Saturday’s rescheduled Kentucky Derby is unique for a number of reasons — namely, it’s being run in September without any spectators amid a global pandemic — but perhaps the most intriguing oddity can be found in the 17-horse field: the race’s biggest betting favorite since 1992.
Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has pegged Belmont Stakes champion Tiz the Law’s odds at 3 to 5, making the stallion the Kentucky Derby’s biggest favorite since Arazi entered the race at 4 to 5, only to finish in eighth.
But unlike 1992, and every other year for that matter, the 146th Kentucky Derby is not the first leg of the 2020 Triple Crown. Instead, after being postponed from May for the first time since 1945, the Kentucky Derby is now the second frame of the horse racing’s biggest prize, meaning the field is vastly more familiar to oddsmakers than ever before.
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An exercise rider works Kentucky Derby entry Tiz the Law at Churchill Downs on Wednesday
Kentucky Derby entry Tiz the Law get a bath after a workout at Churchill Downs on Thursday
Tiz the Law (8) with Manuel Franco up, wins the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes in front of a mostly-empty grandstand at Belmont Park
‘[In May], you might be able to predict, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty,’ professional gambler and horse owner Paul Matties Jr. told The Wall Street Journal. ‘Some [horses] will develop a little bit and some will develop a lot. It’s not equal…By September, most of the growing is over and you can see by their performances, who has moved on the most. You can tell who has become the best horse.’
A son of Constitution, Tiz the Law has won six of seven career starts, which include a third-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (Grade 2) at Churchill Downs in November.
‘(He’s) the same horse, more experienced of course,’ trainer Barclay Tagg told the media this week. ‘I didn’t think it was a lack of experience that got him then. It was an off track and he came out of the gate slow. He’s been pretty nice since.’
Tagg, 82, attempts to become the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby. Art Sherman was 77 when he trained California Chrome to victory in 2014.
An exercise rider works Kentucky Derby entry King Guillermo at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. The three-year-old colt, who is owned by former major leaguer Victor Martinez, showed a fever on Wednesday and was scratched from the race on Thursday
Tagg and Tiz the Law owner Sackatoga Stable will be seeking their second Kentucky Derby victory, having teamed up with Funny Cide in 2003. Funny Cide went on to capture the Preakness but finished third in the Belmont.
Tiz the Law, ridden by Manny Franco, is coming off an impressive performance in winning the Travers Stakes (Grade 1) at Saratoga Race Course on August 8.
‘Some people we concerned, “Well, there’s only four weeks between the Travers and Kentucky Derby this year,”‘ Sackatoga Stable’s Jack Knowlton said. ‘If you look at the two works Tiz had up in Saratoga, I think that question was answered. He was just as sharp as he’s ever been.’
All off the top choices will start from the outside. Tiz the Law will break from the No. 17 post, which never has produced a Derby winner. Honor AP, the second choice at 5-1 under Mike Smith, drew the No. 16 post. Authentic, at 8-1 and ridden by John Velazquez, is the third choice starting from the far outside.
Honor AP trainer John Shirreffs is chasing a second Derby triumph, winning with Giacomo in 2005.
‘I always think back to Giacomo who won at 50-1, so the odds don’t mean anything,’ Shirreffs said. ‘You just have to see how the race is run.’
Victor Martinez, a former Major League catcher and designated hitter, hopes to have King Guillermo at the Preakness if the Colt can recover from the flu in time
Bob Baffert, whose five Kentucky Derby winners include Triple Crown champions American Pharoah and Justify, will send two runners out Saturday. In addition to Authentic, Baffert trains 15-1 shot Thousand Words, who drew the No. 10 post and will be ridden by Florent Geroux.
‘What makes the Derby a great event is when 150,000 people show up. It’s not the same when there’s not people watching and cheering you on,’ Baffert said. ‘That’s what makes the Derby so great, all the fans. I think it’ll probably be better on television (this year) than being here.’
According to Matties, only ‘bad racing luck’ can prevent Tiz the Law from finishing the 1 1/4-mile race first on Saturday, which is expected to debut a number of new features.
A new 20-horse starting gate, replacing a primary and auxiliary gate combination, will be used for the race. With the field down to 17 colts as of Thursday afternoon, Churchill Downs will leave the two inside gates and one outside gate empty — something that likely would not have happened had the race been run on its customary first Saturday in May
Fancy hats were on display at the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4th, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. This will not be the atmosphere on Saturday in Louisville
A new 20-horse starting gate, replacing a primary and auxiliary gate combination, will be used for the race. With the field down to 17 colts as of Thursday afternoon, Churchill Downs will leave the two inside gates and one outside gate empty — something that likely would not have happened had the race been run on its customary first Saturday in May.
King Guillermo, tied for the fifth-best odds in the morning line at 20-1, will miss the Kentucky Derby with a fever.
Fans make their way through the infield prior to the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby
The three-year-old colt, who is owned by former major leaguer Victor Martinez, showed the fever on Wednesday and was scratched Thursday. Trainer Juan Carlos Avila tweeted Thursday that his camp will focus on the Preakness in October if King Guillermo’s health allows him to return to the track.
‘Unfortunately we will not be running this Saturday at the KD, a fever yesterday afternoon took us away from this great dream,’ Avila tweeted. ‘First it is the health of our King Guillermo, who will be ready to show that he is one of the best in the country sooner rather than later.
‘Thanks for the great support from all and I repeat later in the afternoon you will know why we had a great illusion of winning the best race in the world. Our next goal, having a healthy horse, will be the Preakness in Baltimore on October 3rd.’
The 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes, which normally follows the Derby, will be run October 3 at Pimlico Race Course.
Fans slide through the mud in the infield prior to the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky