By Dick Jerardi
When the Belmont Stakes, Haskell, Travers and Ellis Park Derby are major Derby preps, it is by definition a very strange year.
But when the last of the major preps were run for the September Kentucky Derby, we were left with two horses that have separated from the pack _ one that would have been among the favorites in May and another that had not even started in 2020 when the Derby was originally supposed to be run.
Tiz the Law could not have not have been any more impressive winning Saturday’s Travers Stakes at Saratoga. He went by the highly-touted and very talented, but quite inexperienced, Uncle Chuck on the far turn, and it was very quickly over, the New York bred running his final quarter mile in :24.53 seconds while being geared down.
It was quite the performance for a colt that is one unlucky trip last fall at Churchill Downs from heading back to Kentucky a perfect 7-for-7. He will go there as the first horse ever to win the Champagne, Florida Derby, Belmont Stakes and Travers. Now, Tiz the Law is the only horse with a chance to win the backward and very bizarre 2020 Triple Crown.
Art Collector made his seasonal debut on May 17. The colt won easily. He came back a month later and won easily again. A month later in the Blue Grass, it was another blowout win. Sunday in the Ellis Park Derby, Art Collector led all the way and was never threatened, winning with minimal urging again.
Tiz the Law’s trainer Barclay Tagg won the Derby and Preakness 17 years ago with New York bred Funny Cide. Now, he is back with an even more accomplished horse, a colt whose six wins have come by a combined 26 3/4 lengths.
Art Collector’s trainer Thomas Drury, Jr. had never won a graded stakes race prior to the Blue Grass. Now, he’s won two in a month and will be able to train Art Collector at Churchill where the colt has been all summer and where he won twice in May and June.
Tiz the Law and Art Collector are a combined 8-for-8 in 2020. None of their races has been close.
Tiz the Law will be favored because he got a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 109 in the Travers. It wasn’t just how fast the colt ran; it was how he ran fast. He has that speed to get great position and that instant acceleration that leaves opponents helpless.
Art Collector, who got a 100 Beyer in the Ellis Park Derby, has won from well back. He has won on the lead. He has won from just off the lead. In a sport where multidimensional horses are a rare breed, Art Collector appears able to adjust to any situation.
Now, it’s on to the Kentucky Derby for those two and other accomplished horses like Authentic, Honor A.P and Ny Traffic, the horse with all the Parx connections. Given the time of year and how many horses have already shown they are not good enough (many of which would have run in May), it is likely to be fewer than 20 this year, ironically the first year when Churchill has a new 20-stall starting gate.
But the Big Two, Tiz the Law and Art Collector, are fascinating. And so, of course, is the Kentucky Derby whether it’s run on the first Saturday in May or first Saturday in September.