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The TDN Derby Top 12 for August 4

By T. D. Thornton

There are now three remaining “Road to the GI Kentucky Derby” qualifying points races on the schedule, and six horses within this week’s TDN Derby Top 12 are slated to compete in two of those races this weekend.

1) TIZ THE LAW (c, ConstitutionTizfiz, by Tiznow)
O-Sackatoga Stable. B-Twin Creeks Farm (NY). T-Barclay
Tagg. Sales History: $110,000 yrl ’18 FTNAUG. Lifetime
Record: MGISW, 6-5-0-1, $1,480,300.
Last Start: 1st GI Belmont S., BEL, June 20
Accomplishments Include: 1st GI Curlin Florida Derby, GP, Mar.
28; 1st GI Champagne S.; 1st GIII Holy Bull S. GP, Feb. 1; 3rd GII
Kentucky Jockey Club S., CD, Nov. 30
Next Start: GI Runhappy Travers S., SAR, Aug. 8.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 272

Tiz the Law is decisively parked at the crop of the crop, with Nos. 2, 3, and 4 on this list more or less on even footing and everyone from No. 5 on back scrambling for a firm spot in the pecking order. Will 10 furlongs at Saratoga be the stumbling block for this $110,000 Fasig-Tipton New York-Bred Sale graduate (cue the “graveyard of favorites” cliches)? Or will Saturday’s GI Runhappy Travers S. serve as yet another launch point for Tiz to widen the gap between him and his peers? Right now there are no soft spots evident on Tiz’s resume. He breaks adeptly from the gate and dictates the tempo even when he’s just stalking, and when this colt fully uncorks deeper into his races, it is with enough gusto to win by open lengths and with no one even close to him in the final furlong. Early in his career, Tiz had a knack for finding trouble and (mostly) overcoming it. As he’s matured, he and regular rider Manny Franco have instead learned to channel that keenness into a confident assertiveness that forces others to conform to Tiz’s menacing presence. Tiz the Law will be solidly favored on Saturday, but he’s no mortal lock. Yet if he does win, it will set up the highly unusual circumstance of the Derby fave already having won at 1 1/4 miles. Then, of course, with that all-important distance question answered, the focus will shift to how Tiz’s only loss to date was at Churchill Downs, the site of the Derby.

2) ART COLLECTOR (c, BernardiniDistorted Legacy, by Distorted Humor)
O/B-Bruce Lunsford (KY). T-Thomas Drury Jr. Lifetime Record:
GSW, 8-4-1-0, $548,475.
Last Start: 1st GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, July 11
Next Start: Runhappy Ellis Park Derby, ELP, Aug. 9
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 100

Art Collector goes in Sunday’s Ellis Park Derby as the horse to beat. But he’s not on the hunt for qualifying points (currently fifth with 100), so he needn’t be fully cranked when the true target is really four weeks later in Louisville. His 103 Beyer Speed Figure, 3 1/2-length breakout win in the GII Blue Grass S. was admirable for the sustained pressure Art Collector applied over nine furlongs before out-torqueing a very game Swiss Skydiver (Daredevil) in the stretch. Yet until we see more stakes-quality horses run back from Keeneland’s July mini-meet, it will be hard to quantify how many performances over those five days were affected by a perceived bias that at times seemed to favor pace-pressers. Even if Art Collector did win under ideal circumstances, the overall body of work for this athletic-framed Bruce Lunsford homebred does not stamp him as a one-race wonder. He’s crossed the finish wire first sprinting on the turf, in in the slop, and on a dry track, and then scored by open lengths in both his route attempts. If you’re a firm believer in the “what have you done for me lately?” angle, it’s also worth noting that Art Collector and Tiz the Law are the only Top 12 contenders with perfect three-for-three records in 2020.

3) HONOR A.P. (r, Honor CodeHollywood Story, by Wild Rush)
O-C R K Stable LLC. B-George Krikorian (KY). T-John
Shirreffs. Sales History: $850,000 yrl ’18 FTSAUG. Lifetime
Record: GISW, 5-2-3-0, $382,200.
Last Start: 2nd Shared Belief S., DMR, Aug. 1
Accomplishments include: 1st GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, June 6; 2nd GII San Felipe S., SA, Mar. 7.
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, Sept. 5
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 140.

