More than 20,000 thoroughbreds were foaled in 2017. Only 18 of them, barring a late scratch, will make it to the starting gate of the rescheduled Kentucky Derby.
Former Detroit Tigers slugger Victor Martinez, owner of Victoria’s Ranch, overcame enormous odds and possesses one of those 18 Derby entrants. King Guillermo — named in honor of Martinez’s father who died when he was 7 years old — qualified for the world’s most famous horse race back in March by winning in the Tampa Bay Derby at odds of 49-1.
[ Your subscription makes work like this possible. Get exclusive subscriber content for pennies a day here. ]
His only other race since then was a second-place finish in the Arkansas Derby on the first Saturday in May, when the Kentucky Derby is normally run. The Kentucky Derby was moved to this Saturday with the hopes that spectators would be allowed at Churchill Downs but it was decided to keep the doors closed to the general public.
King Guillermo will start from post position No. 6 and was rated a 20-1 proposition in the morning-line odds. Can King Guillermo pull off another big upset and send a jubilant V-Mart to the winner’s circle?
Let’s a deep dive into the field and find out (post position and morning-line odds in parentheses):
Top contenders for 2020 Kentucky Derby
Tiz The Law (17, 3-5) would have been one of the favorites had the race been run at its usual time in the calendar. The New York-bred colt will now go off as one of the lowest-priced favorites in many years.
Tiz The Law cruised to victory in the Florida Derby in March, then captured the rescheduled Belmont Stakes in June. In his most recent race last month, Tiz The Law stormed away to a 5 ½-length victory in Saratoga’s Travers Stakes at the Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles.
Art Collector, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes, was expected to be Tiz The Law’s main rival. A minor injury suffered just prior to the post position draw forced his handlers to withdraw their 3-year-old star.
Honor A.P. (16, 5-1) is now considered the top challenger. Honor A.P. won the Santa Anita Derby, then finished second in a stakes race at Del Mar last month when his chances were compromised by a slow pace.
Bob Baffert, trainer of the last two Triple Crown winners, had numerous contenders in May for the Derby but several fell by the wayside due to injuries. He’s still got two shots with Authentic (18, 8-1), the likely pacesetter who will start from the far outside, and Thousand Words (10, 12-1), who upset Honor A.P. in his last race.
Dark horses for the Kentucky Derby
Max Player (2, 30-1) has finished a well-beaten third to Tiz The Law in his last two starts but his stretch-running style could allow him to outrun his big odds. The horse was also recently shipped to the barn of Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen.
South Bend (8, 50-1) wound up fourth in the Travers but, like Max Player, is a deep closer who could benefit if the pace is quick. He’ll be making his second start since Bill Mott became his trainer. Mott was the trainer of Country House, the 65-1 shot who won last year’s Derby after the controversial disqualification of Maximum Security.
Attachment Rate (13, 50-1) finished second to Art Collector in the Ellis Park Derby and his trainer, Dale Romans, has a reputation for getting longshots to finish in the money in big races.
NY Traffic (15, 20-1) barely lost to Authentic in the Haskell after Authentic loafed in the stretch. He’s posted a number of fast works since that race.
Money Moves (7, 30-1) has serious talent but has only run three times and never in a stakes race. The remainder of the field — Finnick The Fierce (1, 50-1), Enforceable (3, 30-1, Storm The Court (4, 50-1), Major Fed (5, 50-1), Mr. Big News (9, 50-1), Necker Island (11, 50-1), Sole Volante (12, 30-1) and Winning Impression (14, 50-1) — looks completely overmatched.
Why King Guillermo can win
The odds on V-Mart’s horse would have been lower had the race been run in May. That Tampa Bay Derby score wasn’t a fluke — King Guillermo rolled to a 4 ¾ length victory and earned a strong speed figure. His Arkansas Derby performance was solid if unspectacular.
Most 3-year-olds get a little faster as they mature. King Guillermo has a series of fast five-furlong workouts the past two months, suggesting he’ll follow that pattern.
Why King Guillermo won’t win
Like top pitchers who throw six innings instead of complete games, top thoroughbreds don’t race anywhere near as much as they did in the past. The strategy employed by Martinez and his trainer, Juan Avila, is still highly unconventional.
The horse hasn’t run for over four months, putting him at a seemingly big disadvantage to the other entrants. If it works, Martinez and Avila will look like geniuses. If it doesn’t, it will seem foolhardy that they didn’t give King Guillermo another prep race or two.
Kentucky Derby prediction
Even with a wide post, it’s tough to see Tiz The Law losing. Honor A.P. is the only horse on paper who seems to have a legit shot to pull an upset — unless Tiz The Law throws in a clunker or gets off to a disastrous start.
The wisest strategy might be to shoot for a good exacta or trifecta with Tiz The Law on top of Honor A.P. and the aforementioned longshots Max Player, South Bend, Attachment Rate, NY Traffic and yes, King Guillermo.
And at 20-1, it wouldn’t hurt to throw a few bucks on King Guillermo to win as well.
Follow the Free Press on Facebook and Twitter for more news.