit I had some concerns about him going into the Derby off that effort in the Shared Belief Stakes, mainly whether he got enough out of it, with it being his only race in 13 weeks. But after watching his last three workouts those concerns are gone. Two works back he was so powerful and so smooth, and showed such great extension, I believe it was the best I’ve seen him work and that includes his previous work when he actually worked faster. Although he was credited with a five-furlong work in 1:00 1/5, he actually kept working past the wire with another eighth in :12 flat before galloping out seven furlongs in a sprightly 1:25 2/5 over a track that was not fast by any means. Shirreffs said he has learned to be cautious and not have him work too fast to the wire, but it is after the wire that he is asked for his best, as Shirreffs said, “To see what he’s made of.” Well, we sure saw what he’s made of. He then came back with a solid seven-furlong work in 1:27 starting on the clubhouse turn. This was a good foundation-building work with Smith keeping him three wide turning for home and nudging him along in the stretch, but this time he didn’t ask for much after the wire. Shirreffs said Honor A. P. is “very unique in that he hardly hits the ground. He has beautiful action and just floats over the track. He can rattle off :12 eighths and make it look effortless.” Shirreffs also is not concerned about the layoffs because the colt ran big in the San Felipe off a long layoff. So, with these three big works in him I am putting him right up there with the top two and am expecting a huge effort in the Derby. What makes Honor A. P. so special to Shirreffs and his wife Dottie is that his dam was Shirreffs’ first winner after they were married. As Dottie said, “It was a great way to start our honeymoon and marriage.”

4—ATTACHMENT RATE (Dale Romans, Hard Spun – Aristra, by Afleet Alex)
Obviously this ranking is outrageously high and I can’t take issue with anyone who thinks I’m out of my mind, but I like that Romans is keeping a lower profile than usual, as if he knows he has a live horse and wants to come in under the radar. I just liked his wake-up performance in the Ellis Park Derby and how much he has improved and what a huge turnaround he’s made. He certainly held his own against Art Collector, while finishing more than five lengths ahead of the third horse. Romans feels he has really matured over the summer after being a little behind earlier in the year, and we saw that when he demonstrated a huge turn of foot at Ellis Park that he had never shown before and when he changed leads on cue, something he had problems with all year. And add to that, you had to love how strongly he galloped out. In his final five-furlong breeze in 1:01 1/5, he did everything the right way, and when the rider asked him approaching the wire he really took off, showing that quick acceleration again, going a strong eighth of a mile past the wire before galloping out a long way. He is showing all indications of a horse ready to run a peak effort in the Derby. Now, whether that is good enough to be competitive with the big three is another matter. But when a horse runs five consecutive Thoro-Graph numbers ranging from “4” to “5” and then makes a gigantic leap to a “1/2,” you have to feel he is a changed horse and is sitting on big effort.

5—KING GUILLERMO (Juan Avila, Uncle Mo – Slow Sand, by Dixieland Band)
To win the Kentucky Derby off a four-month layoff is unfathomable. So, why in the world did I move him up? Because this is a crazy year where you can throw all the rules out and I believe this is a very gifted horse who turned in what I would call the quintessential Derby work, going five furlongs in :58 1/5 like it was nothing. He wanted to go galloping to the pole, throwing his around and pulling hard while under a tight hold. When the rider finally let him go he literally leaped in the air and quickly settled into a smooth fluid stride with the rider still pulling back on the reins and feet in the dashboard. Turning for home King Guillermo cut the corner beautifully, inches from the rail, showing off his athleticism, which I love to see. Down the stretch, the rider never moved his hands, allowing him to do everything on his own while on a loose rein. He then galloped out a long way. This work was reminiscent of Smarty Jones’ :58 1/5 work at Churchill, which I have always considered the best Derby work I have ever seen. This ranks right up there with that. Avila then wisely slowed him down considerably in his final work, which was somewhere between a work and an open gallop. I have tremendous respect for Venezuelan trainers, who I consider to be superior horsemen. This horse has an absolutely gorgeous head and carries himself with a great deal of class, and his Tampa Bay Derby victory was one of the most impressive Derby preps of the year. So I am going to throw out the history books and all logic and will consider him a very serious contender.

