The 146th Kentucky Derby, Covid-19, No Fans, No Problem

September 2, 2020

We may have a Kentucky Derby without fans, but we do have Geo Sette and as always he comes prepared. Geo dissects this year’s Kentucky Derby and provides his patented deep dive analysis.

As we all know , 2020 has been a year of sacrifice and change, and with such, brand new cracks in the foundation of tradition. The Run for the Roses is no different.  The traditional first Saturday in May (145 years’ worth) has turned into the first Saturday in September. We won’t have the typical thunderous crowd of 150,000+ in attendance under the beauty that is the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs.  There will be no mint juleps served, nor thousands of beautiful women sporting their hats and luxurious head pieces with their colorful dresses.

So, the pageantry simply won’t be the same, but it’s still the Kentucky Derby, and with that, our Sport of Kings biggest hype.  Hey, it’s the greatest two minutes in sports and even with it happening 5 months off schedule it gives us something to be excited about.

One thing for sure, the coverage with the media will still be extensive, and the wagering handle will probably surpass $250 Million dollars. I have thoroughly checked the forecast for Saturday in Louisville Kentucky and it looks to be a picture perfect day, sunny skies with the high between 75 and 80 degrees.  So I have completed my film study, pedigree analysis and past performance reconciliation fully expecting a dry, fast track. 

There are 18 listed starters, and for the first time using a custom made 20 stall starting gate which is a beautiful thing, finally getting rid of the auxiliary gate that was used for many years as an attachment.

As a veteran handicapper, my work for this race had a brand new twist.  Obviously apparent is the fact that our three-year-old’s in the field are more mature with added conditioning. Some have already been battle tested at this 10 furlong distance, and many have more races to their resume than what you would typically see entered on the first Saturday in May.

So, with all my work completed, here is my most precise predicted order of finish. I believe only 10 of the 18 starters have a legitimate shot to win if they bring their very best race on Saturday.

Those will be listed as my top 10 in a very precise order, and since there are numerous ways to wager with assorted gimmicks like exactas, triples, and superfectas, perhaps all I share for each horse can be used as a guide for you to make an informed window decision for yourself.

Are you ready?  Let’s Go!

# 17 Tiz The La

Trust me, I worked long and hard in trying to find a logical way to beat this very special New York Bred.  I did so especially since he drew this extreme outside post, one that in the storied history of the Kentucky Derby has never reached the winners’ circle. But, as we know, this is no ordinary year, and this is far from just an ordinary racehorse. He is as deserving of a betting favorite as you will find,  His resume is as impressive as you will find entering this race and to boot, his simply astonishing victory in the 10-furlong Travers should inject more confidence into your window decision. That race was his career best Beyer, a 109, passing horses and leaving them behind as if they were tied to the rail. 

Tiz has a running style that I describe as stalking/push button, something he has clearly exhibited in all of his 7 career races. His 6 wins all carry a common denominator, he simple stalks, takes the lead, and then draws clear by open lengths.  He comes into this race with a pair of brilliant breezes, an indication that he remains fresh and fit. He’s a 4-time Grade 1 winner, including 1 as a two-year-old in the Grade 1 Champagne and he comes into this race winning 3 consecutive Grade 1 races.  Manny Franco is back in the saddle for Barclay Tagg, as collectively they seek to write a page into the history books.  This # 17 can easily take it all, and by coincidence, it’s been ‘17’ years since Tagg won this race with Funny Cide back in 2003.  For those of you that are concerned with the post #17, keep in mind Big Brown won the Derby in 2008 from the #20 hole. He started wide, moved up and patiently stalked, then turned on the gas ( as Tiz does) then drew away from the field in the stretch. He won by 5 lengths that day.

Tiz the Law at Churchill Downs

I’m expecting Franco to break alertly, composed and without panic, and for Tiz to use his tactical ability to sit 4th, perhaps 5th through the first quarter, gather nice positioning to avoid being too wide, and then asked to turn on the gas with that ‘push button’ urging as they turn for home. If he gets a good trip,  logic insists he will be tough to down as I fully expect him to eye-ball and pass the early front runners.  There will no doubt be others charging hard down the stretch with him, but his class should set him aside from the others. Don’t you worry about the price, there’s plenty of value to follow him.

