Tiz The Law is one of the leading Kentucky Derby contenders after his win in the G2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 1. In the Derby Future Wager Pool 3, he was second choice at 7/1 behind G2 San Felipe Stakes winner Authentic (6/1). He was also the number one of TRC’s James Willoughby in his latest Kentucky Derby top ten.
At one time, owner Sackatoga Stables and trainer Barclay Tagg considered following the same prep route they used with Funny Cide on his way to winning the 2003 Derby. Funny Cide ran in the G3 Holy Bull in mid-January, the G2 Louisiana Derby in early March, and the G1 Wood Memorial in mid-April.
However, on reflection, Tiz The Law’s connections decided the G1 Florida Derby, which will be run on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, was a more practical choice than the Louisiana race.
They enjoyed a magnificent run with Funny Cide, who remains a top attraction at the Kentucky Horse Park, in Lexington. No mention of the [now G2] Wood Memorial has been made in Tiz The Law’s campaign, and this could actually have been the race that sharpened Funny Cide the most for his Kentucky Derby conquest. In 2003, Funny Cide placed in the Wood behind Florida Derby winner Empire Maker.
It also may not be a surprise that the Wood is not under consideration given the fact that it has not featured a Kentucky Derby winner since ... Funny Cide. A Wood Memorial winner has not won the Kentucky Derby since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.
The Louisiana Derby would have given Tiz The Law six weeks instead of five weeks to prepare for Churchill Downs. Animal Kingdom became the first horse to demonstrate that you can win the Derby off a six-week spacing between the final prep and the great race. However, since then, no horse has been able to do it, though Tiz The Law may have the quality to be the next one.
Tiz The Law’s connections initially felt that the Louisiana Derby’s longer distance would favor their colt. His preference for longer distances was likely to give him an edge over the rest of the competition, most of which were likely to be milers. However, this is the first time in recent memory that a North American-based Derby prep race is to be run at 9½ furlongs. The UAE Derby is the only other Kentucky Derby prep run at this distance since 2010, and the best a runner from that has finished in the Derby was when Master Of Hounds ran fifth.
The other probability is that, with the G3 Risen Star having been split after attracting 22 horses, the Louisiana Derby field is likely to be a large one, which can raise issues regarding traffic and trip. Remember, Tiz The Law appeared to have some traffic issues in a much smaller field when he ran in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November.
Also, in the past it has been suggested that the long Fair Grounds stretch helps to prepare horses well for Churchill Downs. The stretch is 1,346 feet - for Churchill it is 1,234½ feet.
Louisiana Derby runners may not have won the Kentucky Derby recently, but they have run well. In 2016, Gun Runner was third. In 2014, Commanding Curve was second. In 2013, Revolutionary was fourth. In 2011, Nehro was second, though he also prepped in the Arkansas Derby. So, the suggestion that this Louisiana track prepares runners well to compete in the Kentucky Derby appears to have some validity.
Yet, despite the initial attractiveness of the Louisiana Derby, the Florida Derby still looks like the right spot for Tiz The Law. Here are six reasons:
1. The calendar change
First, given that the Kentucky Derby prep calendar has changed, the Florida Derby appears the best fit. The Louisiana Derby is no longer a penultimate prep race as when Funny Cide used it, but a final prep scheduled six weeks out from the Kentucky Derby. Only Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby six weeks after his final prep - in his case, the G3 Spiral Stakes win at Turfway Park. Firing Line tried to win the Kentucky Derby off a six-week spacing in 2015, setting the track record in the Sunland Derby before finishing second to subsequent Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
When Funny Cide ran in the Louisiana Derby, it was not a final prep but a middle prep. County House is the last Louisiana Derby runner to win the Kentucky Derby, having finished fourth there. In 1996, Grindstone was the last Louisiana Derby winner to also win at Churchill Downs.
2. Recent record
Second, three of the past four horses to cross the wire first in the Kentucky Derby have come out of the Florida Derby - Maximum Security was disqualified after finishing ahead. Always Dreaming (2017) and Nyquist (2016) won both races, so, in the last four years, the Florida Derby winner has crossed the wire first at Churchill three times, and third the other time, which is a strong record.
Since the Florida Derby became a final prep in 2005, it has produced five Kentucky Derby winners – tied with the Santa Anita Derby for the most of any other final Kentucky Derby prep race.
3. A question of shipping
Third, while the sampling is small, it could be said that Tiz The Law has not shipped well. After his G1 Champagne Stakes win, he shipped to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Jockey Club, where he finished third over a sloppy, sealed track. So far, this has been his career worst finish. Now, it may have been the off track. It may have been the traffic challenges he faced in the race. Or it could have been that he had less gas in the tank after shipping.
4. A proven route
Fourth, the Holy Bull/Florida Derby pairing has proven successful. In 2006, Barbaro became the first horse to run and win these two races and win the Kentucky Derby. In 2018, Audible won both races and finished third at Churchill.
5. Happy at Gulfstream
Fifth, there is also the issue of tackling a new surface at Fair Grounds. Not all horses run well over all tracks. Some racing experts dismiss such assessments, but some horses just happen to prefer certain tracks.
6. Quality form
Finally, Ete Indien’s eight-length win in the G2 Fountain of Youth on February 29 further flatters the strength of Tiz The Law’s Holy Bull Stakes win, where the former finished second.
In racing, oftentimes it takes everything going right to win a race while only one of many factors can lose a race for you. Eliminating those question marks, whether they be regarding surface, barn, shipping, distance, and so on gives you the best chance to not only enter the race, but to win.
With the Kentucky Derby’s move to September 5, a lot is up in the air, but no one can deny that staying at Gulfstream Park, where Tiz The Law has won and appears comfortable, gives him the best chance to earn enough points to enter the Kentucky Derby and win it.