6—SOLE VOLANTE (Patrick Biancone, Karakontie – Light Blow, by Kingmambo)
Yes, I know, another totally bizarre and illogical ranking, but after the top three why not look for something wild, as none of these appear to be in the same class as the favorites. Not having run since the Belmont Stakes and performing so poorly in that race, it makes it difficult to profile him, especially with his unconventional training and not having run a meaningful race since June 10. And Biancone has said flat out that he is a turf horse who can run well on dirt. I still have confidence in him that he will run well, but you also have to take into consideration his jockey, Luca Panici, has no experience in races on this big a stage. With that said, I still can’t get his Sam F. Davis victory, his second in the Tampa Bay Derby, and his allowance score against a stakes quality field out of my head. And as I have always said, I love his quick-footed action, his European-like turn of foot, and his stamina-laden female family that has a European flair, but with plenty of classic American blood throughout his pedigree. And Biancone has proven on several occasions he can accomplish big things without going by the book, as he has done by working this horse on the grass, including two mile works. And if you’re still going gaga over Shirl’s Speight’s :57 work on the grass, what about his recent five-furlong work in :57 4/5. Biancone has been building this horse’s stamina and fitness with strong two-minute licks. The Belmont was a complete throw-out race, and it’s just a question if he is sharp enough to turn in that big move on the far turn. If he is within two or three lengths of the leaders turning for home he does have a powerful closing kick, and as Biancone says, if the pace is contentious enough and they go between :45 and :46 and change, then he might have a shot to run them down. From a physical standpoint, looking at photos of him in the spring and now, he has, as Biancone says, gone from a teenager to a grown man. That is what you want to see when you run the Kentucky Derby in September.

7—AUTHENTIC (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Flawless, by Mr. Greeley)
Based on accomplishments and natural ability, I admit he should be ranked higher, but I just can’t envision a scenario where he can win the Derby on the front end with Tiz the Law, Art Collector, Honor A. P., King Guillermo, Ny Traffic and others within striking distance the whole way, especially with his pedigree that seems more geared to a mile to a mile and eighth. And he still has not shown he can win coming from off the pace. I will say, however, I liked his mile work in 1:38 3/5, in which he was flicking his ears back and forth down the backstretch and was just gliding down the stretch with those big gazelle-like strides. It wasn’t until he hit the wire that he was really asked to run. He cut the corner beautifully and was pushed along all the way down the backstretch in what was an excellent stamina workout. He followed that up with a sharp six-furlong work in 1:12 2/5, in which looked ever better, flicking his ears back and forth and again was striding out smoothly. He was taken four-wide turning for home to prevent him from working too fast and was being pushed along to the wire. He hugged the rail on the gallop-out and was flying around the turn. So there is no doubt Baffert has built a solid foundation under him since the Haskell. Baffert feels he has turned the corner since his nose victory at Monmouth and all I can say is that you can never dismiss the white-haired wonder, and this colt has a ton of ability. But there are just several others ranked ahead of him that I find more fascinating at a huge price, something he will not be as the likely fourth choice. We’ll just have to see how far he can take them and whether he will make me look foolish for doubting his ability to wire the field going a mile and a quarter or win it from off the pace.

8—NY TRAFFIC (Saffie Joseph Jr., Cross Traffic – Mamie Reilly, by Graeme Hall)
While I have great admiration for this horse for his consistency and competitiveness, and feel he will make his presence felt in the Derby, I haven’t ranked him higher for two reasons. First, he has the same running style as the three top choices, and I have always found if you’re trying to beat a heavy favorite, as well as the strong second and third choices, find a horse who has a different running style, either one who will be ignored on the lead and possibly steal the race or a closer who can take advantage of a contentious pace and possibly pick up the pieces. I just can’t see Ny Traffic eyeballing Tiz the Law, Art Collector, and Honor A. P, and putting all three away. And second, he has a pedigree more geared to a mile, with the ability to stretch it out to a mile and an eighth. But I don’t regard him as a horse who you know will relish a mile and a quarter. I also believe the Haskell was more of a case of Authentic coming back to him than him suddenly accelerating in the final 70 yards. But if you are looking for a reason to bet him, his last-out negative-3/4 Thoro-Graph figure is as fast any horse in the Derby, his 107 Brisnet figure in the Haskell was a significant jump from his previous races, and he definitely will make you work for everything you get. That makes him a serious exotics play. He showed his sharpness working five furlongs in :59 2/5 in company at Saratoga. He will give you a thrill a long way into the race.

9—THOUSAND WORDS (Bob Baffert, Pioneerof the Nile – Pomeroy’s Pistol, by Pomeroy)
There was a time earlier, back in early December to be exact, when Baffert felt Thousand Words was his next star and Derby horse, and commented that he moves and has a stride like Arrogate and never gets tired. Of course, things have changed a bit since then and he drifted off the Derby path, but seems to be finding his old self, knocking off Honor A. P. in the Shared Belief Stakes, winning wire to wire. I’m just not sure if he’s fast enough (on Thoro-Graph) to compete with the top horses and would have to improve a good three to four points, but he at least is heading in the right direction. In his five-furlong work in 1:00 flat in company with Cezanne, he sat three-quarters of a length behind his workmate, went wide turning home, and in typical fashion got up to finish a neck in front at the wire. He was ridden out strongly past the wire and had to cut to the inside to avoid two horses in front of him and was kept to his task a long way. He then came back with a similar work in :59 4/5, second fastest of 44 works at the distance. He is another horse who likes to run on or close to the pace and will be put to a test right from the start.