# 13 Attachment Rate   

I’m feeling something strong with this colt, and I see him with great potential to blow up the tote board at a huge price.  When I completed all of my work, especially with my film study on this guy, I listed him as 17-1 from a past performance perspective, but the morning is listed at 50-1. That’s simply ridiculous, but hey I will take the value for sure.  This son of Hard Spun ( who was 2nd with a big run in the 2007 Kentucky Derby) and Aristra (Afleet Alex) was purchased for $200,000. In my opinion, he wants to go long, so trying 10 furlongs for the first time is inviting. Joe Talamo is up for racing veteran Dale Romans who has provided the excitement of huge upsets before ( 2015 beating American Pharoah in the Travers with Keen Ice). Romans also won the 2011 Preakness Stakes with Shackleford.  After making his debut  as a two-year-old over this same Churchill soil in a sprint in June of 2019, he didn’t do much running that day and was sidelined until earlier this year.

He has greatly matured and progressed in distance throughout his three-year-old campaign. In many of his races there was a strong willingness to run and turn of foot, but he has had some troubled trips and he has faced some strong horses bringing their “A” game.  In the Grade 3 Matt Winn stakes over this same soil, he was 5-wide, squeezed at the start, and was in tight into the first turn. That day he was beaten by the much the best Maxfield, and NY Traffic. Around 6 weeks later, he ran in the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland, where he was bumped at the start, running what I felt was a competitive 5th in the field of 13. He was defeated that day by the highly regarded Art Collector who was scratched from this Derby, and you will most likely see him in next month’s Preakness.

Also in that race was the super filly, Swiss Skydiver, who went on to win the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga and is now entered as one of the favorites in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks. Finally, in his last, the Ellis Park Derby, he was again too wide on the first turn but then I watched him move up aggressively. Forced wide on the far turn, he was no match for the winner Art Collector, but he was a strong 2nd.  He comes into this race with two smart breezes, and I’m feeling he’ll be mid-pack through the first half mile and then show aggressiveness in moving up,  if he gets a clean trip,  he may be one of the horses closing powerfully down the lane.  His Beyers indicate continuous improvement, and if he gets better on Saturday, he’s got the potential to make some serious noise.

# 16 Honor A.P.    

This guy is deserving of major considerations. Purchased for a robust $850,000.00, he has not disappointed his ownership with his first 5 starts, hitting the board all 5 times, winning twice, including the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. He’s 5 for 5 on the exacta board while posting triple-digit Beyers in his last 2, both at an impressive 102. Hall of Fame Jockey, Mike Smith, who won the Kentucky Derby back in 2005 with Giacomo, is up for the consistent John Shirreffs barn. He’s been stabled entirely on the West Coast, including his morning works, so he will have to adapt to the Churchill soil. This son of Honor Code seems to be primed for another big effort.  I am expecting him to be a stalker as well, perhaps sitting 4th or so until he’s asked to rock and roll.  He’s also being tested at the distance for the first time, but I believe he can make it.  He’s an obvious contender with his best effort, and his consideration is warranted for many of your exotics tickets.

# 2 Max Player  

 This colt also sired by Honor Code has been consistent and reliable and you simply cannot argue with success. He’s 5 for 5 lifetime in the money, including a Grade 3 Withers victory, and a pair of 3rds in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes and the Grade 1 Travers, both won convincingly by my top choice Tiz the Law.  Now the switch of barns, previously trained by Linda Rice and now part of the extremely successful barn of Steve Asmussen.  A rider change to Rafael Santana Jr. wasn’t a surprise as he often rides for Asmussen, but he replaces the strong-armed Joel Rosario. I’m not sure I would have done that.  Even still, Max comes into this race with 3 solid breezes for his Churchill debut.  This colt has shown continuous improvement with his speed figures ( 68-72-86-92-99)  and I feel he hasn’t reached his top performance yet. Look for him to again becoming a menacing threat as they charge down the lane.  He will need a moderate to fast pace and a good trip to hit the board once again,  but there’s no doubt the talent is there.

# 7 Money Moves  

This guy in my opinion is this years ‘Wild Card” which compelled me to move him up to 5th from my original 8th place with my beginning handicap.  The great Javier Castellano is up for Todd Pletcher ( who has won this race twice, once in 2017 with Always Dreaming and back in 2010 with Super Saver),  so it’s obvious the connections have added appeal. He is the most lightly raced in the field and seeks to be ONLY the 2nd horse since the legendary Apollo back in 1882 to win this race without running as a two-year-old.  That “Curse” of course was broken just two years ago in 2018 by Justify.   This colt is a neck away from being 3 for 3; albeit vs much cheaper. You must admire his swift progression, winning his first 2 earlier this past Spring in Florida, then sidelined for 4 months, and came back running, missing by that neck at Saratoga.  He comes into this race with a series of consistent breezes,  I am confident he is fresh and fit. Purchased for a very robust $975,000.00, this guy solves for quality pedigree and should take to this 10-furlong distance. Just think you may very well get these awesome connections at what could be 25-1 or more. Watch the board for sure, this colt may very well live up to his name.

