Secretariat

Derby Rankings – Aug. 14, 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.