10—MAJOR FED (Greg Foley, Ghostzapper – Bobby’s Babe, by Smart Strike)
He is another coming into the Derby off a long layoff, which I am not crazy about, but once again you have to throw out the book this year. And he will be a monster price. He needs to make a significant jump on his speed ratings, but he has always shown ability and can rally from far back or sit in midpack. It’s a tall task, obviously expecting him to win, but I believe he has shown enough in top-class races to be competitive enough to possibly pick up some of the pieces, especially since his pedigree says he should relish the mile and a quarter. And if you’re looking for a horse who has been thriving at Churchill Downs, do not discount his bullet half-mile work in :46 4/5 and especially his most recent work, a five-furlong drill in a bullet :59 flat, fastest of 36 works at the distance, in which he came home his final eighth in :12 flat and galloped out a strong six furlongs in 1:12. Jimmy Graham popped him on the shoulder a little past the wire and he galloped out very strongly and cooled out quickly afterward. His connections feel they are bringing a happy horse over there and it’s just a matter of him getting a good position in midpack and keeping himself in striking position. I like the fact he has had seven works at Churchill Downs and has really taken to the track.

11—MAX PLAYER (Steve Asmussen, Honor Code – Fools in Love, by Not For Love)
He is now in the barn of Steve Asmussen and showed his sharpness by working five furlongs in :59 3/5. Breaking four lengths behind his workmate, he was being pushed along to get his neck in front at the finish and kept going strongly past the wire. He has run three straight Thoro-Graph figures of “3 1/2,” so he hasn’t improved on that front and would have to jump several points to be competitive in the Derby, and like a number of others would need a fast pace to make any kind of impact. But this will be his third start off a layoff, and that is often when a horse will run his best race. So, all in all, he has shown he has ability and can close, but whether he is fast enough to run with the others is another question. All these closers in the field look pretty much alike and it will be a question of who gets the best trip.

12—ENFORCEABLE (Mark Casse, Tapit – Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union)
I still feel he is a sneaky one who can snatch a piece of it if he gets a contentious pace. He has had several wide trips and slow starts, but always seems to run strongly in the final eighth even though he hasn’t threatened the winners since his impressive score in the LeComte Stakes. I liked his six-furlong work in 1:12 1/5 in company even though you could only see the stretch run in the dark and fog. But he was striding out beautifully to wire, pulling away from his workmate with little urging. He came back with a half-mile work in :49 3/5, wearing blinkers and front bandages, and did it with enthusiasm. He is going to be a huge price and might be worth putting on the back end of the exotics. It looks like the big three and who can close faster than the others to get in the picture. And he is always coming in the stretch and should appreciate the mile and a quarter.

13—STORM THE COURT (Peter Eurton, Court Vision – My Tejana Storm, by Tejano Run)
The main thing he has going for him is the grass to dirt angle, hoping that this and his five-furlong work in :59 flat are enough to wake him up. Although he couldn’t match strides with the winner in the La Jolla, his first start on grass, I did like the way he was striding out strongly in the stretch. His main problem has been that he doesn’t seem to have an identity, meaning he doesn’t have any particular strengths and he has been pretty much one-paced in his races this year. In his one shining moment last year he took advantage of a paceless Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was able to score a dogged wire-to-wire victory. In his :59 work, he was asked a long way out, cut the corner nicely and was pushed along in the stretch. He went wide on the gallop-out but kept going. As I said, by asking him throughout the work, perhaps it was to wake him up and keep him sharp. Then as a late stamina builder he worked a sharp six furlongs in 1:12 4/5. You don’t often see horses working that far a week before the Derby unless you’re John Shirreffs. Good move by Eurton.

14—FINNICK THE FIERCE (Rey Hernandez, Dialed In – Southern Classic, by Southern Image)
He gets the final sport because he is only one of two horses to finish in front of Tiz the Law, and he did it at Churchill Downs in the grade 1 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and subsequently managed a third in the tougher division of the Arkansas Derby this year. So, although he has been up and down, we do know he is capable of putting in a big effort against the top horses. And he has thrown in some good allowance efforts for good measure. But he will have to rebound off a well-beaten seventh-place finish in the Blue Grass, in which he made brief move before tiring in the stretch. He has a good deal of stamina in his pedigree, so the distance will not be a problem.