Honor A.P. ran second and earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for his effort in the Shared Belief S. at Del Mar. But he never looked comfortable at 1-5 odds, and even before the race went off it had an aura of being one of those preps where the circumstances weren’t going to be ideal for this $850,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga acquisition. Honor A.P. has demonstrated he wants more ground, not less, and he was cutting back half a furlong to 1 1/16 miles from his nine-furlong GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby score. The dynamics of the four-horse Shared Belief meant he would have be closer to the pace than he preferred, but Honor A.P. had little choice but to work from the back of the pack after getting solidly bumped at the start by one Bob Baffert trainee while another darted to an uncontested lead. Jockey Mike Smith opted for the three path on both turns with Honor A.P. while race winner Thousand Words (Pioneerof the Nile) rode the rail all the way around. Honor A.P.’s so-so late surge to get second was visually amplified by Cezanne (Curlin) backpedaling out of contention. “I haven’t been able to get on him in the mornings [because of pandemic protocols] and I think that’s made a difference,” Smith said. “He’s just been going along there not doing much in the mornings. I need to be on him and get more out of him…. This distance is too short for him, too.” Except a tighter and mightier Honor A.P. in Louisville.

4) KING GUILLERMO (c, Uncle MoSlow Sand, by Dixieland Band)
O-Victoria’s Ranch. B-Carhue Investments, Grouseridge Ltd. &
Marengo Investments (KY). T-Juan Avila. Sales History: $90,000
RNA yrl ’18 KEESEP; $150,000 2yo ’19 OBSAPR. Lifetime Record:
GSW & GISP, 5-2-1-1, $340,350.
Last Start: 2nd GI Arkansas Derby, OP, May 2
Accomplishments Include: 3rd Pulpit S., GP, Nov. 30; 1st
GII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, Sept. 5
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 90.

King Guillermo shipped from his Florida base to Churchill Downs last week, settling into the next phase of his purposely planned (yet still unconventional) quest to win the Derby off a 127-day gap between starts. Regret won the 1915 Derby off a 259-day break, and Sir Barton won the 1919 Derby off a 238-day rest. Since 1929 (when more complete records began being kept), the longest winning layoff has been 42 days, equaled by Needles in 1956 and Animal Kingdom in 2011. This bay colt won the GII Tampa Bay Derby off a 97-day respite back in March, registering a 49-1 shocker that was both visually impressive and the third-fastest clocking of that stakes in 40 runnings (99 Beyer). Trainer Juan Carlos Avila then shipped him to Oaklawn, where King Guillermo ran a gutsy second in the faster division of the split GI Arkansas Derby, responding to a very aggressive ride from the far turn home. If heavy favorites in the remaining prep races start to wilt in the August heat, Avila’s “less is more” Derby training plan could end up looking pretty shrewd come the first Saturday in September and not as strange as when he first publicly announced it in May.

5) COUNTRY GRAMMER (c, TonalistArabian Song, by Forestry)
O-Paul P Pompa Jr. B-Scott & Debbie Pierce (KY). T-Chad Brown. Lifetime Record: GSW, 5-2-0-1, $117,320.
Sales History: $60,000 Ylg ’18 KEESEP; $450,000 2yo ’19 OBSAPR. Last Start: 1st, GIII Peter Pan S., SAR, July 16
Next Start: GI Runhappy Travers S., SAR, Aug. 8.
Equineline PPs. Derby Points: 50

Country Grammer has the most realistic chance of upsetting Tiz the Law in Saturday’s Travers. This colt’s stalking/grinding win in the GIII Peter Pan S. on opening day at Saratoga (95 Beyer) caught the eye because of the deft, corner-cutting move turning for home executed by jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. And when a fresh threat emerged in deep stretch, Country Grammer was emboldened by the challenge, digging in and ripping back the lead before edging away to a neck victory under confident handling. Trainer Chad Brown said post-race that his colt seems suited to longer distances, and he also noted that Country Grammer just didn’t seem to care for the Belmont Park surface, over which he trained only okay and finished third in a contentious June 4 allowance. This is a fresh face within the Top 12 who is two-for-two over nine furlongs by a sire who won the 1 1/2-mile GI Belmont S. Now he’s stretching out again over a racing strip he seems to relish for a trainer who generally doesn’t wheel horses back this quickly–look out.

6) THOUSAND WORDS (c, Pioneerof the Nile–Pomeroys Pistol, by Pomeroy)
O-Albaugh Family Stables & Spendthrift Farm. B-Hardacre Farm (Fl). T-Bob Baffert. Sales History: $1,000,000 yrl ’18 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 7-4-1-0, $327,000.
Last Start: 1st Shared Belief S., DMR, Aug. 1
Accomplishments Include: 1st GIII Robert B. Lewis S., SA, Feb. 1; 1st GII Los Alamitos Futurity
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, Sept. 5
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 83.

