Late summer and early fall is typically the time of year when the wheat has been separated from the chaff, when the gulf in talent between the members of the 3-year-old crop has become more evident. Sometimes, the divisional championship has been all but wrapped up by this point.
When the decision to postpone the Kentucky Derby (G1) by four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic was announced, there was always the chance that this seasonal occurrence could affect the competitiveness of the race regardless of field size. By the estimation of some observers, this has come to pass.
On paper, there appears to be two standout win contenders who possess the requisite class and form, and who seem naturally disposed to thrive over 1 1/4 miles. #17 TIZ THE LAW (3-5) obviously fits the description as he’s in line to become the first odds-on Derby favorite in nearly three decades. And because of the upheaval associated with the pandemic, he could become the first winner in nearly half a century with prior experience (winning or otherwise) over the Derby distance.
Tiz the Law’s merits are obvious. He’s gone from strength to strength this season, culminating with a devastating performance in the 1 1/4-mile Travers (G1) in his final prep. The only apparent drawback on form is that he suffered his only loss to date over the Churchill Downs strip last fall in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), which probably had more to do with the off going and his trip rather than dislike of the surface.
Tiz the Law probably wins this Derby seven or eight times out of 10. Those are good odds, for him, but it’s not going to pay any bills or generate much financial satisfaction for the rest of us if he becomes the first odds-on winner since Spectacular Bid 41 years ago.
The last two odds-on favorites, Arazi (1992) and Easy Goer (1989), both lost. Even with the probability less than 50-50, I’ll take a chance at opposing this deserving favorite.
#16 HONOR A. P. (5-1), who inherited the role of second choice following the withdrawal of Art Collector earlier in the week, is not the finished article like Tiz the Law. It’s hard to say how good he is in relation to the favorite, but he has the potential to be equal and is worth a bet at the price. The son of Honor Code generated a ton of excitement from the manner in which he captured the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in early June, but lost a little luster with a defeat last month in the Shared Belief S. at Del Mar.
Besides the fact Honor A. P. was cutting back in distance for that final prep, there was absolutely no reason for the John Shirreffs trainee to have been fully cranked to win. Unlike most of the major preps Tiz the Law has won, there isn’t much prestige associated with winning the Shared Belief. To me the race was used as a means to an end, not unlike how Honor A. P. used the San Felipe (G2) to limber up for the more-important Santa Anita Derby.
In this battle between Kentucky Derby-winning trainers, price dictates our course of action as far as a win bet is concerned. It’s Honor A. P.