Jennie Rees’s research reinforced that how fast a horse finishes in its final prep is crucial, and especially its speed over the last three-eighths of a mile. According to data compiled by Pat Infante, each of the past eight Kentucky Derby winners — and 18 of the last 20 — ran the last three-eighths of its final Derby prep race in 38 seconds or less. Seventeen of those 20 also ran the final eighth of a mile in 13 seconds or less. To be fair, those yard sticks are often used to determine which horses can go the 1¼ mile distance for the first time, and due to this year’s wacky schedule, three of the Derby starters already raced at the classic distance in their final preps. Still, those numbers have been a reliable benchmark in years past and a good barometer of a horse’s closing speed.
And finally, since the points system was adopted in 2013, every Derby winner but one, Country House, had a dosage index (the ratio of speed to stamina due to pedigree) of 3.00 or higher.
Failure to reach one or more of those three benchmarks eliminates two-thirds of this year’s initial field. Finnick the Fierce (who was scratched), Enforceable, Storm the Court, King Guillermo (also scratched), Money Moves, Mr. Big News, Necker Island, Sole Volante, Attachment Rate, Winning Impression, Ny Traffic and Authentic all fail on one or more counts.
Freshness also matters, as America’s Best Racing has pointed out. Over the past 64 years, just one horse, Animal Kingdom in 2011, has won the Kentucky Derby off a layoff longer than six weeks. Major Fed last raced eight weeks ago. Thousand Words hasn’t been on the track in nine weeks and Honor A. P. is about to enter his 13th week off the track.
That leaves only three horses — Max Player, South Bend and Tiz the Law — without at least one serious historical strike against them. South Bend is 0-for-8 as a 3-year-old, including 0 for 3 in graded stakes. Max Player, while promising in some ways, has been beaten by Tiz the Law twice in his last two races, by a total of 12¾ lengths.
Tiz the Law, meanwhile, is undefeated in 2020, with four straight wins, all graded stakes races featured on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. All of those victories were won by at least three lengths, too. In addition, this son of Constitution (a two-time Grade 1 winner) is entering the Derby off a four-week layoff, has tactical speed and has repeatedly shown a fast closing kick. He covered the final three-eighths of a mile in both the Belmont Stakes and the Travers in less than 37 seconds, a second faster than the cutoff for true Derby contenders.