15—WINNING IMPRESSION (Dallas Stewart, Paynter – Unbridled Sonya, by Unbridled’s Song)
Although he is not coming into the race with good form, having been well beaten in his last two starts, I did like his five-furlong work in :59 1/5. He was all business and really stretching out with fluid strides around the turn. He was nudged along down the stretch and finished well before galloping out strongly. Watch for him to take a lot of place money based on Stewart’s record of sneaking in late-closing longshots to finish second in classic races. This horse was showing excellent progress and finished a decent fourth in a division of the Arkansas Derby, but was banged around at the start of the of the Indiana Derby and lost a ton of ground in the Ellis Park Derby, finishing seventh in both races. He does have a good closing kick and we’ll have to see if he can bounce back with a good trip this time. Definitely watch out for him on a sloppy track, on which he is two-for-two, especially with Unbridled’s Song as his broodmare sire.

16—NECKER ISLAND (Chris Hartman, Hard Spun – Jenney’s Rocket, by Mr. Greeley)
Third in the Ellis Park Derby, he has been knocking off sharp half-mile works at Churchill Downs, including three sub :48 works, so Hartman obviously is keeping him sharp and not focusing much on stamina. In his last work, he came home his final quarter in a swift :23 2/5. He has already run seven times at a mile or farther, so he has plenty of foundation, and his back-to-back third-place finishes in the Indiana Derby and Ellis Derby were solid enough efforts. But he would really need to make a huge leap on his speed figures just to be competitive.

17—MONEY MOVES (Todd Pletcher, Candy Ride – Citizen Advocate, by Proud Citizen)
He is the last to join the show, and he’ll have to settle for the bottom spot, even though I believe he is going to be a top horse down the road. He just doesn’t look ready to tackle this assignment with only three career starts, no stakes appearances, and losing his two-turn debut as the 2-1 favorite. But he does have the pedigree to go long and I had him ranked in the Top 5 of new faces to watch a few months ago. He actually looked to be headed to the Pat Day Mile before his late detour to the Derby. After two workmanlike victories in a maiden and allowance race, he was beaten going a mile and an eighth in another allowance, losing by a neck. He did work a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 flat at Saratoga, and Pletcher said it’s once in a lifetime opportunity for “these guys” to take a shot with a horse who is training well, and he does get Javier Castellano, who just lost his mount on Caracaro. But also take notice that Pletcher will not be there to saddle him.

18—MR. BIG NEWS (Bret Callhoun, Giant’s Causeway – Unappeasable, by Galileo) LATE ADDITION
A last-minute entry, he certainly belongs as much as some of the other longshots, especially with his closing punch, as inconsistent as it may be, and a classic pedigree that will enable him to get the mile and a quarter for fun. His big moment came when he won the listed Oaklawn Stakes with a big wide rally at odds of 46-1. You can excuse his poor performance in the subsequent Blue Grass Stakes, in which he didn’t have the smoothest of trips and finished a well-beaten 10th at 34-1. He had been headed for the grass, with his grass-oriented pedigree, but with the expected rain in Kentucky this week, there is a good chance the course will be on the soft side, so why not take a chance and hope to pick up a piece of it in the Derby.

19—SOUTH BEND (Bill Mott, Algorithms – Sandra’s Rose, by Old Trieste) LATE ADDITION
Although this horse was entered at the last minute, I have always felt he was a Derby horse, despite his disappointing fourth-place finish in the Travers Stakes, in which he was beaten over nine lengths. He sure looked like Derby material when he won the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last year. But after a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes over a deep sloppy track, he went to the grass for six races, racing well on occasion but never winning, Finally he was returned to the dirt and was flying at the end of the Ohio Derby, finishing second, beaten three-quarters of a length. Then came the Travers, and if you’re willing to forgive that effort, even though he finished on the board, then he could be an enticing prospect trying a mile and a quarter for the second time. Yes, his broodmare sire, Old Trieste, was a speedball, but you won’t find a stronger pedigree. In his first four generations he has seven classic winners, two of them twice. So of the 15 sires in his first four generations, 9 of them were classic winners. And how about Bill Mott winning the Derby outright this year with another bomb? This horse is not really ranked No. 18. He is just here because of his extremely late entry.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Obviously, there is no one left to knock, and besides, the door has been wide open for quite a while for anyone to mosey on through. So we now have only 17 left who are willing to enter the cavernous halls of Churchill Downs and compete for the roses in dead silence. Yes, it will be eerie, and there will be no cheers for the winner resounding from the grandstand and infield, which will look like an empty cow pasture without the mass of humanity gathered there. But the race is still called the Kentucky Derby and trophy still is the same, and there is still a space in the history books reserved for the winner.

