OLD SCHOOL LOOKS TO UPSET OLD SCHOOL IN 146th KENTUCKY DERBY

While there are many great trainers plying their trade in the modern game, there’s nothing like watching a couple of old school horsemen hone-in on a target and have them ready to run the race of their lives. 

Consider how Barclay Tagg won a Kentucky Derby with a then unfashionable New York-bred named Funny Cide. And consider how John Shirreffs won 21 straight with Zenyatta at the highest level before losing her career finale by a diminishing neck to a male champion in the dark at Churchill Downs.

That done, it’s permissible to wonder what a horseman has to do to get the kind and goodly number of horses necessary to gain admission into thoroughbred racing’s pantheon on Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs, NY.

The surmise is that these days only a strike rate somewhere north of 20% will have owners with checkbook in hand come knockin’ on the door of a racing stable’s office.

Tagg, 82, born in Pennsylvania and based in New York, and Shirreffs, 75, born in Kansas and based in California, are not those big percentage guys. They’re about horses, not stats, yet each stands poised to win the Kentucky Derby a second time.

That should do should satisfy Hall of Fame nominators for at least for one of them after Saturday’s event.

As we painfully have learned this week, this is the toughest of all games for dreamers. What mistake did Tom Drury Jr. make, after all? His horse was absolutely perfect in the 2020 run-up to Derby.

Instead, the trainer of the colt that likely would have been the second favorite for this year’s running will be watching this slice of Americana on TV, Art Collector munching away safely inside his stall.

And while several horses could enter the conversation, who was training any better than King Guillermo coming into America’s Race? Tiz the Law or Honor A P or Thousand Words?  There is no correct answer in a jump ball scenario.

So now we are left with octogenarian vs.septuagenarian, East Coast vs. West, favorite vs. second choice, trained by men who never failed to hit their mark all year.

Tagg targeted three major events, including this year’s opening leg of a re-imagined Triple Crown, and he won them all.

Shirreffs had two races circled on his colt’s three-year-old dance card; the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby. One down; one to go?

Tagg trains the shortest-priced early line Derby favorite since 1989 but New York’s Easy Goer was no match for the second favorite from California, Sunday Silence. Will history repeat?

Thus far in 2020, no one has been able to withstand the onrushing power of Tiz the Law, never got a chance to look him in the eye. Got it and gone, every time. That will happen today, at least for a time when they line up in the gate right next door. 

That’s the storyline that moves me and a thousand others, but the Derby is made of hundreds of stories, one more compelling than the next. It’s what the legendary Red Smith loved so much about this game.

A possible look into how our favorite story-line might end:

Most concede that the strength of Derby 146 will break from the four outermost stalls in a single starting gate that places no one at a disadvantage.

From the outside in, Authentic, who is the fastest early on and trained by a man seeking to put his name right alongside Ben Jones as the Kentucky Derby winningest trainer, must break like a shot under racing’s smartest rider, Johnny Velazquez.

Johnny’s job will be trying to avoid getting hung out on by a jam created by Ny who breaks to his inside three stalls over who will also leave quickly beneath the ever-aggressive Paco Lopez. It will be his plan to leave and tuck in if possible.

Johnny will go on with in an effort to gain the lead and save a little ground while staying off the fence and trying to dictate from about the 3-lane, legally intimidating those to his inside and outside.

Manny Franco, whose confidence in Tiz the Law should compensate for the pressure cooker built in to riding the odds-on favorite to win the Kentucky Derby must also break to avoid any intimidation that might be applied by Authentic as he attempts to drop over.

Break, then sit comfortably on the outside throughout. Ride the best horse like the best horse, and just keep him in the clear. Give him every chance and an excuse free journey.

At the head of the lane, we expect that Tiz the Law will be attempting to take control of the race, daring anyone to come and catch him. Doubtlessly some will be making their run at him. The best one of those is Shirreffs’ long striding colt.

Assuming trouble free trips by all, it’s not as if  Honor A P will be coming from last. The colt did break maiden on the lead first time going two turns in his second career start. Mike Smith will use the power that lies beneath, not allowing ‘Tiz’ to intimidate.

Since no one has been able to hold Tiz the Law at headstretch, it is here when Smith sets Honor A P down, looking to cut down on the leader’s margin as the twin spires loom closer and closer still.

In the final strides, Tiz the Law will be reaching out for the wire as Honor A. P. reaches out for Tiz the Law. And as they hit the wire, the winner is …

And that’s why horses run in races between fences. All I can promise is that I will play the Derby to turn out this way:

I will key Tiz the Law with Honor A.P. and Authentic. Below them, and between them, will come Ny Traffic, Thousand Words and Max Player, and below and between them will come Enforceable, Money Moves, Solo Volante and Attachment Rate.