Which is the real Thousand Words? The million-dollar Keeneland September purchase who reigned as the No. 1 kingpin on this list for most of the winter and wired the Shared Belief S. with a 104 Beyer on Saturday? Or the well-backed Pioneerof the Nile bay who lost two important preps in March and April by a combined 41 lengths? In the Shared Belief, Thousand Words broke professionally and assumed command at the head of the four-horse field, dictating a moderate tempo while not seriously pressured until the top of the lane. Stablemate Cezanne briefly seized the lead, but Thousand Words clawed it back in workmanlike fashion, responding to repeated urging while the top two threats, Cezanne and Honor A.P., both seemed sapped in deep stretch. The victory wasn’t exactly a display of dominance, but Thousand Words didn’t need to tower over his foes to be considered a legitimate threat for the Derby. He’ll be heading to Churchill on the upswing with a bit of last-race momentum on his side.

7) UNCLE CHUCK (c, Uncle MoForest Music, by Unbridled’s Song)
O-Karl Watson, Michael E. Pegram & Paul Weitman. B-Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC (KY). T-Bob Baffert.
Sales History: $250,000 yrl ’18 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 2-2-0-0, $120,000.
Last Start: 1st GIII Los Alamitos Derby, LRC, July 4
Next Start: GI Runhappy Travers S., SAR, Aug. 8
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 20.

Uncle Chuck, undefeated in a pair of West Coast two-turn efforts, will get an immersion in the deeper end of the Derby prep pool when he travels cross-country for Saturday’s 10-furlong Runhappy Travers S. at Saratoga. This colt’s form got a boost this past weekend when stablemate Thousand Words, who had finished second to Uncle Chuck in the July 4 GIII Los Alamitos Derby, came back to wire the Shared Belief S. at Del Mar at 9-1 odds. This Bob Baffert trainee has fired three straight training bullets at Del Mar, but don’t overlook the in-race stamina seasoning Uncle Chuck got when he raced over the Los Al strip. At 1,380 feet, it’s the longest in North America.

8) SHARED SENSE (c, Street SenseCollective, by Bernardini)
O/B-Godolphin LLC (KY). T-Brad Cox. Lifetime Record: GSW, 8-3-2-0, $322,112.
Last Start: 1st GIII Indiana Derby, IND, July 8
Next Start: Possible for Runhappy Ellis Park Derby, ELP, Aug. 9
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 20.

Shared Sense broke through the Kentucky Derby relevance barrier with a track-record win in the nine-furlong GIII Indiana Derby July 8, but the race in his past performance block that might end up being the truer benchmark for where he belongs in the Kentucky Derby picture is his second-place effort two starts back behind Art Collector. Shared Sense was 6 1/2 lengths behind that fast-rising foe back on June 13 in an allowance/optional claimer. Has he improved enough in the last two months to be on even terms with the No. 2-ranked contender? This Street Sense homebred for Godolphin could get a shot at a rematch if he’s entered in Sunday’s Runhappy Ellis Park Derby. Shared Sense breezed a half mile in :50.40 (54/75) on Sunday at Churchill Downs.

9) AUTHENTIC (c, Into Mischief–Flawless, by Mr. Greeley)
O-SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Fred
Hertrich III, John D. Fielding & Golconda Stables. B-Peter E. Blum
Thoroughbreds LLC (KY). T-Bob Baffert. Sales History: $350,000
yrl ’18 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 5-4-1-0,
Last Start: 1st GI Haskell Invitational S., MTH, July 18
Accomplishments include: 2nd GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, SA, June 5; 1st GII San Felipe S., SA, Mar. 7; 1st
GIII Sham S., SA, Jan. 4.
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, Sept. 5
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 200.

It’s not often that a Derby contender wins a million-dollar race yet gets downgraded within the Top 12 pecking order. But that’s the case with Authentic’s GI Haskell S. victory. Even though he got the job done and earned a 100 Beyer, he left the overall impression of needing to step up his game if he’s to withstand intensified pace pressure in a 20-horse field going 10 furlongs. Authentic was 3-5 against a field of six and secured an easy lead through tepid fractions. He was home free by three lengths at the eighth pole, but caved in the final furlong before being reawakened by a desperate flurry of right-handed stick work from jockey Mike Smith to salvage a nose victory. In the aftermath of the Haskell, both Smith and trainer Bob Baffert referenced focus issues that included Authentic gawking around, shying from shadows, and “playing” when he should have been working. Authentic has considerable pace-pressing talent, but also a history of tardy breaks and losing concentration in the stretch. Smith said he intentionally rode Authentic assertively for about a pole past the finish as a schooling measure that might pay off next time. Baffert suggested blinkers could be next.