But what if Churchill Downs had left the Derby where it was and not used their own private crystal ball to foresee the future and force NYRA and the Maryland Jockey Club to have to scramble in order to find a spot for their classics? We would have had a normal Triple Crown and no mile and an eighth Belmont Stakes kicking off the Triple Crown and a Preakness left dangling out there in October when the world is already thinking Breeders’ Cup.

So, let’s assume the Derby was run on the first Saturday in May in front of the same size crowd they are going to get on the first Saturday in September. Here is what that field might have looked like:

Tiz the Law, Honor A.P., Nadal, Charlatan, Maxfield, Authentic, King Guillermo, Sole Volante, Ete Indien, Gouverneur Morris, Modernist, Major Fed, Wells Bayou, Attachment Rate, Storm the Court, Rushie, Anneau d’Or, Enforceable, Ny traffic, and Silver Prospector.

So, that’s 10 horses who have survived the extra months and 10 who did not. Imagine a Derby with Tiz the Law, Honor A.P., Nadal, Maxfield, Charlatan, and Authentic heading the list. And King Guillermo would have been a hotter commodity coming off his huge win in the Tampa Bay Derby.

We still have some star-quality horses on the top end, but it drops off quite a bit after the first half-dozen. But hope for the longshots lies in the fact that we have so many horses taking unconventional routes and long layoffs to get here, and even the big favorite will have to win back-to-back mile and a quarter races, and no horse has ever won the Derby off a mile and a quarter race.

This is what is left, and if everything falls into place we at least should have a big-time showdown among the best horse in New York, the best horse in Kentucky, and the best horse in California.

So sit back, relax in your favorite chair and enjoy the strangest Derby show ever.

Derby Rankings – Aug. 14, 2020

Friday, August 14th, 2020

 

Welcome once again to “Steve Haskin’s Derby Doz”…oops, I mean “Derby Rankings.” Whatever the name it is still the same quest as always — ferreting out that elusive Kentucky Derby winner. After 22 years, the one thing we have learned is that it is the journey that is often more fun and more stimulating than reaching your destination, because for most, the destination ends in disappointment and second-guessing. So, every year we search for that diamond in the rough and hope it ends, not only in financial gain, but bragging rights for an entire year.

This will be the next-to-last general overview of who is left on the Derby trail. In two weeks, we will post our final Derby Rankings installment, followed by a bonus column going over betting strategy and who is coming into the big race sitting on a peak performance. For these horses, it has been an arduous and seemingly interminable eight-month journey in which only the strong survive. Tiz the Law of the jungle…! ~ Steve Haskin

 

1—TIZ THE LAW (Barclay Tagg, Constitution – Tizfiz, by Tiznow)
Not only is “The Machine” still operating at full power, it looks as if the longer you run it the more power it generates. The reason he’s been ranked No. 1 for so long is that he has no flaws and has an amazingly high cruising speed, which made him even more deadly cruising through a :48 1/5 half in the Travers and then knocking off :24 quarters the rest of the way. You knew he was going to win at the five-eighths pole, he was so much in control of the race; that’s why he is so special . Everyone who has ever been around him from the day he was born has marveled at his intelligence and how quickly he learns things. He is all muscle and sinew, and if you want to know why he’s so tough and never takes a step backward, just look at his family tree. His broodmare sire, Tiznow, was as rugged and tenacious as they come and is having a resurgence as a sire and broodmare sire at age 23. His maternal great-grandsire, Go For Gin, is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner at age 29. Go For Gin’s sire, Cormorant, lived until the age of 33. And Cormorant’s broodmare sire, Stage Door Johnny, was the oldest living Belmont Stakes winner until his death at age 31. Constitution’s broodmare sire, Distorted Humor, is still going strong at age 27 and his sire, Forty Niner, died recently at the remarkable age of 35. This is one tough, durable family. Watching Tiz the Law crush the Travers field by 5 1/2 lengths, becoming only the sixth horse in 156 years to break 2:01, while winning under wraps with his ears pricked, you just have to wonder who is going to beat this horse on Sept. 5. This no doubt is a horse on the verge of superstardom.