# 6 King Guillermo   

This son of Uncle Mo has High Speed, and he drew a favorable post, in my opinion as I predict the pace scenario, which I believe will be moderate to fast. I see this guy leading for what could be the first 6/8th’s perhaps being pressed and battled with # 18 Authentic who shares the same speed ability from the gate. These two are most likely the two front runners, and it will be interesting to see if there’s any cat and mouse activity, or who looms to be chasing who.  He won the Tampa Bay Derby in smashing fashion, then a couple of months later he ran well in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, finishing 2nd to the highly regarding Nadal, who is currently on the shelf injured.  He does have the pedigree to suggest he’ll take the distance, but I’m concerned with him coming into this race on a 4 month layoff.  He does have two very fast bullet breezes over this Churchill strip,  so he appears to be fit. He’s dangerous on the lead, especially if Authentic does not fire out well from the # 18 hole. It is said often, “The pace makes the race”,   this was essentially important to my handicapping scheme.  I am counting on Bob Baffert and Johnny V who is aboard Authentic to make it happen. I am giving this guy a very respectful 6th place finish because of his speed and workouts, but if the pace is what I think it will be, my top 5 above figures to close and pass him in the stretch.

# 10 Thousand Words  

This colt could be the most compelling in the field, especially with his body of work and his connections. Bob Baffert’s barn has won this mega event 5 times ( 2018 Justify, 2015 American Pharoah, 2002 War Emblem, 1998 Real Quiet and 1997 Silver Charm). He was purchased for a cool $1,000,000.00 with his superior billing sired by Pioneer of the Nile by Empire Maker. He’s 5 for 7 lifetime in the money, winning 4 times, twice as a two-year-old. He comes off his career best race with a 104 Beyer, defeating my 3rd Choice Honor A.P.  However, he was trounced by stablemate Authentic earlier this year in the Grade 2 San Felipe. In the same race he was beaten by Honor A.P, AND Storm the Cat. In his next race he stumbled and faded badly beaten by Derby longshot Mr. Big News. Florent Geroux is an interesting rider change in a race without The Ortiz brothers, or Joel Rosario and Flavien Prat who’s ridden this colt 5 times.  I’m feeling there must have been some quarantine restrictions that affected things

Watch the board with this one too. He’s got raw talent, which gained this respectful mention, but he’s been too inconsistent for me to rely on him. However, if he shows up with his very best, he could be dangerous.

# 15 N.Y. Traffic      

This gray is worthy of being in this race for sure. He comes out of the very consistent Joseph Saffie barn with Paco Lopez back up. His lone race at Churchill was an impressive 2nd to Maxfield in the Grade 3 Matt Winn.  He then followed with a thrilling 2nd, just failing to catch Authentic at the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park. He worked brilliantly at Saratoga to prepare for this race.  He is capable of making the pace very interesting if he’s rushed up to take on King Guillermo and Authentic who looms to be fleet footed from his outside.    He is certainly in top form and must be considered, especially in your deeper gimmicks. I just feel from a full body of work perspective, that perhaps he’s not as classy as my top 7 choices above.

# 18 Authentic  

This is one hot-shot colt, and it was very difficult for me to drop him to this 9th position.  Obviously he gets top billing coming out of the Baffert barn and with Hall of Fame Jockey, Johnny Velazquez, in the saddle ( who won the Derby in 2011 with Animal Kingdom). Purchased for $350,000.00, he has already returned a nice profit to his ownership. He’s raced 5 times, winning 4 and has returned exacta money in each race he has run.  My concerns are mostly with his # 18 post and the extended energy he will have to used to run his natural ways. I feel he wants to be on the lead and that’s the best way for him to win this race. He faces various challenges to his inside, mostly notably as mentioned earlier from # 6 King Guillermo and # 15 NY Traffic, amongst others as well. If he makes the lead, he’s likely to be hard pressed, which may create an even faster pace. I’m feeling that if he doesn’t get totally loose,  the final furlong can prove to be too tough for him, especially with many hard charging contenders closing powerfully. You simply won’t get much value with this guy.  Is his best absolutely dangerous?  No doubt, but in my opinion, he’ll need others to falter completely for him to run his best race. Look for him to be backed at the windows based on the quality of his connections, he’ll be the 2nd favorite under Tiz the Law.

