SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Tiz the Law camp hasn’t had to sweat out too much this year.
They may have been sweating a little bit on Tuesday at the Kentucky Derby post-position draw.
With all the optimal middle stalls picked and Tiz the Law’s name still out there to be drawn, he got the last remaining post, No. 17, in an 18-horse field for Saturday’s 146th Run for the Roses.
With the scratch of one of the top contenders, Art Collector, Tuesday morning, the Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Tiz the Law was named the 3-5 favorite on the morning line, the shortest price since Easy Goer was 3-5 in 1989.
No. 17 is the only post never to have produced a Kentucky Derby winner, but Tiz the Law will actually break from the No. 18 stall while carrying the 17 saddlecloth.
Churchill Downs bought a new 20-stall starting gate this year, replacing the 14-stall main gate and six-stall auxiliary gate arrangement that had been used. With 18 horses, the No. 1 and No. 20 stalls will be empty to give a little breathing room to the horse who drew the dreaded No. 1 Finnick the Fierce.
The relief to Sackatoga Stable and trainer Barclay Tagg is that Tiz the Law, who prefers to run outside of the competition, did not get stuck down inside.
“I like being on the outside, I didn’t particularly want to be out that far, but he seems to handle everything that’s thrown at him, so we’ll just have to leave it up to him,” Tagg told the Churchill Downs media team. “It gives you a chance, if you have any speed at all, it gives you a chance to get a better position.”
“It came down to 1, 2 and 17, so we certainly prefer the 17,” Sackatoga managing partner Jack Knowlton said via the Sackatoga Twitter account. “Should give Manny options being outside.”
Tiz the Law will have his regular jockey Manny Franco in the saddle.
Post time for the Derby is scheduled for 7:01 p.m. and will be part of an NBC broadcast that begins at 2:30.
The field in post-position order, with jockeys and odds:
Finnick the Fierce (Martin Garcia, 50-1); Max Player (Ricardo Santana Jr., 30-1); Enforceable (Adam Beschizza, 30-1); Storm the Court (Julien Leparoux, 50-1); Major Fed (James Graham, 50-1); King Guillermo (Sammy Camacho, 20-1); Money Moves (Javier Castellano, 30-1); South Bend (Tyler Gaffalione, 50-1); Mr. Big News (Gabriel Saez, 50-1); Thousand Words (Florent Geroux, 15-1); Necker Island (Miguel Mena, 50-1); Sole Volante (Luca Panici, 30-1); Attachment Rate (Joe Talamo, 50-1); Winning Impression (Joe Rocco, 50-1); Ny Traffic (Paco Lopez, 20-1); Honor A. P. (Mike Smith, 5-1); Tiz the Law (Manny Franco, 3-5); Authentic (John Velazquez, 8-1).
Art Collector, who is undefeated in four starts this year with wins in the Grade II Blue Grass and Ellis Park Derby, was declared out of the race by trainer Tommy Drury after the colt kicked himself during a gallop at Churchill on Monday, a minor injury that shouldn’t keep him out of the Oct. 3 Preakness.
Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia said he was prepared to make Tiz the Law 4-5, but changed it to 3-5 with the scratch of Art Collector.
“It was still very sensitive this morning,” Drury said on Tuesday. “When I took my thumbs to palpate the bulbs of his heels, you could still tell it was pinching him. I had to make a choice. Your horse has to always come first. To run in a race of this caliber and trying to compete against the best 3-year-olds in this country, you’ve got to be 110%. To me, it wouldn’t have been fair to Art Collector, even though it’s slight, knowing that there’s an issue of any kind.
“We discussed some different scenarios. We maybe could have put a bar shoe on it and stabilized it and he would have been fine. But you’re going to the Kentucky Derby. First and foremost, as the trainer, it’s my responsibility to be the voice for the horse. That’s just not fair to him. He’s been too good to us, and we’re going to make sure he’s taken care of first.”
On top of the injury, Art Collector’s Churchill Downs-based jockey, Brian Hernandez Jr., tested positive for the coronavirus. Hernandez told the Daily Racing Form that he tested positive on Monday, but also tested positive for the virus antibodies on Tuesday. He said he wasn’t sure if the state health department would allow him to ride this week.
The No. 17 has other significance to Tiz the Law, since it was 17 years ago that Sackatoga’s Funny Cide won the Derby.
Tiz the Law shipped out of Saratoga Race Course Tuesday morning and arrived at Churchill Downs at 10 a.m., an hour before the draw. Like Funny Cide, Tiz the Law is a New York-bred.
“I just put those kind of things [winless No. 17] out of my mind,” Tagg said. “There are a lot of horses who didn’t win the Derby, so frankly I’m not that worried about it.
“He’s a unique horse, I keep pinching myself because he’s such a unique horse. Everything we’ve asked him to do he just does it. He’s a strong horse, he’s not flighty, but he’s on the muscle all the time. He’s so exciting in his races. You think he’s gotten in trouble here, in trouble there and next thing you know he’s in front. He’s a pretty amazing horse. I don’t know if I’ve seen a horse like him.”
“Tiz the Law is pretty impressive,” said Storm the Court’s trainer Peter Eurton on the draw broadcast. “He’s laid at 3-5, he’s got an outside draw and can let things unfold, with a speed horse [Authentic] on his outside, so it’s going to be interesting to see, with Honor A. P. out there, too. He doesn’t quite have their [early] speed, so he’s going to have to get into the first turn without losing a lot of ground and position.”
Max Player, who finished third to Tiz the Law in both the Belmont and Travers, will run for trainer Steve Asmussen for the first time, after being transferred out of Linda Rice’s barn.
“That’s [No. 2] where we’re going to work from, and hopefully he’s away from there clean,” Asmussen said. “With 18 runners and how long it takes to load them, hopefully he can get away clean, get a decent position and not get bundled back too terribly far. It affects how aggressive you have to be early.
“Obviously, he’s [Tiz the Law] a tremendous horse. The Belmont and Travers could not have been more visually impressive, but with horses, he got paid for those days, he has to do it again.”
Most of the attention at the start of the Derby will be all the way outside, since the only three horses with single-digit odds, Honor A. P., Tiz the Law and the Bob Baffert-trained Authentic, will be camped out there.
Besides Authentic, Baffert also trains Thousand Words. He has won the Derby five times, with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002) and the Triple Crown winners American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
“Not ideal for Authentic but I’m OK with it. He’s out of harm’s way. Just glad to be in the gate,” Baffert said in a text to Churchill.
One of the intriguing Derby entrants is Tampa Bay Derby winner King Guillermo, owned by retired major leaguer Victor Martinez, a five-time All-Star.
King Guillermo has been training up to the Kentucky Derby by Juan Avila for four months, since a second-place finish in a division of the Arkansas Derby on May 2, the original date for the Kentucky Derby.
“To put it in perspective, it’s a little better walking into Churchill Downs than Yankee Stadium,” Martinez said with a laugh during the draw broadcast. “I don’t know very much about horses and positions draws. I leave everything to Juan Carlos. He’s really happy about the post, so we’re just hoping and praying for a really clean race. I’m just trying to enjoy it, and we just get lucky.”