2020 Kentucky Derby Preview

2020 has been a strange year, but at least one thing remains the same: the Kentucky Derby will continue its streak of being run every year since its 1875 inception. Though this year’s edition will be run four months late, on Labor Day weekend instead of the middle of spring, it still features an (almost) full starting gate of three-year-olds ready to etch their names in the history books.  Here at Picks and Ponderings, as we do every year, we give you a look at each horse in the field.


Tiz the Law wins the 2020 Belmont Stakes (G1). He will likely be odds-on in the 2020 Kentucky Derby.

If this horse-by-horse look leaves you craving more, you can read some pieces I’ve written leading up to the Derby about jockey trends, jockeys to watch, and trainers to watch!  I also appeared on the In the Money Kentucky Derby Monster Pod: Peter Fornatale had different guests come on to talk about each horse in the Derby, and I come on to discuss ENFORCEABLE. And, if you want to take a break from handicapping and listen to a few tunes, listen to my Derby Remix MegaMix playlist, with a song for each horse!

For a look at the Kentucky Oaks, which runs on Friday, September 4, you can find my analysis on ThoroCap.

With that out of the way, let’s cut to the chase: the field for the 2020 Kentucky Derby!

Churchill Downs: Saturday, September 5

Race 14: Kentucky Derby (G1), three-year-olds, one and one quarter miles on the dirt, post time 7:01pm EDT

#1 FINNICK THE FIERCE (50/1): His form at Churchill is solid; he is the only horse in the Derby field to have ever finished ahead of favoured TIZ THE LAW, and he did so over the Churchill slop last year. He also has some form from rail draws, particularly impressive since he is missing an eye.  Though, he has never been in a field this big, closers in the Derby tend to be better to sprinkle underneath than depend on heavily in general, and there are others liable to outfinish him.

#2 MAX PLAYER (30/1): He plodded on for a distant third behind TIZ THE LAW in Belmont and Travers. Since the Travers he was moved to the barn of Steve Asmussen.  He does well with horses new to his barn, but they’re also not usually in the Derby first in his barn. He is an improving horse with strong late pace, and his pedigree (by Honor Code out of a Not for Love half to International Star) isn’t bad for taking a crack to go this long, but the Derby usually rewards more tactical speed than he has.  Consider him underneath.

#3 ENFORCEABLE (30/1): He looked promising in Louisiana, but has been well beaten in the Blue Grass (G2) and Ellis Park Derby since. His pedigree isn’t bad for a shot at the Classic distance, being by dominant Belmont sire Tapit out of the dam of New Year’s Day, but he needs both a step forward and for other closers not to fire.

#4 STORM THE COURT (50/1): He is rounding into his best form since his surprise Breeders’ Cup victory, hitting the board in both the Ohio Derby (G3) and the La Jolla (G3) in his last two starts.  Even with his tactical speed, however, nothing about his pedigree is exciting for a mile and a quarter.  He makes more sense for another west coast three-year-old turf stakes than the Kentucky Derby.

#5 MAJOR FED (50/1): He closed for second in the Indiana Derby, though it’s hard to get excited about the quality of that race after its winner Shared Sense came back to finish only fifth in the Indiana Derby. He is a full brother to Zapperini, who ran a pretty good race going a mile and a half last year, a suggestion that he may take to more ground. But, he has yet to run a race fast enough to challenge the top contenders, and the poor races at Churchill are a concern.

#6 KING GUILLERMO (20/1): Unraced since a good second in the Arkansas Derby, he was a buzz horse off of an August 22 workout, but spiked a fever on September 3 and will be scratched from the Derby.

#7 MONEY MOVES (30/1): He only has three starts, and none have come in stakes company. His last race was pretty good, a close second behind in-form five-year-old Prioritize, who we will learn more about Saturday afternoon at Saratoga as he runs in the Woodward (G1). The $975,000 purchase price suggests there are some expectations, though being by Candy Ride out of a stakes-winning sprinter from the family of Caledonia Road and Data Link, that last furlong, perhaps furlong and a half may prove too taxing for a real money move.

#8 SOUTH BEND (50/1): A surprise entrant on Derby Day, this closer was last seen running fourth in the Travers, passing some horses late but ultimately proving no threat to TIZ THE LAW. That gave him some experience at a mile and a quarter, he has good Churchill form last year, and Bill Mott went from 4th in the final prep to a blanket of roses with Country House last year. Does that mean he wins again?  Probably not. Does South Bend have enough going for him to use a bit in the lowest rungs of exotics, especially on tickets that are very focused on top?  At huge odds, there’s an argument.

#9 MR. BIG NEWS (50/1): He closed to win the Oaklawn Stakes at 50/1 on April 11, but his only race since then was a no-threat fifth in the Blue Grass. To his credit, that race did come back live, with Art Collector and Swiss Skydiver winning back and three others running second in their next starts. MR. BIG NEWS also has an interesting pedigree for the mile and a quarter, being by Giant’s Causeway out of a Galileo mare from the family of Glorious Song, Saint Ballado, and Danon Ballade. Even with that upside, however, he has yet to run a race that puts him in the top echelon of this Derby field. At this point, his best chance is to draw on his pedigree and hope he can outstay enough horses in the lane to get up for a minor check.

