Even with two open slots, predicting the exact order of the 2020 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday is not a simple assignment with 18 runners lined up. Still, it is a useful exercise that focuses more on the expected trips rather than past accomplishments or speed figures.
As everyone is aware, the expected second choice Art Collector came up with a minor foot issue causing him to miss the race on Saturday. His late defection gives more breathing room to expected pacesetter Authentic and other speed horses surrounding him.
Here is the predicted order with a brief explanation under each horse.
1st – Tiz the Law
Tiz the Law's only issue with drawing post No. 17 comes from his outside neighbor Authentic, who figures to send and possibly cut Tiz the Law off at the break when he angles left. Otherwise, Tiz the Law wants an outside trip and owns enough speed to secure a decent position behind the leaders. From there, he figures to wait patiently and make the same move approaching the far turn that won all four his races this year.
2nd – King Guillermo
From a post position standpoint, King Guillermo drew gold in post No. 6. To his left, Major Fed is expected to take back as a deep closer, giving King Guillermo some breathing room to shift in that direction. King Guillermo is probable to head to the front afterwards and settle into either the pocket or stalk closely from the middle. If Authentic fails to break adequately, he might find himself on a comfortable lead. On the far turn, it is possible he might get the jump on Tiz the Law and hold on.
3rd – Authentic
Is there any doubt trainer Bob Baffert wants this colt sent hard? Authentic knows how to convert uncontested leads into wins. With Authentic’s record in mind and Baffert’s history of taking advantage of the lead, Baffert is almost certain to instruct John Velazquez to urge his mount aggressively the moment the gates open. However, the distance remains an issue even if he secures the lead. He could run similar to how Dortmund ran in 2015, when he led into the top of the stretch and only gave way grudgingly to American Pharoah and Firing Line late.
4th – Honor A. P.
Drawing post No. 16 is not an issue for Honor A. P. This California-based runner is not used to a crowded field, which makes the outside post position an opportunity to stay in the clear. Similar to Tiz the Law, the main concern is whether Authentic veers left and cuts him off somehow. Remember the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic when Bayern cut off Shared Belief? Otherwise, expect Honor A. P. to follow Tiz the Law’s path out of the gate and then fall a few lengths behind him into the backside. He could fall as far back as seventh, eighth or ninth early, before making his usual move when the time comes.
The other concern is that Tiz the Law or whoever secures the lead on the far turn might create separation to hold off Honor A. P. by the time he hits full gear. Mike Smith may want to watch Tiz the Law and move whenever he moves on the turn.
5th – Ny Traffic
He is supposed to get a great position as well. Perhaps he presses Authentic and revisits the Haskell matchup, or stalks from roughly two to three lengths back. The concern is whether Ny Traffic owns enough talent to win. Even if he fights hard until the end, the “right” horse usually prevails in the end over the overachieving ones. Ny Traffic also suffers from seconditis and might not realize he can pass horses.
6th – Major Fed
Major Fed is listed as a “Live Longshot” in the Odds & Analysis piece. On paper, he is expected to give up many lengths in the beginning as a deep closer and take one shot at the end. With the points era favoring early speed and Art Collector’s late defection helping the front horses, a come-from-the-clouds approach is not a great idea. But he might pick off enough horses to either complete the trifecta, or finish around sixth.
7th – Attachment Rate
At this point in the list, it is midpack and closer city. Attachment Rate want to settle in midpack early. From there, he needs to hope for a good trip because avoiding traffic in an 18-horse field is not the easiest task, especially around young horses. If he gets into a comfortable rhythm and switches leads properly such as in his Ellis Park Derby try, then a higher placing is possible. Otherwise, seventh sounds right.
8th – Max Player
This closer figures to start from way back. In fact, TimeformUS Pace Projector lists Max Player as one of three deep closers along with South Bend and Sole Volante. Given the lack of blinding speed, the Mine That Bird spot is not a great position. Post 2 is not a starting point either, as traffic problems arise for closers taking the inside paths. Street Sense and Mine That Bird were extremely lucky in their trips in 2007 and 2009 to find a route inside and eventually win the race. Max Player is not as talented as Street Sense or Mine That Bird at the peak of his form.
9th – Thousand Words
With Baffert sending Authentic to the front, Thousand Words might get lost in the shuffle in midpack. He stole the Shared Belief Stakes on the lead, but that is not going to happen this time. Perhaps placing him this low is unfair given his recent win and good morning works. If he can work out a trip as a stalker or midpack-type, then he can hit the board.
10th – Finnick the Fierce
This closer is blind in his right eye and drew Post 1. That is enough reason to use caution when betting him. Besides that, the other 17 runners figure to shift left early and engulf him into the first turn, giving this poor horse plenty of dirt to eat.
11th – Mr. Big News
Here is yet another closer. Granted, on his best day Mr. Big News is capable of completing the superfecta against horses such as Tiz the Law and Honor A. P. But he needs a perfect trip, and that is not probable as as an average closer in an 18-horse field.
12th – Enforceable
Oh, it is another closer to discuss. As with other horses in this category, he is capable of hitting the board with a good trip and best effort. But the pace scenario works against him with only one true pacesetter in Authentic present and mostly stalker around him. Also, Post 3 is not great for Enforceable as the rest of the field seems likely to shift left.
13th – Sole Volante
According to TimeformUS Pace Projector, Sole Volante is one of three deep closers along with Max Player and South Bend. The projector is probably right, and that is not in his favor with only one true pacesetter in Authentic present and the defection of Art Collector earlier in the week. Fitness is a question too, as it feels like the connections are rushing him to make the race. Like most of these closers, he figures to get caught in a wall of horses and finish in the latter half.
14th – Money Moves
Money Moves won a Gulfstream optional claimer against 12 horses, but the Kentucky Derby is a different race with 18 horses present. Perhaps he follows King Guillermo to his left early and tries to avoid the traffic by securing an upfront position. Given his inexperience though against this kind of competition, he is not likely to last long.
15th – South Bend
As stated above, South Bend is labeled as a deep closer by TimeformUS Pace Projector. The position hurts him because he does not own the talent to overcome that many lengths in a race lacking blazing speed.
16th - Necker Island
Necker Island tries hard in every race, finishing at least fifth or higher in all 10 career starts. However, that streak ends here in the Kentucky Derby. Expect him to settle somewhere in midpack and get discouraged in heavy traffic before folding. He needs a confidence builder after this.
17th – Storm the Court
If nothing else, at least the reigning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion adds some speed to the race. He wants to stalk the leaders in third or fourth early on. Ultimately, the talent is not there for him to sustain his presence when they turn for home.
18th – Winning Impression
Tossing a Dallas Stewart-trained closer in the Kentucky Derby is hard. Remember Golden Soul? He lit up the board in 2013 when finishing behind Orb. But this closer shows no redeeming qualities, with the exception of his two slop-aided wins. Expect Winning Impression to linger at the back and never make one dent, unless it rains.