10) ENFORCEABLE (c, TapitJustwhistledixie, by Dixie Union)
O-John Oxley. B-Clearsky Farm (KY). T-Mark Casse. Sales History:
$775,000 RNA yrl ’18 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW & GISP,
10-2-2-2, $367,150.
Last Start: 4th GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, July 11
Accomplishments Include: 1st GIII Lecomte S., FG, Jan. 18; 3rd GI
Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, KEE, Oct. 5, 2nd GII Risen Star S.
Div. 1, FG, Feb. 15.
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, Sept. 5
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 43.

If the Derby were run today, Enforceable would be about 30-1. But he would still be tough to exclude from exotics because both his stamina-centric pedigree and running style suggest that when pace and trip circumstances align, the tools are there for this colt to run right by everybody in the stretch over 10 furlongs. Even though the race record of this expensive KEESEP buyback isn’t stellar (2-for-10 with only a MSW and the GIII Lecomte S. to his credit), do you really want to toss out a Mark Casse-conditioned horse who will have had six weeks of training over the Churchill surface by race day? Especially if the race ends up being front-loaded with sacrificial speed? Enforceable seemed to be fighting a significant first-flight bias at Keeneland while adrift on both turns when fourth in the Blue Grass S. behind duelers who finished 8 1/2 lengths clear of the pack. He breezed five-eighths on Saturday in 1:02.60 (14/19), starting two lengths behind a fellow Tapit-sired maiden workmate, then finishing about a half-length to the good at the wire before continuing in front through a six-furlong gallop out of 1:15.80.

11) SOLE VOLANTE (g, Karakontie {Jpn}Light Blow, by Kingmambo)
O-Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Andie Biancone & Limelight
Stables Corp. B-Flaxman Holdings Limited (KY). T-Patrick
Biancone. Sales History: $6,000 yrl ’18 KEESEP; $20,000 2yo ’19
OBSAPR. Lifetime Record: GSW, 7-4-1-1, $323,310.
Last Start: 6th GI Belmont S., BEL, June 20
Accomplishments Include: 1st GIII Sam F. Davis S., TAM, Feb. 8,
1st Pulpit S., GP, Nov. 30, 2nd GII Lambholm South Tampa Bay
Derby, TAM, Mar. 7.
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, Sept. 5
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 30.

Sole Volante will be up against the grain of conventionality as he points to the Derby as the lone remaining Top 12 contender still based in Florida: he’s a gelding who generally trains over the turf at Palm Meadows, he’s cutting it close for eligibility points (currently 19th on the cutoff list with 30), and he’ll be sporting a 78-day layoff line by the time the first Saturday in September rolls around. Yet the son of Karakontie had a solid-enough early-career foundation of turf and dirt races (all at 7 1/2 furlongs or longer)–replete with Beyers in the 90s range (four times)–to think that he should be able to bounce back off a summer freshening better than some of his peers. Sole Volante is a light-framed stayer who probably won’t require a ton of work to get race ready over the next 4 1/2 weeks. Even though his Breeders’ Cup Mile-winning sire’s sweet spot was eight furlongs, his dam’s only win in England was in a 14-furlong race, so the 10-furlong Derby is theoretically within his scope.

12) MAX PLAYER (c, Honor CodeFools in Love, by Not For Love)
O-George E. Hall & SportBLX Thoroughbreds Corp. B-K&G
Stables (KY). T-Linda Rice. Sales History: $150,000 RNA yrl ’18
KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW & GISP, 4-2-1-1, $273,500.
Last Start: 3rd GI Belmont S., BEL, June 20
Accomplishments Include: 1st GIII Withers S., AQU, Feb. 1
Next Start: GI Runhappy Travers S., SAR, Aug. 8.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 40

This first-crop Honor Code colt ($150,000 KEESEP RNA) currently rates as a “work in progress” type of sophomore, and Saturday’s Runhappy Travers S. should provide a clearer read on where he stands and where he’s headed, progression-wise. He has yet to run a poor race (2-1-1 from four starts). But one of those wins was a Parx maiden against only five rivals and the other was in the Feb. 1 GIII Withers when he pressed a tiring favored pacemaker into submission through moderate fractions. Max ran third in the Belmont S. behind Tiz the Law, and that effort was credible considering this inexperienced colt was coming off a 4 1/2-month layoff. But now that five horses have run back out of the Belmont, that race doesn’t look as strong on paper as did six weeks ago: Four Belmont starters have come back and lost next-out graded stakes, while one returned to win an allowance at Colonial Downs.

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