Pugh: Grading out last week's 2020 Kentucky Derby preps

By Laura Pugh
February 03, 2020 12:54pm

A number of fine performances were on display in Saturday's 2020 Kentucky Derby preps, but is it possible that a filly upstaged them all? Let's take a closer look, starting at the top.


Robert B. Lewis Stakes

Winner: Thousand Words

On the Board: Royal Act, High Velocity

Distance/Time: 8.5 furlongs, 1:43.64

Winning Beyer: 92

Grade: A+


Analysis: His wins don’t blow you away, but Thousand Words always gets the job done. In his last start, he dealt with slop for the first time in addition to making his first start around two turns. He prevailed by a neck that day after dueling most of the race near the lead.

Saturday returned him to a fast track, but Thousand Words was again thrown a completely different set of circumstances. After the break, the son of Pioneerof the Nile was taken back to run in fourth behind High Velocity, Tizamagician and Royal Act. He ran on the rail through nearly the entire race, where he had to wait and eat dirt, something new in his third start.

When the time came to make a move, Thousand Words was still stuck behind horses as Royal Act began cranking up on the outside. Coming into the stretch, jockey Flavien Prat sent his mount through a narrow seam between High Velocity and Tizamagician. 

From there, Thousand Words lengthened his stride and was kept to task, finishing his final 1/16 of a mile in :6.50 seconds. 

When it comes to early Kentucky Derby preps, you couldn’t ask for one better than this. Thousand Words took dirt and traffic all in stride and galloped out past the wire looking like he could go around again.

While he isn't winning by large margins, I expect Thousand Words to continue moving forward in his next race. Perhaps he's sitting on a bigger performance.

Martha Washington Stakes


Winner: Taraz

On the Board: O Seraphina, High on Gin

Distance/Time: 1 Mile, 1:38.64

Winning Beyer: 85

Grade: A


Analysis: Reaction to Taraz’s win are split. Some seemed to come away super impressed with her victory -- a first try around two turns -- but I think there's some reason for pause.

Taraz broke last, then rushed up to take the lead against overmatched foes. After hitting the front she switched off professionally and coasted along at a quick clip. When she was shaken up, she quickly dismissed her one challenger, O Seraphina, and coasted the rest of the way while under some hand urging.

The final time was slow; however, it was the fastest of the day at Oaklawn Park at the distance. Both of the other samples were claiming races, but both they also featured older horses that have far more seasoning than Taraz.

Taraz's numbers came in lower than top performers on the Triple Crown Trail, but she has been well within herself in each of her starts. I couldn’t blame her connections for taking a stab at the boys at some point, although the plan is reportedly to keep her in the fillies division for her next start.


Holy Bull Stakes


Winner: Tiz the Law

On the Board: Ete Indien, Toledo

Distance/Time: 8.5 furlongs, 1:42.04

Winning Beyer: 100

Grade: A


Analysis: After a loss in his 2-year-old finale, this is exactly the type of performance Tiz the Law needed to dispel any doubts about his ability around two turns. 

The son of Constitution prevailed while giving the impression he was much the best. I think the only things holding him back were some questionable decisions made by rider Manny Franco. 

After making the lead, Tiz the Law was asked to give it up, which he did willingly. However, this also created traffic troubles that saw Tiz the Law trapped on the rail and steadied up the back stretch. He was pulled up, angled out and from there took command, a tribute to his talent. Some horses would have shut down if asked to make a move like that.

The final time was a snappy 1:42.04, with Tiz the Law finishing his final 1/16 in :6.58 seconds. The final margin of three lengths could have very well have been more if not for the mid-race troubles, but in the end, Tiz the Law gained valuable experience from the Holy Bull.


Withers Stakes

Winner: Max Player

On the Board: Shotski, Portos

Distance/Time: 9 furlongs, 1:53.87

Winning Beyer: 86

Grade: B-


Analysis: Visually, the winning performance was impressive. The final time, final splits, and figure do little to back that up.

Max Player closed well down the Aqueduct stretch to score by 3 1/4 lengths. However, when looking at the final splits, you could call this more of a pace collapse than a strong rally. On that note, the only horse that stuck around after running near the front was the Remsen (G2) winner Shotski. 

Three of the horses that were in the top four after the half finished in the bottom four positions across the finish line. Shotski stuck around for second.

I won’t discount either Max Player or Shotski moving forward, as Aqueduct is notorious for running slow during the winter months. However, neither rank highly on my Derby radar for now.

For handicapping purposes, Shotski shouldn't be overlooked in his next prep given a performance here better than it first seemed.

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Meet Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that point, she fell in love with the sport, reading every piece of news and information she could get her fingertips on.

Laura has a long history with horses in general, taking her first ride on her fifth birthday, with her first official riding lesson when she was eight years old. Both years she attended college, she joined her school’s equestrian team, first at Virginia Intermont College and then again at Delaware State University. Unfortunately, after back and shoulder injuries, she had to hang up her saddle. 

In 2010, Laura began writing for Horse Racing Nation and has also contributed to Lady and the Track, TwinSpires and USRacing. She currently works at a local newspaper as a community reporter.

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