America’s Race has a scheduled post of 7 pm. In this most challenging year in the modern life of the world, may all the horses and riders on this and every day have a safe and speedy journey. And to all those who may be gathered outside the gates of Churchill Downs, peace.

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21 Responses

  1. Here it comes today at the Spa the NY bred Show which titillates me to go against some favorites, if not most of them, my usual M.O. Except at least in two races ,the Fifth on the 2 and on the Tenth with the 5. In too many such races many plodders will be running out of gas,ability and courage being stranded as a foreign tourist in the Greenwich Village: Where is Noho,Soho ? Keep on going,the finish will meet you somewhere,sometime…Many of them ,in reality could not beat cheap claimers but since they are born in the Empire State their owners get special treatment and excessive $$, just like in politics among movers and shakers.It is what it is,,

  2. John

    The day before is here at last. Actually for me it is the day! Six months after including Swiss Skydiver in my Future Book Exacta Box I find I have a bet that can’t lose. Only Swiss and Donna Veloce survived from the original list of 23 plus “all others.” But to make a big hit I need Donna to miss the exacta. We’ll see.

    How about a race among those three year olds who fell by the wayside in the four extra months to the Derby? Charleton, Nadal, Maxfield, King Guillermo, Caracaro and Art Collector. Would be a pretty salty group. Safe racing to all those running today and tomorrow in Oaks and Derby.

    RichGold

  3. Correcting my post of a few moments ago, biggest Oaks exacta payouts are Swis/Donna for about 4K for a $2 exacta. Reverse is about 2K. As long as Swiss is involved payouts all good. For those wondering- neither Gamine or Speech were included in the first Future Book back in March. They were included in the July Future Book.

    RichGold

  4. DERBY DAY 9/5/20 not 5/5/20

    9th race 9 with the 1,2,5,7
    10th race pass
    11th race 3 with the 2,4,6
    12th race 1 with the 9,10
    13th race 8 with the 1,5,6
    THE Kentucky Derby

    The pick here is #16 Honor A.P. 850,000 dollar son of Honor Code has had 4 works every 7 days since his last race. Ready and primed. This doesn’t mean you leave Tiz the law off your tickets. Tiz the law was under wraps before the eighth pole and was geared down through the stretch. Is proven at the distance but hard to take at 3/5. Gimmick players should check out #2 Max Player, #13 Attachment rate and #18 Authentic.
    Let’s go get the bad guys

    1. Appreciate the input Vincent, thanks for weighing in. I’m mentally and emotional involved with the favorite but HAP my second choice. May the best colt win…

  5. Regarding your comment above “Tagg trains the shortest-priced early line Derby favorite since 1989 but New York’s Easy Goer was no match for the second favorite from California, Sunday Silence. Will history repeat?” Has me thinking back in time ….”During the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the trainer of Sunday Silence, Charlie Whittingham, was angered that the controversial veterinarian Alex Harthill, who treated Sunday Silence earlier for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, was not licensed in New York and prohibited from practicing.” I seem to recall Easy Goer not taking well to the track conditions, but will always wonder if it wasn’t Alex Hill who won that day? I will always suspect that there was good reason that Hill was not licensed in New York. Was the veterinarian more important than the trainer? I suspect Shut may always wonder as well. Turning the page…… Regarding your comment above “Tagg trains the shortest-priced early line Derby favorite since 1989 but New York’s Easy Goer was no match for the second favorite from California, Sunday Silence. Will history repeat?” Has me thinking back in time ….”During the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the trainer of Sunday Silence, Charlie Whittingham, was angered that the controversial veterinarian Alex Harthill, who treated Sunday Silence earlier for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, was not licensed in New York and prohibited from practicing.” I seem to recall Easy Goer not taking well to the track conditions, but will always wonder if it wasn’t Alex Hill who won that day? I will always suspect that there was good reason that Hill was not licensed in New York. Was the veterinarian more important than the trainer? I suspect Shut may always wonder as well. Turning the page.

    1. Actually, his name was Dr. Harthill. A genius… and a rascal! Will retell an interesting story in a column one day. Two great horses for sure. P Val was a big assist to SS, that’s for sure.

  6. Looking at the Woodward. The 11th race at the Spa. Spinoff’s last rave was as good as any other horse in the field. In light(118 lbs) at one mile and a quarter, perfect post and the right trainer/jockey combination makes him a solid play.

  7. Vincent, I think Tacitus has finally become a man and will take an awful lot of beating, especially at the distance…

    1. In the end, Tacitus finished one-paced; two things. That just might be who he is or is more effective at 9 furlongs than 10–and that surprises me.

      Note to self: I was wrong about that…

  8. John, I just recall reading that there was something controversial about Dr. Harthill, and maybe I am guilty of factoring in some of Mark Berner’s comments regarding questionable vet practices of the past. Ocscar and Shifty Sheik placed a dark cloud over all involved in the sport I guess. Looking forward to your “interesting” story regarding the rascal and genius.