2—ART COLLECTOR (Tom Drury, Bernardini – Distorted Legacy, by Distorted Humor)
Well, it looks like we’ve got ourselves quite a Derby showdown. And it certainly isn’t your typical showdown. Barclay Tagg vs. Tom Drury and Manny Franco vs. Brian Hernandez Jr. You gotta love it. Like Tiz the Law, this horse does nothing wrong and knows how to take control of a race, but unlike Tiz the Law he has proven he can beat you on the lead, just off the pace, or coming from seven or eight lengths back, and he is more professional in the stretch, always keeping a perfectly straight course. Drury didn’t have him cranked for his best effort, and when he took Hernandez to the lead and set solid fractions like it was nothing, you knew no one was going to catch him, especially when you saw how he was on cruise control approaching the head of the stretch. And also like Tiz the Law, he was never really asked and won pretty much under wraps with his ears pricked. He has now finished first in five straight races and just keeps getting better. So it’s on to Churchill – the New York hero vs. the pride of Kentucky. It is hard to imagine at this point someone other than these two taking the roses. But they still have to run the race. Art Collector’s pedigree is so strong I will have to wait until the next Derby Rankings to do it justice. Let’s just say it is inundated with class and stamina everywhere you look. And we already know this horse has the class.

3 – HONOR A. P. (John Shirreffs, Honor Code – Hollywood Story, by Wild Rush)
Although I have my concerns following his defeat in the Shared Belief Stakes, he still probably is one of the few horses that can actually win the Derby if he is really as talented as previously advertised and John Shirreffs is able to work his magic on him, getting him ready to face up to 19 horses coming off only one 1 1/16-mile race in 13 weeks and stretching out three-sixteenths of a mile. Yes, the distance was short for him and he obviously wasn’t fully cranked, but I felt even an 80% Honor A. P. should have run over his three opponents, two of whom were totally overmatched. But he didn’t show any acceleration after switching leads. And let’s not forget he barely beat a 34-1 shot for second. But the biggest concern is whether he got enough out the race to propel him to the Derby off this one start. But there is one aspect of the race you can use to defend him. Racing in fourth going into the first turn, Mike Smith pulled the trigger early and sent him up to challenge Thousand Words for the lead with a bold early move entering the backstretch. Then he was put in neutral until the far turn, where he was pushed along to close in on the leaders. I believe this horse, with his big stride, is compromised when you have to make two moves with him, and while he looked like a sure winner turning for home, he was not able to sustain that second run. Although his speed ratings regressed, he did run a solid “1 1/2″ Thoro-Graph figure, which is something he can definitely build on, having already run a “zero” the race before.

4—CARACARO (Gustavo Delgado, Uncle Mo – Peace Time, by War Front)
I have to admit, as I have written before, I have a personal attachment to this horse going back to January, having recommended him to a prominent owner who was looking to purchase a potential Derby horse outright. Unfortunately, nothing ever materialized and he disappeared off the radar screen for six months. Now he has come back in full force with two huge runner-up performances in the Peter Pan and Travers, and we are only seeing the tip of iceberg with this colt, who is still lightly raced and is only going to get better as he gains experience with each race. To run the race he did in the Peter Pan off such a long layoff was a testament to his class and raw ability and the training skills of Delgado. Then to come back only three weeks later and finish a clear-cut second to the Derby favorite, while stalking the pace the whole way, bodes well for his ability to bounce back quickly after a hard race. What was most impressive was that it looked turning for home like the late-running Max Player was in perfect position to go right on by him, but he just kept going and finished two lengths ahead of him. Now, to come back in four weeks with another mile and a quarter race in a huge field, his third distance following a long layoff, is asking a lot of him. I don’t think he’s quite ready to beat Tiz the Law and Art Collector, but I do expect him to run another big race and certainly make his presence felt.

5—ATTACHMENT RATE (Dale Romans, Hard Spun – Aristra, by Afleet Alex)
Boy, have I been waiting for this all year. This colt has already been in my Top 12 several times this year, but he kept underachieving, mainly because he refused to change leads. I wrote four months ago: I know the talent is there. If he can accomplish what he’s done in his last three starts without changing leads then there definitely is something to work with.” But then he had rough trips in the Matt Winn and Blue Grass Stakes. He still ran decent enough races, but basically faded from the Derby picture…until now. His second-place finish to Art Collector in the Ellis Park Derby put him right back into contention for a number of reasons. Breaking from post 10, he got hung five-wide into the first turn, raced wide throughout, and when Joe Talamo asked him passing the three-eighths pole his rapid-fire acceleration was something I hadn’t seen before. In a flash he was right up there with the leaders and looked like a serious threat. Although he was no match for Art Collector, losing by 3 1/4 lengths, he finally changed leads smoothly and drew clear from the others, finishing 5 1/4 lengths ahead of the third horse, and then galloped out very strongly, passing the winner going into the clubhouse turn. This was a big step forward, as indicated by his huge Thoro-Graph jump from a “5” to a “1/2,” and with his classy pedigree, this new and improved version of Attachment Rate looks ready take on all comers over his home track on Sept. 5.

