By: Ryan Dickey
It’s Kentucky Derby week and the big story is whether or not odds-on favorite Tiz the Law will follow up his Belmont and Travers Stakes wins with a victory in the “Run for the Roses.”
Betting a 3-5 favorite is no fun, and many prognosticators and handicappers are offering alternatives to bet, just in case the big hoss doesn’t fire. This article is going to take it a few steps further.
The late pick 4 culminating in the Kentucky Derby looks very chalky–there is a good chance there will be heavy favorites in races 11 through 14 on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
This is a “no chalk zone” as we will play a late pick 4 with none of the favorites. If this sucker hits, we are talking big, big balloons for a payout.
While leaving Tiz the Law off the pick 4 ticket by itself doesn’t ensure a monster payout, excluding Newspaperofrecord from the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, Serengeti Empress from the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff and Factor This from the Grade 1 Turf Classic means a winning ticket would pay thousands of dollars.
Let’s take a look at the final four races at Churchill Downs on Saturday and put together a no chalk Derby pick 4 ticket.
RACE 11 Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Mile
Likely favorite: No. 4 Newspaperofrecord (4-5 morning line)
Use: No. 1 She’sonthewarpath (15-1), No. 3 Juliet Foxtrot (5-1) and No. 6 Beau Recall (5-1)
Newspaperofrecord has won five times in eight career starts–all on the turf. She’s a perfect 4-for-4 when the turf is rated yielding. She won her last race over a Belmont Park course where the turf was rated firm, but that designation is questionable. In the four races where the grass was deemed fim or good, she is 1-for-4. Although there was some rain in Louisville on Wedneday into Thursday morning, the turf course should be firm by Saturday, especially later in the day. The course may not be to Newspaperofrecord’s liking, so we’ll try to beat her.
She’sonthewarpath has shown an affinity for hitting the board, as she has finished in the money in five of her last six starts. The only race where show bettors were disappointed with her is when she finished fourth, but only beaten by a neck in the Grade 3 Mint Julep on the Churchill grass in May. She is useful here.
Juliet Foxtrot finished a disappointing sixth in the Mint Julep for her 2020 debut, then finished a strong third behind Rushing Fall and Jolie Olimpica in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in July. She has the class to match up against Newspaperofrecord, especially if the race favorite isn’t on her game.
Beau Recall was not a factor in the Mint Julep, followed up that non-effort by finishing second to Newspaperofrecord in the Grade 1 Just A Game at Belmont Park in June before firing a dud last out. If she is on an “on again/off again” cycle, she should be on Saturday, and if she can duplicate her effort two back, she’ll be more than capable to spring the mild upset.
RACE 12 Grade 1 Derby City Distaff
Likely favorite: No. 8 Serengeti Empress (9-5 morning line)
Use: No. 1 Mia Mischief (6-1), No. 4 Bell’s the One (10-1), No. 9 Bellafina (3-1) and No. 10 Ce Ce (3-1)
Serengeti Empress has a love/hate relationship with the Churchill Downs main track. Two of her biggest wins have occurred in Louisville. She won the Kentucky Oaks in 2019 as well as a 19 ½-length romp in the Grade 2 Pochantas in 2018. But she’s also throw in some non-efforts at Churchill. In her most-recent start on the oval, she finished fourth, double-digit lengths behind Midnight Bisou and two others. She finished seventh, beaten by 17-½ lengths at Churchill in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2018.
Mia Mischief is the one in this race who could look Serengeti Empress in the eye throughout. If they do not wear each other down completely, the only runner with a shot to go stride-for-stride with the favorite is this one. The race could be similar to the Grade 1 madison at Keeneland this July where Mia Mischief finished second to Guarana.
Bell’s the One should sit near the back of the pack early in this one, as Mia Mischief at the rail will have to go to chase Serengeti Empress. This race sets up like the 2019 Grade 2 Eight Belles at Churchill Downs, where Bell’s the One made up plenty of ground on winner Break Even after that one dueled with and put away Lyrical Lady. Bell’s the One is much improved since that race, and will be tough to hold off after the early speed duel.
