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2020 Kentucky Derby Power Rankings: Which Longshots Can Upset Tiz the Law?

2020 Kentucky Derby Power Rankings: Which Longshots Can Upset Tiz the Law? article feature image

Al Bello/Getty Images. Pictured: Tiz the Law

Tiz the Law is the story leading into the the 2020 Kentucky Derby. If you’re a horseplayer, a casual bettor or new to the ponies, you’ve probably read at least a little bit about the 2020 Belmont Stakes Champion and his dominant season.

It’s very rare to have an odds-on favorite in the Kentucky Derby and a horse like Tiz the Law certainly presents some challenges for bettors, but it can also open up some big opportunities since his odds will naturally inflate the rest of the field.

That means, even if Tiz the Law does win, we could be looking at some big prices hitting the board, creating big payouts for exactas and trifectas.

Here are my thoughts on the field, including the horses that have a chance to beat Tiz the Law and the longshots I think can provide value in exotic bets.

New to Horse Racing?

For those of you that might be new to horse racing, the wagering pools are pari-mutuel, which means that, unlike in sports betting, you aren’t trying to beat the house but rather the public at large. The key to long-term success in betting the ponies is being disciplined in identifying value in the pools.

Speed Ratings and Beyer Speed Figures

Speed ratings are relative performance indicators that allow us to compare performances across tracks where not all factors are even. Some tracks might be naturally faster like Gulfstream or Santa Anita, where the surfaces are harder, compared to a track like Belmont or Aqueduct, where the surfaces are generally a bit deeper.

They also account for the condition of the track as most horses will travel slower over softer ground. This means that simply comparing times is ineffective as they need some kind of leveling factor.

That’s what is built into speed ratings and they give a nice, although imperfect indicator of relative performance and ability.

Class Rating

A relative strength index for the field of a specific race. This gives you an idea of the level of the competition the horse was facing, as it can vary wildly from track to track even with the same win conditions.

How often do favorites win in horse racing?

Generally speaking, the favorite in horse racing wins at about a 35% rate but that number varies depending on the number of horses in the field. Armed with that knowledge you might want to just pick the favorites, frequently known as the chalk, but a closer look at the implied odds shows that you’d need average odds of 2-1 or better to break even on “win” bets.

So, in order to profit horseplayers must pick and choose the horses that they feel have a better chance to win than their implied odds, which is known as positive expected value (+EV). Expected value is not unique to horse racing and something that all bettors should get familiar with if they want to succeed.

The Horse To Beat

No. 17 Tiz the Law (3-5)

Not sure how much more there is to say about the son of Constitution. He has 6 wins and 1 third from 7 career starts including wins in the Florida Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Travers. It’s important to note that while his lone loss came here at Churchill, he was a two-year-old and it was over a sloppy track.

Tiz has never been more than two lengths from the lead at the second call and he’s going to face more speed today than he has in any other start, so it will be interesting to see where jockey Manny Franco puts him early.

This is clearly the toughest field that he has faced up to this point, but he’s done nothing wrong up to this point either.

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The Horses That Can Beat Him

No. 15 Ny Traffic (20-1)

Ny Traffic a huge race in the G1 Haskell last time out, just missing by a nose to Authentic. That race was at a mile and an eighth so the extra distance should help him today. While he’s never won a graded stakes event, he’s been extremely competitive all year long finishing third in the G2 Risen Star, second in the G2 Louisiana Derby, and second in the G3 Matt Winn, which was right here at Churchill.

I always like a horse who has run over the track and he ran very well, getting beat in late stretch by Maxfield, who was thought to be a top three-year-old. He has been working extremely well in the mornings and I like that Paco Lopez made the trip to ride him.

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No. 18 Authentic (8-1)

The son of Into Mischief is going to be sent from the get-go. His outside post position will allow him a clean break and ensure he won’t get caught up in the early jostling. He has 4 wins and 1 second from 5 career starts and has wins over NY Traffic, Honor A.P., Storm the Court, and Thousand Words.

The biggest question I have is can he get the distance. Last time out, mentioned above, he barely hung on to win the Haskell against NY Traffic. While I don’t think he will be loose on the lead, with a number of others showing early foot, speed is always dangerous.

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No. 16 Honor A.P. (5-1)

He has alternated seconds and first through his five career starts. His best win came in the G1 Santa Anita Derby where he was able to win going away over Authentic. He left something to be desired after a disappointing second in the Shared Belief at the beginning of August at Del Mar.