6—SOLE VOLANTE (Patrick Biancone, Karakontie – Light Blow, by Kingmambo)
I am well aware I am being extremely stubborn ranking this horse so high, coming off a dismal effort in the Belmont Stakes and training up to the Derby off an 11-week layoff. But I have been on his bandwagon since early February and have had him ranked as high as No. 2 on several occasions. First off, the Belmont was a throw out race, as he came back too soon (nine days) after his previous start and exited the race with a back problem. This is the year to throw out conventional handicapping when it comes to the Derby, and no one has been more successful doing the unconventional than Patrick Biancone. I have always loved this horse’s European-like turn of foot and his stamina-laden European pedigree, and I just love the way he moves, more like a greyhound than the typical American horse. After watching Tiz the Law’s bravura performance in the Travers, Biancone was having thoughts about passing the Derby. But when he watched Art Collector’s huge effort in the Ellis Park Derby, he became more confident, feeling both these extraordinary colts, with their similar running styles, could eyeball each other and force a half in :46, especially with Authentic right up there, and that is all Biancone is looking for. This horse gets fit fast with all his rapid two-minute licks, and I loved his mile workout on the grass this week, finishing with his ears up and galloping out strong. Biancone said he wasn’t blowing at all afterward. I know this is a good horse, so let’s see how he continues to train.

7—NY TRAFFIC (Saffie Joseph Jr., Cross Traffic – Mamie Reilly, by Graeme Hall)
This horse doesn’t win very often and has never won a stakes, but he has placed in four straight graded stakes, and he just doesn’t know the word quit. He is one-paced and is always up around the leaders, but he never backs up and is always running strongly at the end. You may beat him, but he’s not going to make it easy for you. He came within one stride of nailing Authentic in the Haskell Invitational and earned a rare negative Thoro-Graph figure (negative 3/4), which was a significant jump from his pair of “2 3/4″ figures. I don’t know if he can win the Derby, but count on him being right there at the eighth pole.

8—AUTHENTIC (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Flawless, by Mr. Greeley)
There is no doubting his brilliance and raw ability, but carrying his speed a mile and a quarter with his pedigree and his need-the-lead style is another matter. He likes to be in control on an uncontested lead, and even then he nearly gave away the Haskell after opening a clear lead at the eighth pole. His only defeat was the only time he faced adversity and had to fight with two other horses for the lead. His speed figures are excellent, but he will need a lot more than that if he’s going to have any shot to win the Derby with Tiz the Law and Art Collector breathing down his neck the whole way.

9—KING GUILLERMO (Juan Avila, Uncle Mo – Slow Sand, by Dixieland Band)
This is the biggest enigma of them all. I loved his last two races and everything about him. He has a beautiful head and a long smooth stride, is extremely professional, and most important, he has a world of ability. I can overlook an eight or even 11-week layoff in this crazy year, but a four-month layoff is something so far from the realm of the Kentucky Derby, I can’t even begin to compute it. I will never use the word never in 2020, and it must be noted he is working lights out in Florida, but can we bet on a horse with any confidence coming off that long a layoff? Talent-wise, he is right up there in with the top three. But I still need to see if this can be done. And if he shows it can, then kudos to him and especially to Avila..

10—THOUSAND WORDS (Bob Baffert, Pioneerof the Nile – Pomeroy’s Pistol, by Pomeroy)
I have to admit I have no idea who this horse is or how good he is. Is he Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? He certainly has shown both sides to him. I do not see him winning the Derby. Then again, I thought he was done nearing the top of the stretch in the Shared Belief Stakes when he had to be whipped on the turn. But he kept pounding away and went on to score one of his narrow, ho hum victories, beating Honor A. P. And to make things even more complicated, he earned a lofty 104 Beyer figure, which I will never understand, but earned only a mediocre “3 1/4” Thoro-Graph figure, far slower than the runner-up. In short, I am ranking the horse with three victories and a second in stakes and not the horse with two awful performances in the San Felipe and Oaklawn Stakes.

11—DR POST (Todd Pletcher, Quality Road – Mary Delaney, by Hennessy)
I’m not sure if he wants to go a mile and a quarter, but he does have enough credentials to be taken seriously, most notably his solid second to Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes, even though that race was run around one turn. He was never a threat to Authentic and Ny Traffic in the Haskell, but his third-place finish was probably better than it looked, as that race did not suit him at all, with the first two running 1-2 the whole way around on a speed-favoring track and he couldn’t get any closer than 4 1/2 lengths. But he did pair up his “2” Thoro-Graph figure from the Belmont and that still puts him in the hunt with a move forward.

