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By Anil Mukhi | 04 Sep 2020 |

Although a year or two barely registers a blip on the cosmic scale, it can seem like an eternity to human beings. Almost all of 2020 has seen normal activity upended by the Covid-19 pandemic and at least a part of next year is certain to be similarly impacted. The gravity of the situation earlier in the year meant that horse racing worldwide had to cease, or be severely curtailed, and hence a number of major races were postponed or abandoned.

Traditionally held on the first Saturday in May, the 146th renewal of the Kentucky Derby (presented by Woodford Reserve) was rescheduled to the first Saturday in September, a delay of four months. In life, one has to play the hand one has been dealt so horsemen took the changes in their stride and adjusted their wards’ campaigns accordingly. The Belmont Stakes was run in June but at the abbreviated distance of 9 fur., while the Travers Stakes – usually contested after the Triple Crown – was run in its traditional time slot and thus in between the three legs.

As demand usually exceeds supply, entry to the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby is normally decided by points accumulated in certain prep. races. Not this year: given the attrition that occurs amongst dirt sophomores in North America, by now there simply aren’t 20 sound horses that are prepared or able to take up their spots. This has allowed two runners with zero points to sneak in. Sixteen will vie for the prize, all males, made up of 13 entire colts, 2 geldings and 1 ridgling.

No rain is forecast. Rather a hot day is in prospect but the feature is the last race of a marathon card of 14 races so it should have cooled off by then. The gates will fly open at 7:01 p.m. Eastern on Saturday evening (4:31 a.m. on Sunday, September 6th in India).

Card numbers are the same as draw numbers from No. 7 onwards. With Nos. 1 and 6 withdrawn, starting gates 1 and 2 will be empty and Nos. 2 to 5 will start from gates 3 to 6 respectively. Here is the field:

1. FINNICK THE FIERCE (by Dialed In) – withdrawn.

2. MAX PLAYER (by Honor Code) – George E. Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds Corp.’s pride and joy finished third in the Gr.1 Travers Stakes, well beaten by Tiz The Law. The colt, formerly with Linda Rice, is now with Steve Asmussen, who surely hopes he can improve his own Kentucky Derby record of 20 starters and 0 winners. The colt will have Ricardo Santana, Jr., in the irons. He figures to start at 30 to 1.

3. ENFORCEABLE (by Tapit) – hero of the Gr.3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in January, but winless since then, John Oxley’s representative from Mark Casse’s yard worked well under jockey Adam Beschizza, who will guide the late-running grey on the big day at around 30 to 1. His trainer was quoted as saying: “I think he is really improving at this stage of his career; he's ready to go”.

4. STORM THE COURT (by Court Vision) –Exline-Border RacingLLC, David A. Bernsen LLC, Susanna Wilson and Dan Hudock’s colt fetched his breeder just $5,000 as a short yearling but his current owners had to pony up $60,000 when he reappeared at a sale as a two-year-old in training. A victory in the Gr.1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile earned Storm the Court the title of Eclipse Award 2019 Champion Two Year Old Colt in North America. Trainer Peter Eurton has found the route to the winner’s circle elusive in 2020 from 5 attempts. There is a jockey change, with Julien Leparoux taking charge at the controls on the 50 to 1 chance. He could be one for the minor placings. 

5. MAJOR FED (by Ghostzapper) – winner of just a maiden for owner-breeder Lloyd Madison Farms LLC, the colt has a runner-up effort to his credit in the Gr.3 Indiana Derby in July. Often he has endured wide trips, so a clean passage on the inside might see him progress. Handled by Gregory D. Foley, he will remain in charge of reinsman James Graham, and should be a 50 to 1 outsider.

6. KING GUILLERMO (by Uncle Mo) – withdrawn due to a fever.

7. MONEY MOVES (by Candy Ride) – Robert V. LaPenta and Bortolazzo Stable LLC's expensive and lightly-raced colt probably should have been unbeaten – he won his first two, then ran a close second in an allowance after a troubled passage. One must respect the fact that the $975,000 purchase has been pointed here by as astute a trainer as Todd Pletcher and that Javier Castellano is making the trip from Saratoga. The morning line has him at odds of 30 to 1. 

8. SOUTH BEND (by Algorithms) – Gary Barber, Wachtell Stable, Peter Deutsch and Pantofel Stable LLC’s very experienced runner – he has made 12 starts, the highest of all this year’s runners – holds a record that can be neatly divided into two parts – three wins to start off last year and none since! Bill Mott, who was the beneficiary of the sensational disqualification of Maximum Security last year, is aiming for back-to-back victories and has hired Tyler Gaffalione to pilot the 50 to 1 runner.

9. MR. BIG NEWS (by Giant’s Causeway) – Allied Racing Stable LLC’s $95,000 purchase took four tries to break his maiden. In three subsequent tries, W. Bret Calhoun’s student won a black-type stakes but flopped at both his attempts in graded company. Thus rider Gabriel Saez cannot be too hopeful and neither can the betting public as his morning line odds are 50 to 1.

