Given that most Kentucky Derby prep races are over except for the Pegasus Stakes, it is safe to write an accurate Top 5 list. The historic 1 1/4-mile race for 3-year-olds is scheduled for Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs, and the list of top contenders looks clear after last weekend.
This list specifically represents the horses most suited to win the race, rather than who can also finish underneath. As strange as this sounds, a wide selection of Derby horses can complete the trifecta or superfecta without posing a threat, while only a select few are real contenders.
Beneath each horse is a short recap of the horse's campaign and whether he is a good bet, factoring in the expected odds and value.
With those points in mind, here is the list.
1. Tiz the Law
As expected, Tiz the Law is No. 1.
The son of Constitution is undefeated this year, with victories in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2), Florida Derby (G1), Belmont Stakes and the Travers Stakes. He won those races by using his tactical speed to stay close and attack on the far turn with his winning move, which trainer Barclay Tagg says “seems to terrorize the competition.”
While Tiz the Law ran a disappointing third in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last fall at Churchill Downs, the inside pocket trip hurt his chances. One start later in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream, notice how jockey Manny Franco lost ground on purpose in order to tip outside. The unique strategy paid off as Tiz the Law won in a professional manner.
For his four wins this year, Tiz the Law shows TimeformUS figures of 117, 121, 120 and a career-best 126 for the Travers win, giving him a narrow figure advantage on that scale. In second, Art Collector and Thousand Words both show a 124 on TimeformUS in their last starts.
Value bettors will not enjoy the short price. Because of his undefeated record this year and powerful Travers win, Tiz the Law will go off as a heavy favorite. But it all depends on what is fair to bettors. Is Tiz the Law as close to a lock as it gets in horse racing? In that case, accepting even money or slightly higher is not the worst deal in the world.
On the other hand, if Tiz the Law draws Post 1 or 2, bettors might want to consider whether Franco can tip out as easily in a massive 20-horse field (if that many show up). Otherwise, Tiz the Law is obviously a difficult horse for bettors to play against with a ton of confidence.
2. Art Collector
As mentioned above, Art Collector is not far behind Tiz the Law, with a 124 TimeformUS Speed Figure earned in the Ellis Park Derby last weekend. After setting the pace by default, he coasted home to win easily by 3 1/4 lengths over the improved Attachment Rate.
Art Collector is not a need-the-lead type. Two starts ago, he successfully settled just off Swiss Skydiver and Shivaree in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland, before moving on the far turn and past Swiss Skydiver in the stretch run for a clear 3 1/2-length win.
Prior to the Blue Grass, Art Collector took an optional claimer at Churchill Downs by 6 1/2 lengths over Shared Sense and Finnick the Fierce in third. After the race, Shared Sense went on to capture the Indiana Derby (G3) before a troubled fifth in the Ellis Park Derby.
Since transferring to Tom Drury Jr., Art Collector has blossomed into a top dirt router. With such a beautiful distance pedigree as a son of Bernardini out of a half-sister to 1999 Belmont Stakes runner-up Vision and Verse, it is odd he ran in mostly sprint races under Joe Sharp.
For the Derby, Art Collector will likely settle in the third or fourth spot again as long as true pacesetters such as Authentic and Shivaree show up and aim for the lead. In other words, he owns the perfect running style for this type of race because he can clear the field without burning himself up setting the pace, although the same is true for Tiz the Law
If Tiz the Law experiences some trouble or does not feel like running, Art Collector is capable of capitalizing. Of course, that is still a big “if.”
At least Art Collector backers will get a better deal for a horse that is only two points behind Tiz the Law on the TimeformUS scale.
Expect a big race from Art Collector on Sept. 5.
3. Honor A. P.
After capturing the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in impressive fashion over Authentic in mid-June, Honor A. P.'s stock went up quite a bit and he became Tiz the Law’s main threat.
But after losing the Aug. 1 Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar to Thousand Words, his current standing is less clear for many bettors. On paper, his Shared Belief speed figures of 123 on TimeformUS and 102 on Beyer Speed Figures somehow matches his Santa Anita Derby numbers, but almost no one believes he ran as well in his Del Mar loss as before.
Even though the numbers say he ran the same, Honor A. P. likely regressed below his Santa Anita form. Otherwise, the third-place Kiss Today Goodbye improved enough to only be about a length slower.
Trainer John Shirreffs did not need to crank Honor A. P. for the Shared Belief because he owned enough points from the Santa Anita Derby.
However, expect Shirreffs to crank this colt up now.
If he takes a step forward off his Santa Anita Derby effort and Tiz the Law misfires, he can absolutely still win with a clear trip.
An outside post is preferable. Although Honor A. P. is capable of taking dirt, it is not clear if he is nimble enough to maneuver through traffic if necessary. He seems more like a horse that needs an unobstructed run.
Honor A. P. does not own as much as much natural speed as Art Collector or Tiz the Law, but he will not be too far behind them.
At least the price is right.
4. King Guillermo
Competing in the Kentucky Derby off a four-month layoff is unorthodox, but it is difficult to knock King Guillermo from a form or speed figure standpoint.
King Guillermo finished second to a razor sharp Nadal in the Arkansas Derby (G1), earning a 120 TimeformUS Speed Figure in the process. Prior to that race, he captured the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) by 4 3/4 lengths with a 119 on TimeformUS. He also earned those figures in the spring, which means he could improve as a more mature horse now.
But can he win without a recent prep race? The answer is unclear.
His worktab felt a little light heading into the Tampa Bay Derby and Arkansas Derby, yet he ran like a top horse in both of those starts. Trainer Juan Carlos Avila is unorthodox, but the final results back him.
Similar to Tiz the Law and Art Collector, King Guillermo also owns important tactical speed to put him in a good early position. In contrast to Tiz the Law, sitting in the pocket and eating dirt is not a problem either.
If nothing else, backers will receive value odds.
5. Ny Traffic
Ny Traffic gets this spot almost by default.
On the downside, this colt is beginning to develop seconditis with runner-up finishes in the Louisiana Derby (G2), Matt Winn Stakes (G3) and Haskell Stakes (G1).
Even though Authentic won the Haskell, Ny Traffic came out of the race looking better as the horse who fought back in the stretch and only lost by a nose to the expected winner. The common wisdom is that Ny Traffic is better suited to 1 1/4 miles than Authentic.
Ny Traffic also earned a career-best 120 on TimeformUS with the runner-up effort, which puts him within range of Tiz the Law, Art Collector and Honor A. P.
Like the horses above, he also owns important tactical speed.
Is Ny Traffic good enough? He is still a developing horse and could take that next step forward on Sept. 5. He does need that improvement — and some luck to get the job done, considering the presence of the top horses. Demand high value if deciding to bet him in the win slot.