#12 Sole Volante   

This gelding is one that I admire greatly, and I love the story knowing that Luca Panici is finally getting a mount at the Kentucky Derby. Luca is a very consistent and reliable rider at Gulfstream Park on the Florida racing circuit.  He’s also a prideful rider from Italy who demonstrated a need to succeed here in the United States and a complete gentlemen as well. Sole Volante is from the Patrick Biancone stable and actually began his career with two consecutive razor-sharp efforts on the turf, closing powerfully, winning both going away. As a three-year old he showed continuous improvement with quality Beyers, picking up several checks with powerful finishes. In his last, a major step up in class to the Belmont Stakes, his first Grade 1, he had a pedestrian start, then went 7-wide and never really got involved. He finished a distant 6th, 15+ lengths off of the winner Tiz the Law.  He’s now been freshened and comes into this race with a truly amazing 57.4 Breeze after working 10 days prior on the weeds.   He has made my top 10 which gives him an outside chance to shock the world, but he’ll need a rapid pace and an advantageous clear path to win this. If he brings his very best, hitting the board and filling out some of your Superfecta tickets may pay huge dividends for you. I’m expecting his odds to be in the area of 35-1.  If he takes to the Churchill soil, he should be flying late.

# 1 Finnick The Fierce   

There will be many a soft-spot for those backing this one-eyed gelding, so he will capture some sentimental feelings just as Patch did in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. This guy emerged victorious in a sprint in his debut at Indiana Grand. He has since collected various checks with some decent placings, including his strong 3rd in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby where he was defeated by Nadal and King Guillermo.  He drew the inside rail post which will offer some additional challenges to him, but I feel with a clean trip he should be able to make up some ground and finish with some energy. A nice story, but it’s unlikely he will have enough to hit the board.

# 3 Enforceable  

This gray colt is a handsome fella,  and comes into this race completing a series of Grade 2 events. Adam Beschizza is up for Mark Casse. His pedigree suggests that he can run all day ( by Tapit) so I am not worried about the distance; however, I am worried about his tardy beginnings. Recently he’s been a habitual slow starter.  Now in his last 4 starts, he did draw very wide outside posts, and now he’s getting the # 3 hole, so perhaps he’ll show more alertness. Even still his numbers simple do not measure up to most of this field. It’s his 2nd race off a layoff, and he’ll need a major improvement to hit the board here. I’m guessing he can finish anywhere from this 12th placing I am giving him or perhaps as close to 7th with his very best.

***With my final 6 in this Kentucky Derby field ( 13th to 18th)  I will list in the following order and provide a quick bullet point for you,  All 6 of these guys I’m tossing from hitting the board. Some have potential to improve, but I would be shocked if any of them won this Derby, they just seem up against it.

# 4 Storm the Court

His claim to fame is winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2019 at 45-1 Odds, just getting up by a head. Since then he hasn’t won, but has finished well a few times. He’s been beaten by several horses in this field. Leparoux is up for Peter Eurton.

# 5 Major Fed  

This colt is 1 for 6 lifetime. His only victory was in a MSW event at Fair Grounds. He does have the pedigree to take to this 10 furlong distance and he comes into this race with sensational breezes over the strip in .58 flat and 46.4.  He should be closing late,  and will be at long odds, but he’ll need a perfect trip to threaten to hit the board.

#8 South Bend

Intriguing connections with Tyler Gaffalione riding for Bill Mott. This guy is the MOST Experienced racehorse in the field with 12 lifetime starts,  winning his first 3 starts in smashing fashion as a two-year-old, but since then he did lots of running on the turf, and picked up some minor rewards.  His last at the Travers was actually his best Beyer finishing with an impressive 97 after brushing the gate at the start. Although he’s in my bottom 6,  he’s capable of bettering my rating for sure.

#11 Necker Island

This colt was a $250,000 purchase and won two races last year as a two-year-old, but he has struggled this year. His final race times are well below my top contenders here, he would be a shocker for sure.

#14 Winning Impression

This gray gelding gets a shot to dance with the big boys here. I feel good for Joe Rocco Jr in getting this mount for Dallas Stewart, but clearly he is completely overmatched

#9 Mr. Big News

You Betcha he’ll be big news if he won this race. He should be the longest odds on the board, in excess of 80-1.   Strictly for names or numbers players, all of which will more than likely tear up the tickets.

Well there you have it,  enjoy the day and I’m hoping I provided enough information to make your day a winning one.  I want to thank you in advance for any comments you share regarding this column.

All my best always


Contributing Authors

Geo Sette

Geo serves multiple roles at Past the Wire. He is a columnist, handicapper, and analyst. Geo has been fascinated with the Sport of Kings since...

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@jonathanstettin Thank you. This is a truly beautiful tribute to a racing legend. Good to hear the true story of what happened that day.

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