10. THOUSAND WORDS (by Pioneerof The Nile) – In this very modest line-up, here is a multiple graded stakes winner from the barn of a trainer – Bob Baffert – that has been very successful in this event with 5 previous wins. Albaugh Family Stables LLC and Spendthrift Farm LLC’s colt haswon a Gr.2, a Gr.3, a Listed event and a maiden from 7 starts. Florent Giroux is a man for the big occasion and the colt is sure to start at shorter than his estimated price of 15 to 1. He is a live threat.

11. NECKER ISLAND (by Hard Spun) – Raymond Daniels, Wayne Scherr and Will Harbut Racing LLC's Necker Island is schooled by trainer Chris A. Hartman. He has not been outside the first five in 10 races, but with only 2 wins, neither a black-type event, is up against it. After 10 years, jockey Miguel Mena has a Derby mount, but it’s doubtful if that will help him realize the dream on the 50 to 1 shot.

12. SOLE VOLANTE (by Karakontie) – Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Andie Biancone's Sole Volante is one of the more talented runners here and has won four times from seven starts for trainer Patrick Biancone. His poor effort in the Belmont Stakes was uncharacteristic and he deserves another chance. Luca Panici resumes his partnership on the 30 to 1 chance, who seems greatly over-priced, more so since he has been working well in Florida.

13. ATTACHMENT RATE (by Hard Spun) –Owned by Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister, he was runner-up in the Ellis Park Derby last time out. Trained by Louisville native Dale L. Romans, he will be ridden by Joe Talamo and is a 50 to 1 shot.

14. WINNING IMPRESSION (by Paynter) – West Point Thoroughbreds' and Pearl Racing did not have to dig too deep to acquire this $77,000 two-year-old in training. He’s already recovered his modest purchase price but this looks beyond reach for the Dallas Stewart-trained colt. Joseph Rocco, Jr., has the mount on the grey gelding, whose last two insipid efforts have made him a real longshot. 

15. NY TRAFFIC (by Cross Traffic) – John Fanelli, Cash is King LLC, LC Racing, Paul Braverman and Team Hanley’s colt has been conditioned by trainer Saffie A. Joseph, Jr. Runner-up in the Gr.1 Haskell Stakes, he has put up improved figures in each of his last six starts and could vie for the minor placings at around 20 to 1. Paco Lopez has the call on the tough grey, who likes to be in the leading bunch.

16. HONOR A. P. (by Honor Code), the sole rig in the line-up, is amongst the more talented runners. In fact he is the second favourite at 5 to 1 by virtue of never having been out of 1-2 in his five racetrack appearances. Sporting the silks of C R K Stable LLC, the versatile John Shirreffs trainee has been the subject of some solid workouts at his base in California, where he won the Santa Anita Derby in June. It may be recalled that his rider “Big Money Mike” Smith had previously teamed up with Shirreffs to annex the Kentucky Derby back in 2005, pulling off a huge upset with Giacomo. 

17. TIZ THE LAW (by Constitution) – Rarely does one find such a consistently superior classic candidate in American dirt racing as Sackatoga Stable LLC's Tiz the Law. A four time Gr.1 winner (Champagne Stakes, Florida Derby, Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes), he towers over his rivals. In 82-year-old Barclay Tagg he has an old-school tutor who has previously sent out Funny Cide to victory in this very race – for the same owners. Rider Manny Franco, born in Puerto Rico, started riding in 2013 and has nearly 1,400 wins from just short of 10,000 mounts. So long as he keep a cool head and does not let the occasion get to him, he ought to add his name to the scroll of honour in the Kentucky Derby. The package is quoted at 3 to 5 (i.e. 60/100), not surprising since he’s won 6 of 7 and has proven stamina.

A lot of fuss has been created by the fact that no previous Kentucky Derby winner has emerged from post # 17. That’s because there hasn’t been one good enough, not due to any so-called “hoodoo”. With the withdrawal of King Guillermo (drawn 6), all the runners from No. 7 to No. 18 were scheduled to move “in” by one spot; a further withdrawal has resulted in a reversion to the status quo, so Tiz The Law will physically be in the 17thstall but have only 14 on his inside..

18. AUTHENTIC (by Into Mischief) – winner of the Gr.1 Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. Owned by Spendthrift Farm LLC, MyRaceHorse Stable, Madaket Stables LLC and Starlight Racing, he hails from the highly-successful barn of Bob Baffert. He completed his preparations at Del Mar in California and was flown to Louisville, where Johnny Velazquez will take the mount. Considered to be a serious rival to the favourite, he is expected to be an 8 to 1 choice. However, his stamina is in doubt, more so as he likes to lead, a herculean task in such a race.