SARATOGA SPRINGS — Inspiration for picking this year’s Kentucky Derby comes from the cool, pristine waters and graceful, green slopes of the Adirondack Mountains.
Because why not, these days.
I made a surgical strike on Tuesday afternoon up to Inlet, on Fourth Lake, to visit my sisters and nephews and friends, and was back Wednesday morning with fun memories and an Old Smoke t-shirt that smelled of new smoke.
So my Derby pick (Tiz the Law) is reflected in the new Swiss Army knife my nephew Shane got during the trip; meanwhile, I skipped the toasted marshmallows (that’s everybody else in the Derby field).
Anyone who’s trying to pick against Tiz the Law on Saturday surely is pointing to his previous encounter with Churchill Downs, a third-place finish by three-quarters of a length in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club on Nov. 30 to close out his 2019 campaign.
It remains the only loss of Tiz the Law’s career, so I pulled up the replay on Friday for a refresher.
Notes: “A little fumble-footed out of the gate” … “Completely surrounded by horses midway through the backstretch” … “Still bottled up coming off the second turn” … “Straightening for home, looking for a hole, too tight” … “Finally clear sailing inside sixteenth pole.”
Since then, Tiz the Law has become the entire package as a racehorse and is better equipped to handle whatever is thrown at him. I don’t want my nephew to go out and try to kill a bear with his new knife (which is about as big as your little finger), but he can slice up stuff, cut paper with the scissors and file his nails. There’s even a James Bond-like plastic toothpick concealed in the handle.
Likewise, Tiz the Law has shown himself to be a terrific gate horse this year, has a high cruising speed and appears to love competition, but exercise rider Heather Smullen said he’s also versatile enough to handle any situation.
“He’s very tactical,” she said two weeks ago, after one of Tiz the Law’s breezes. “You can be up close. You can come from behind, you can do whatever you want to do, whatever the situation calls for. And that’s helpful in a big field.
“It’ll [the break] be really important. You know, some people make comments online about, ‘Oh, let’s see what happens when he gets dirt kicked in his face.’ Well, they obviously haven’t watched his races very closely, because as a 2-year-old, many times he got dirt in his face. He doesn’t mind the dirt, the dirt’s not a problem. The problem is he has a very long stride.
“If you box him in where he cannot use his long stride, he gets uncomfortable. But now the horse knows it’s very simple, I’ll just meander between horses, scoot my way out and get where he’s comfortable in his stride. So the horse has taught himself to lengthen stride, shorten stride, get where he needs to be to be comfortable.”
Granted, from his post almost all the way outside, jockey Manny Franco ought to be able to find the desired stalking position and still figure out a way to save some ground into the first turn.
If somebody looks Tiz the Law in the eye in the stretch during the Derby, which hasn’t happened in dominating wins in the Belmont and Travers, I have no doubt about how that will end: Badly for the charred marshmallow. He made a s’more out of the mile and a quarter of the Travers.
“They’re all animals,” Smullen said. “He likes his job, he does it well and he’s very efficient. Those usually combine to make a pretty good horse. It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve sat on him, you’ll know. He’ll come up next to another horse just cantering, and he’s like, ‘Ehh.’ Just walks away from them. But he looks them in the eye in the process like, ‘Oh, that’s all the faster you can go?’ And on he goes. It’s very much a game to him.”
So after Tiz the Law, I’ll fill out my superfecta with Honor A. P., who I fully expect to rebound from his second to Thousand Words in the Shared Belief; Ny Traffic off his second to Authentic in the Haskell; and South Bend off his fourth in the Travers (bit of a hunch play here, since there’s surely a pile of smoky Notre Dame gear departing Inlet on Saturday).