Mike Smith is a hall of famer and a jock that you can trust to have his horse in the right spot and know when to make his move. Similar to Tiz the Law, he will be sitting just off the pace early.

He will need to get a jump on Tiz and make his move first if he’s going to beat him though. Trainer John Sherriffs and Smith have teamed up 42 times over the last two seasons, winning at a 31% clip. This duo has a Kentucky Derby win together with longshot Giacomo too.

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No. 2 Max Player (30-1)

Max Player is a late closer, so if the pace is too hot up front he will be able to able to pick up the pieces late down the stretch. The son of Honor Code is making a barn change from Linda Rice to all-time Churchill Downs leading trainer, and hall of famer, Steve Asmussen.

Max Player ran distant thirds to Tiz the Law in both the Belmont and Travers, but it appears that he will have more pace to run into today. He has continually improved from a Beyer standpoint and will need to do so again here today. He also has worked three times over the Churchill Downs track since the Travers and worked well at that.

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No. 10 Thousand Words (15-1)

There are two main reasons I’m including Thousand Words in the horses who can beat Tiz; he’s ‘the other’ Bob Baffert trainee and he gets Florent Geroux aboard. Baffert always puts his horses where they can win and with him beating Honor A.P. last time out, he might just peaking at the right time.

Geroux won the Oaks on Shedaresthedevil at long odds of 20-1 yesterday. He’s a Kentucky jock who knows the Churchill oval well and give him a horse with tactical speed like Thousand Words and that makes for a dangerous combination.

Longshots to Use in Exotics

No. 4 Storm the Court (50-1)

The Juvenile champion hasn’t seen the winner’s circle in 10 months but has been competitive in every start other than the G1 Arkansas Derby where he finished sixth.

He’s been training well leading up to this spot and with his competitive nature, he’s definitely one to use in exotics.

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No. 12 Sole Volante (30-1)

He’s a deep closer who will be coming from the clouds, but as I mentioned earlier, there seems to be a good amount of pace for the closers to run into. While he’s not a horse who can win, he has a ton of value as a horse to use in exotics, who will be flying home late and will pick off a number of horses down the stretch. We haven’t seen him in the afternoon since the G1 Belmont, where he finished a career-worst sixth, he’s been training exceptionally well, with his most recent work a five-furlong bullet in 57 and ⅘ seconds.

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No. 3 Enforceable (30-1)

Another closer, who finished fourth behind Art Collector, Swiss Skydiver and Rushie in the G2 Blue Grass last time out.

He has a second and a third-place finish from three career starts over the Churchill oval and the added distance today should benefit his closing kick.

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No. 8 South Bend (50-1)

Guess what, another deep closer to use in exotics. South Bend has 3 wins and 1 second from 6 career starts over a fast track and has 2 wins from 4 starts right here at Churchill.

He will be making his second start for trainer Bill Mott who always has his horses ready to run on their biggest days. South Bend also gets jockey Tyler Gafflione aboard who left Saratoga to come back to home to Churchill.

Horse I’m Throwing Out

No. 7 Money Moves (30-1)

He was the one I had the hardest time deciding where to put him, as there were clearly other options for him, but they elected to try him in this spot. He’s stepping way up in class, having never faced stakes company before, but showed last time out that he shouldn’t have a problem getting the distance. Pletcher and Castellano can be a dangerous team.

No. 13 Attachment Rate (50-1)

Another one that was tough to throw out. While he’s been in the money in 50% of his career starts and he’s shown continued improvement from a Beyer perspective, he’s in too deep here. He doesn’t seem to have enough tactical speed to keep pace with the others.

No. 11 Necker Island (50-1)

At first glance, he looks somewhat competitive on paper, but when you dig into it, he’s not been competitive when facing his toughest competition. That said, today’s competition will clearly be the toughest he’s faced.

No. 5 Major Fed (50-1)

His only win was a maiden breaking score, but his connections think enough of him to continually try him in graded stakes company. He has yet to crack a 90s Beyer number and with this field, the jump up is far too much for him.

No. 9 Mr. Big News (50-1)

While his Beyers have continued to improve, he’s another one who hasn’t had a Beyer in the 90s. In addition, he’s been between 34-1 and 46-1 in his last three starts, all of which were easier task than this.

No. 14 Winning Impression (50-1)

His last two starts were both seventh-place finishes, where he lost by a combined 24 ¾ lengths. He’s in way over his head and was the easiest to toss.

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