Kentucky Derby: Who's coming in hot, and who's not

Profile Picture: Rowan Ward

August 31st, 2020

When handicapping the Kentucky Derby, it makes sense to ask who's coming in hot and who's cooling off.

After all, eight of the last ten Kentucky Derby winners won their final prep. The only two who didn't were Super Saver (2010), who ran second in the Arkansas Derby (G1) as his final prep, and Country House (2019), who came into the Derby off of a fourth in the Arkansas Derby. And since Country House needed the disqualification of Florida Derby (G1) winner Maximum Security to jump up to the winner's spot, recent history tells us it's good to be hot.

Who's Hot

Tiz the Law: "Hot" is a strange way to describe a juvenile Grade 1 winner just three-quarters of a length shy of career perfection, since it implies he ever cooled off. But Tiz the Law has never looked better than he does right now. He enters the Kentucky Derby off a geared-down 5 1/2-length victory in the Travers (G1), a race that made him look like he was born to go to the Kentucky Derby and run a mile and a quarter against the best.

Art Collector: Entering 2020, Kentucky-circuit followers may have thought of Art Collector as an allowance-level turf horse, but since then trainer Tommy Drury has molded him into Tiz the Law's biggest threat. Art Collector bounded confidently clear of Swiss Skydiver in the Blue Grass (G2), then won with just as much authority in the Ellis Park Derby. And now, for the Kentucky Derby, he returns to a Churchill Downs course where he already won twice in the spring.

Storm the Court: He comes into the Kentucky Derby in the best form he’s had since his Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) victory. He showed plenty of interest in the lane when third behind Dean Martini and South Bend in the Ohio Derby (G3), then followed up with a second-place finish behind odds-on favorite Smooth Like Strait in the La Jolla (G3). He still needs to prove he wants a mile and a quarter against the best dirt sophomores in the country, but though it seemed earlier this year like others had surpassed Storm the Court, he may be catching up again.

Who's Not

Honor A. P.: Which Honor A. P. are we going to get in the Kentucky Derby? Was the distance of the Shared Belief S. too short, serving more as a final workout before he stretches out to the distance he really needs? Or is he failing to flourish with maturity the way so many expected he would? For a horse so many took on trust would be a serious late bloomer, the Shared Belief triggers more questions than answers and leaves bettors asking whether the board will provide enough value for the proposition that Honor A. P. needs a mile and a quarter for his best.

Authentic: How can Authentic be on the "not" list if he comes into the Derby fresh off a win in the Haskell (G1)? Simple. He stalled out in the lane and almost threw away what looked like a sure thing at the furlong pole. Put that in context with his pedigree, which reads like a miler or middle-distance horse at longest, and that Haskell does not inspire confidence for classic distances.

Necker Island: He will be one of the longest shots in the field with good reason: he has been no better than third in all seven starts this year.  His form has improved since he was claimed to the Chris Hartman barn for $100,000 three starts back; his only in-the-money finishes this year have come in his two starts for Hartman. But, they were distant third-place efforts in the Indiana Derby (G3) and the Ellis Park Derby. The rider change also raises questions: his improved form in his last two runs came with Mitchell Murrill in the irons, and he gets a switch to Miguel Mena for the Derby.