    As for my reverting to last name Hill, I’ll share an interesting twist on the Henry Hill of Luftansa notoriety. A co-worker and friend years back was packing lunches for her grade school, when looking out her kitchen window saw an army of law enforcement agents all over her property. She was simply told to keep everyone in the house. Henry Hill it turned out was the quiet fellow renting her basement apartment. So much for quiet mornings in Rockville Centre. You just never know.

    I need to thank you for an enjoyable Derby John. I exacta boxed #’s 16/17/18 and was also close on the tri as you well know. I made a few bucks on the day with the wagering but the very best for me was my placing a $2 wager on the 16 & 17, and at the very last second decided to also include a ticket on the 18. Made it easy for my five year old grandson. All he need do was watch for the 16, 17, 18. I think racing has added a new next gen fan to the ranks.

    1. WMC, as you know, Mr. McD is a man of faith. Sometimes his devotion to HRI pays dividends. You might want to try that some time.

  9. Baffert wins another Derby. Authentic ran huge-very fast fractions. Maybe Tiz just doesn’t like Churchill surface. Where was his explosive burst? Take nothing away from winner. He was best horse yesterday. Happy for Johnny one of my all time favorite riders.

    Did you see handle? Ouch

    1. Tony,

      Thought pace was reasonably fast, not very fast, IMHO.

      Don’t think Tiz, or HAP, handled the surface very well, but great horses don’t need to their favorite tracks with them.

      I was getting some pressure on Twitter after saying I would not boycott the Derby despite the fact that their has been no semblance of justice for Breonna Taylor’s family and community in over five months.

      I’m a little surprised. Why? Because Moscow Mitch notwithstanding, I learned from a Louisville native recently that they fought on the Union side in the Civil War while Lexington fought with the South. Thought that was interesting.

      Was there gerrymandering in the 1860s, is that why?

  10. Wendell, I have been a disciple John’s since his early days at Newsday. The best wager I ever placed that never collected on was John’s call to include Invisible Ink on my try tickets. $12 straight Point Given over Forward Pass over Invisible Ink, and $12 PG over II over FP. Who knew, the only race all year PG didn’t show up for. John early on had the perfect call on the RAN line with selecting Ii. He did it once more yesterday for me, and resulted in my adding an extra straight ticket on winner on my grandson Everett’s two other tickets. Everett’s five years old face lit up when I handed him his twenty. He said to his Mom after “I’m rich in dollars now Mom, I can buy the biggest Lego Set in the world.”. A new racing fan. Now I only need to teach him moderation, but that goes for everything in life, right Wendell? Riders Up it is.

  11. Wendell, One more quick comment. I used to stay up on Friday nights until 2:00-2:30 AM working on the Morning Telegraph for Sat’s card. Then I bBgan to notice that John so often came up with the very same in his selections in Newsday. Suspected that he had read many of the same books, Computerized angles from Quirrin, etc.; gradualy I crossed over from spending all those hors reading the Racing Form and “Trusting” more and more in John Pricci. Less friction in my family life hours, coaching the kids, etc.. To this day, my oldest guy still will ask me in disbelief “Dad, how can you spend an hour or two looking into a race, and bet only two bucks?.” I simply tell him it is in my DNA is all. He likes washing the rims on his car. I take the other side with the view that a stray will only more than likely and target his wheels for a take a leak zone once finished. Now if Donald’s picture were there like they do with the curb your dog stencil zones in Brooklyn, I’m down with that, Lol! John to me is an old school school guy I have complete faith in. Nothing else to add.

    As for my favorite jockey of old, that would be Manny Y. No one else was ever taken down so often. Two bucks down, you knew he was trying for the win. Smartest Jockey? Johnny V. Quickest out of the gate I ever saw? Johnny Ruane. Best at judging the wire and extending a horse’s nose for the photo at the wire if needed, Johnny Rotz. Most unhearded? Eddie Maple. What a great game. Some many wonderful memories. Best ‘capper. Pricci. Russ also trusted but Pricci more so. Alydar vs Affirmed is all.

  12. And barely much of a profit on the Derby on a $19 and $41 payout and the $30 plus wagered on the race. My brides longshots cost me another $6. Nonetheless I enjoyed the race “bigly” and watching my grandson’s score was awesome. Remember my first score was a Pacer at RR when I cashed for $8 bucks. All about the fun of it and moderation is all. Bless me Father, you bet how much? They’re horses for Christ sake, Lol. No blasphemy intended. Thou shall not take the name in vain, and never go nuts unless you’re playing with house money is the rules to live by. Slate gets cleaned at every new day. Almost time for a cold Foster’s Mate. The next post I reach out to my west coast friend Mr. Ed. Peace Out.

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