#10 THOUSAND WORDS (15/1): His Derby stock has risen since he wired the Shared Belief Stakes last out, holding HONOR A. P. at bay in the lane. Though he was on the front that day, he does not have to make the top, as he proved in the fall and winter. However, especially without KING GUILLERMO in the field, it would be a surprise not to see him forward in the Derby. Looking at his pedigree?  Though Pioneerof the Nile on top is a positive Derby influence, the underneath side of the pedigree helps bolster the argument that his weaker form through the spring and summer was, at least partially, due to distance limitations.

#11 NECKER ISLAND (50/1): He hasn’t won a race in seven starts this year, and hasn’t won a race at all without battling on the lead. Though his last two races since being claimed to the Chris Hartman barn have been his only money finishes of the year, they haven’t exactly been threatening, and still require significant improvement to match the better foes in the Derby.  Furthermore, blinkers-off may not be the right move since his better races have had him forward early.

#12 SOLE VOLANTE (30/1): Most of his prep season he was razor-sharp. He showed a sizzling kick to win the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, rallied for a strong second behind a lone-speed KING GUILLERMO in the Tampa Bay Derby, then unleashed his kick in a stakes-quality allowance at Gulfstream. However, his last race before the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont (G1), was a flat sixth. SOLE VOLANTE needs to improve, but he will be a big price, big enough to bet that the Belmont was either a question of not liking the Belmont footing, having to ship to Belmont after that Gulfstream allowance and wheel back in ten days, or both. If he can bring his Florida kick to Churchill? He probably doesn’t win, but there’s enough to put him on the lower rungs of exotics since he’ll be enough of a price to bet that the Belmont was an “I don’t like Big Sandy” kind of day.

#13 ATTACHMENT RATE (50/1): He has been chasing Art Collector in his last two, and improved in the Ellis Park Derby to finish second behind that foe. Though earlier races had him rallying from farther away, the tactical speed he showed in at Ellis was a nice dimension to see. Oddly enough, he is from the same female family as MONEY MOVES; ATTACHMENT RATE’s second dam Sunset Service is MONEY MOVES’s third dam. Though, with the Hard Spun and Afleet Alex close up in ATTACHMENT RATE’s pedigree he has more chance for Classic stamina. However, it’s not all positive. ATTACHMENT RATE not only have to take another serious step forward, but also both of his races at Churchill so far have been flat.

#14 WINNING IMPRESSION (50/1): Here we have the Obligatory Dallas Stewart Longshot™.  He passed some tiring horses to finish seventh in the Ellis Park Derby last out, a better effort than his well-beaten seventh in the Indiana Derby two starts back. Though he may not have to drop as far back as some of the other late runners in the field, his recent races suggest he needs a drop in class, not a step forward into Grade 1 company. He stands to be overbet in exotics given Dallas Stewart’s past record, and other longshots have shown more.

#15 NY TRAFFIC (20/1): He hasn’t won any of his graded stakes preps, but he has been a beacon of consistency, with money finished in all four of them. He almost won the Haskell (G1) last out, roaring back at AUTHENTIC after he stalled out on the lead. Though his pedigree on paper isn’t great for the Classic distance, he keeps passing the tests well enough as the distances get longer. He has the tactical speed that plays so well in the Derby, he can handle a parking lot draw, and the planned scratch of KING GUILLERMO helps forward horses like him.

#16 HONOR A. P. (5/1):  The loss in the Shared Belief raised questions with a lot of people. However, he did win the Santa Anita Derby two starts back like a good thing, and , but he did win the Santa Anita Derby two back like a good thing.  didn’t look in the Shared Belief like he wanted to be inside — the draw was more crucial for him than for anyone, he desperately needed an outside draw, and by George he got one. Money Mike keeps the faith, and Thousand Words won’t be lolling about on the lead this time around with the likes of AUTHENTIC and NY TRAFFIC in the field.  still TIZ THE LAW’s biggest threat.

#17 TIZ THE LAW (3/5): He has passed every test, and he looked better than ever when stretched out to the Classic distance for the Travers. He drew wide this time, but such a post shouldn’t be much of a hindrance at all. He has plenty of time to find a spot before they hit the turn, he seems to like those outside stalking trips, and he drew perfectly to get one again. The closest thing to a knock on his form is that his only loss came at Churchill in the slop, but he’ll catch a dry track and he is a better horse now than he was then.  I usually try to beat the chalk in the Derby, but I’ve been convinced TIZ THE LAW was the goods throughout the Derby season. He hasn’t done a thing to suggest any differently yet, and the Travers was enough to even strengthen that, given how he handled the mile and a quarter.

#18 AUTHENTIC (8/1): He almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the Haskell, when he had seemingly put away NY TRAFFIC and then had to stave him off in the final strides. Both that and his defeat in the Santa Anita Derby suggest that the distance limitations on his pedigree page may be bearing out. The jockey move is a little concerning, too: of course Mike Smith isn’t bailing off HONOR A. P. to ride AUTHENTIC, but who out west this time of year is so convincing that Drayden Van Dyke doesn’t come East for a while to ride his Derby Horse, unless AUTHENTIC isn’t all that convincing after all?  Of course, the other argument is that John Velazquez has more Derby experience; this space notes that, but is still skeptical.

Selections:

#17 TIZ THE LAW (3/5)
#16 HONOR A. P. (5/1)
#15 NY TRAFFIC (20/1)

Longshot:

#12 SOLE VOLANTE (30/1)

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