When evaluating an odds-on favorite like #17 TIZ THE LAW (3-5), I try to imagine scenarios that could prevent him from delivering his best effort. But the 146th Kentucky Derby (G1) figures to set up well for him.

The Races

Indeed, Tiz the Law projects exactly the trip he wants, hovering menacingly from an outside stalking spot before delivering the coup de grace, as in his conquests of the Florida Derby (G1), Belmont (G1), and Travers (G1). Moreover, he’s also avoiding the conditions that contributed to his only loss.

Although that reverse came right here at Churchill Downs, in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), also at 3-5, Tiz the Law was bottled up on the inside. On Saturday, he’ll be clear throughout from post 17. Another factor in the Kentucky Jockey Club that might have taken him out of rhythm was a crawling pace. Even with the defections of a couple of pace factors from the Derby, they won’t be dawdling through splits of :49.92 and 1:14.83. Finally, it was sloppy that day too, which might not have mattered, but the sunny forecast suggests he won’t have to re-litigate that matter yet.

The one potential issue is a quicker turnaround, relatively speaking, than typical for him. There’s no hint that he’s liable to regress, though, and the likeliest outcome is that the son of blueblood Constitution upholds the rule of law again.

The Challengers

Aside from analyzing the favorite, of course, we have to probe for evidence that any of his challengers could be poised to move forward substantially enough to topple him.

Honor A. P. at Churchill Downs 2020
Honor A. P. at Churchill Downs 2020 (Jamie Newell/TwinSpires.com)

#16 HONOR A. P. (5-1) makes the most logical case as the alternative. As proven in his Santa Anita Derby (G1) victory, the son of Honor Code and Hollywood Story can unleash a strong, sustained move. His upset loss in the Shared Belief last out does not concern me at all, for reasons beyond the fact that it was clearly a tune-up.

Not only is 1 1/16 miles shorter than ideal, but it was a small field with a controlled pace by Thousand Words – in other words, just the kind of set-up calculated to put Honor A. P. in a less favorable position. Also, remember that Mike Smith wasn’t able to ride him in works leading up to the Shared Belief, thanks to the COVID restrictions, and there was a “shared belief” that absence had affected Honor A. P.’s sharpness going into the race (i.e., in his mind, if Mike’s not up, it’s not serious). Smith has been astride his pre-Derby works, so Honor A. P.’s mind is in the zone.

Honor A. P. is likely sitting on the best race of his career so far. My only hesitation about thinking he’ll beat Tiz the Law is that the favorite has a more stunning change of gear. Tiz the Law is liable to put the race away before Honor A. P. hits his top stride. If Tiz the Law regresses, and a maturing Honor A. P. can summon a quicker turn of foot, we’d have an upset brewing.

If none of this analysis is terribly original, perhaps my idea of the most intriguing longshot is – #12 SOLE VOLANTE (30-1).

A Niarchos-bred aristocrat who’s inbred to Miesque, Sole Volante has a late kick as effective on dirt as on turf, in the right conditions. Note that in three of his dirt starts, Sole Volante recorded gaudy Brisnet Late Pace ratings of 108 (Sam F. Davis [G3] win), 108 (Tampa Bay Derby [G2] second, when regular rider Luca Panici was sidelined), and 104 (Gulfstream allowance).

That sequence ended with his flop in the Belmont, by far the worst race of his life. But there are two reasons to toss his poor sixth – he was wheeling back 10 days after his Gulfstream score, a too-clever-by-half move that backfired, and he wasn’t himself once shipping to Belmont. I’d add a third possible reason, that he might not have handled Belmont’s sandy dirt as fluently even if on his game.

Training on the Palm Meadows turf since, Sole Volante just recorded a 5-furlong bullet in :57.80, similar to his final turf work before the Sam Davis (:58.25). Remember that turfy backgrounds can translate well to the Churchill main. And according to assistant trainer/co-owner Andie Biancone, Sole Volante is enjoying the whole experience, unlike his trip to Belmont.

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Granted it’s an unorthodox preparation, but at the risk of gross understatement, 2020 is an unorthodox year. Concerns about trying the Derby off a 2 1/2-month holiday might not apply to the same degree by this point in the season compared to the first Saturday in May. I’m hoping that Sole Volante is going to offer a serious rally and add value to the result.

Of the forward types who can box on for the duration, #15 NY TRAFFIC (20-1) has appeal. The hard trier has improved throughout the season, and he’s missed narrowly to two of the most talented members of the crop. If you’re as big a fan of Maxfield as I am, Ny Traffic’s runner-up effort to him here in the Matt Winn (G3) is a major plus, in addition to his almost nabbing Authentic in the Haskell (G1).

Although Authentic’s sheer class can carry him longer than his pedigree portends, it’s tough to see him maintaining his high speed far past the eighth-pole. His raw talent could be enough to keep him in the superfecta, especially if post 18 ends up being a blessing in disguise that puts him in a more comfortable role.

Enforceable could be cycling back to his strong form from Fair Grounds last winter. The beautifully bred son of Tapit will be staying on late, although the pace scenario isn’t looking as favorable as it did at the beginning of week. As a more grinding type than Sole Volante, Enforceable is arguably more reliant on the fastest possible pace.

Aside from the obvious place claims of Max Player, the chances of local hope Major Fed working out an overdue decent trip, and Thousand Words as the blossoming “other Baffert,” Attachment Rate just crept into my Derby Top 10. He’s posted a series of better-than-appears efforts, most recently when second to Art Collector at Ellis despite a wide trip, and would be no surprise if finding his way into the frame.

Happy belated Derby Day!