Bellafina has finished second in four of her last six races. She’s been beaten by the likes of Covfeve, Hard Not to Love, Sneaking Out and Serengeti Empress. While she’s never won outside of California, she is always right in the thick of things and gets the services of jockey Mike Smith. She’s live.
Ce Ce is cutting back in distance and that could be the cure for what ails her. A winner of three out of five starts at one mile or less, she won once in three tries at 1 1/16 miles. While she won’t be forwardly-placed against this bunch, she will be chugging hard at the end of the race, trying to gun down the likes of Mia Mischief and Serengeti Empress.
RACE 13 Grade 1 Turf Classic
Likely favorite: No. 1 Factor This (3-1 morning line)
Use: No. 2 Bowies Hero (6-1), No. 3 Rockemperor (7-2) and No. 8 Sacred Life (6-1)
Factor This is the highest-priced most-likely favorite of the sequence as far as the morning line is concerned. Theoretically, he’ll be the easiest one to beat. However, the Brad Cox trainee comes in on a four race winning streak, including a win over the Churchill grass two back in the Grade 2 Wise Dan.In his 30 career starts, he has won three of four races contested at 1 ⅛ miles. He’s formidable, but beatable.
Bowies Hero more than fits here as a contender. He’s coming into the race third off the layoff, gets Florent Geroux in the irons and his recent speed figures are up to snuff. The last time he raced in Kentucky, he took the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile at Keeneland last October.
Rockemperor is looking for his first win on U.S. soil for trainer Chad Brown, and this could be the race if the early pace melts down. This Holy Roman Emperor colt will be far behind the early pacesetters, looking to pounce late. The way the race sets up, there is a chance this strategy will be a winning one. He has a big shot here.
Sacred Life should employ the same tactics as Rockemperor, witting back and watching the front-runners falter late. Chad Brown has three chances to win this race, and Sacred Life may be his best option. Sacred Life comes in following a win at Monmouth Park after returning from a long layoff.
RACE 14 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby
Likely favorite: No. 17 Tiz the Law (3-5 morning line)
Use: No. 10 Thousand Words (15-1), No. 12 Sole Volante (30-1) and No. 15 Ny Traffic (20-1)
Tiz the Law is going to be the toughest favorite to beat. He is far and away the most-likely winner, which would put him one Preakness Stakes victory from an incomparable Triple Crown. Let’s face it, if we are alive in this no chalk pick 4, there will be plenty of sweating and second-guessing as to why we didn’t use him. If you want to cheat and add him to the last leg, it would defeat the purpose of the wager, but probably wouldn’t hurt!
Thousand Words is getting plenty of traction as a sexy pick in this Derby. He’s the “other” Baffert (second fiddle to Authentic). He beat Honor A. P. He looks as though he is peaking at the right time, and his speed figures put him right in the mix with even the slightest improvement. He’s not going to be 15-1 if the talk about this one is backed by dollars. He’s a strong choice to pull the upset.
Sole Volante can only win this race if there is a massive pace meltdown, involving Tiz the Law being a part of the early pace in a duel with Authentic and one or two more horses trying to shake free from the pack. If that happens, there are a few that will benefit, but none of them have the pedigree for a mile and a quarter as Sole Volante. If the pace is hot, and he works out a trip, he could be THE longshot to have in this Derby.
Ny Traffic looks to set a stalking trip. If he doesn’t expend too much energy weaving around traffic early, he should have plenty in the tank for ten furlongs. It’s a difficult ask for a horse in the No. 15 gate to get a “clean” trip, but he could easily play “follow the leader” behind hard-charging Authentic and Tiz the Law to set up a garden trip. If he sits near the front of the second tier of horses as they get to the first turn, he’s live. If he gets in trouble early, forget it.
THE WAGER: Churchill Downs race 11, $0.50 Pick 4: 1,3,6 with 1,4,9,10 with 2,3,8 with 10,12,15 ($48.00 ticket)
Churchill Downs/Coady Photography