12—MAX PLAYER (Steve Asmussen, Honor Code – Fools in Love, by Not for Love)
He ran okay in the Travers, but I was expecting him to take a bigger move forward from the Belmont Stakes, in which he was coming off a long layoff. Although he was widest of all turning for home, I thought he was moving well enough to get second, but he really had no kick in the stretch, finding his best stride in the final yards when it was way too late. The :48 1/5 half was too slow him, but Caracaro, racing two lengths in front of him, left him five lengths behind in a flash on the turn, and it just took him too long to finally kick in. He could move forward in the Derby, but he has a lot of ground to make up. It was odd, however, that he would be taken away from Linda Rice after finishing third in the Belmont and Travers to the big Derby favorite.

13—ENFORCEABLE (Mark Casse, Tapit – Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union)
I leave you with these names to ponder – Country House, 2nd at 65-1 (placed first); Lookin at Lee, 2nd at 33-1; Commanding Curve, 2nd at 37-1; Golden Soul, 2nd at 34-1; Bluegrass Cat, 2nd at 30-1; Closing Argument, 2nd at 71-1; and Invisible Ink, 2nd at 55-1. If you haven’t guessed where I’m coming from, this horse fits that bill. Yes, he’s coming into the Derby off an eight-week layoff, but he has so much foundation, having run in eight two-turn races, six of them graded stakes, he could benefit from coming into the race fresh. One thing you can count on, he will be closing in the stretch, and if he gets the pace he needs he could add his name to those above.

14—MAJOR FED (Greg Foley, Ghostzapper – Bobby’s Babe, by Smart Strike)
This is another horse I’ve been touting since his maiden victory in January and have had him in the Top 12 on numerous occasions. His second-place finishes in the Risen Star Stakes and Indiana Derby and his fast-closing fourth in the Louisiana Derby were all top efforts. I thought the Ellis Park Derby would be a good spot to prep for the Kentucky Derby, as he needed to improve on his Thoro-Graph numbers, and it would have been interesting to see how close he could have gotten to Art Collector. But it was decided to train him up to the Derby off an eight-week layoff. That may work out or it may not, I just don’t know. He doesn’t have the foundation of Enforceable, but I know he has the talent. And we also know he’s sharp judging by his half-mile work in :46 4/5.

15—PNEUMATIC (Steve Asmussen, Uncle Mo – Teardrop, by Tapit)
He was ranked No. 1 on my early list of new faces back in April, and he’s run well enough since, finishing third in the Matt Winn and fourth in the Belmont Stakes. I still believe he has a bright future, but I can’t rank him any higher until he runs in the August 15 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth to pick up enough to assure he gets into the Derby field. Check back in the final Derby rankings after we see how he runs at Monmouth.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Well, there aren’t many others around to knock. There is still RUSHIE, third in the Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, who skipped the Shared Belief Stakes. I’m not totally sure what his Derby status is at this time, as he is still not nominated, but, like so many others, he would have to train up to the race off an eight-week layoff. He was beaten more than eight lengths in the Blue Grass, so he also might have benefited from another race. His future might be a bit more down the road, but we’ll see how he works in the upcoming weeks and whether he’s headed to Louisville before making a final evaluation.

One fascinating horse is 2-year-old champion STORM THE COURT, who has not really moved forward at 3, but I did like his effort in the 1 1/16-mile La Jolla on grass. Although he was no threat to the winner, I did think he was running strongly in the stretch. No decision has been made yet, but the grass to dirt angle is always interesting, and he does want more distance. I was actually surprised when he earned an excellent “1” on Thoro-Graph in the Ohio Derby, his last start on dirt, although the winner and runner-up did not run well in their next starts.

As a historian, I can only relay historical trends with a bit of skepticism, because the First Saturday in May bears no resemblance to the first Saturday in September, as Derby horses are more advanced physically and mentally and have more foundation and racing experience. So, we are all venturing into unknown territory.

Please note: For newcomers reading the Derby Rankings, you will often see references to the Thoro-Graph figures, which are the figures I follow, as well as an occasional reference to the Beyer, Equibase, and Brisnet figures, which are based purely on speed. The Thoro-Graph figures, which are more difficult to obtain unless you are a subscriber, are based not only on speed, but other factors, especially ground loss, which is extremely important in determining just how fast a horse really runs. Trainers, owners, and bloodstock agents swear by the Thoro-Graph figures, as well as the Ragozin figures, which are fairly similar. To make it as simple as possible, the lower the figure the faster the performance, but it is analyzing the trends of these figures that is most important. Any figure close to zero indicates a very fast and top-class horse. Any figure below zero, referred to as a negative figure, is exceptional. If you read the term “bounce,” it refers to a horse that ran so much faster than he had previously run, there is a good chance he will regress (or bounce) off that effort if he comes back too quickly. Ideally, you want to see a horse make steady progress so that he will run his peak figure on Derby Day. If anyone has any questions about speed figures, feel free to email me at Sehaskin@aol.com.