The Holy Bull, Robert B. Lewis, and Withers sound like answers to random trivia questions, which actually isn’t far from the truth they will reveal Saturday about several of this year’s Kentucky Derby favorites.
The three are actual Derby prep races taking place at three tracks around the United States, beginning with the Withers at Aqueduct Park in New York (1:25 pm PT). From there, head south to the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Florida (2:04 pm PT), before you wind up 3,000 miles west at Santa Anita for the Robert B. Lewis (3 pm PT).
All three are Grade 3 stakes races, with the Holy Bull and Lewis going 1 1/16 miles, and the Withers 1 1/8 miles. All three are “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifying races, offering 10, 4, 2, or 1 points to the top four finishers.
And all three will reveal more clues as to who has the inside track to the Churchill Downs winner’s circle May 2, which is welcome to bettors seeking anything resembling a clue as where to find value on the futures market.
That market is wide open right now. To give you an idea about the free-for-all status of the 2020 Kentucky Derby, William Hill’s just-released future book odds have Tiz the Law as the 8/1 favorite, followed by Dennis’ Moment, Maxfield, Storm the Court, and Thousand Words, all at 12/1.
Look at any Derby Top 10 list at this point and you’ll most likely see many of the same names. And you’ll see them in many different places on those lists.
The good news for bettors is you’ll see some of those horses in various races on Saturday.
Tiz the Law will be making his 2020 debut as the 3/5 morning line favorite in the Holy Bull. The Barclay Tagg-trained colt won two of three races in 2019, including the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park in October.
He’ll be pushed by pace-stalker Relentless Dancer (8/1), who boat-raced the field by 10 ½ lengths in the Louisiana Legacy Stakes at Delta Downs in October before finishing second at the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds earlier in January.
The other two horses to watch are Toledo (9/2), who will draw money because of trainer Chad Brown and Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
Mayberry Deputy (10/1) is a closer whose trainer, Ken McPeek, won this race last year with 29/1 shot Harvey Wallbanger.
Robert B. Lewis
In the Lewis at Santa Anita, you’ll see Thousand Words, the 4/5 morning-line favorite, and one of the mainstays of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s endless barn of Derby prospects. Baffert has won this race – named for one of his former clients – a record seven times. Thousand Words, a $1 million purchase and product of Pioneer of the Nile – who sired 2015 Triple Crown winner and Baffert trainee, American Pharoah – is 2-for-2. He last won the Los Alamitos Futurity on a sloppy track in December.
You’ll also see Thousand Words’ barn-mate, High Velocity (3/1), who finished third at the Los Al Futurity. He’s not Baffert’s best, but he will provide early speed and is 2-for-3, including a Grade 3 win in the Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar. You’ll see the other threat in the six-horse field: Tizamagician (3/1). The son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow, Tizamagician broke his maiden on New Year’s Day at Santa Anita, ending a five-race winless streak.
In the Withers at Aqueduct, the morning-line favorite (2/1) is Shotski, who won the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes gate-to-wire on the same track in early December. A product of Blame — the only horse to beat the great Zenyatta in her 20-race career — Shotski is 2-for-2. His slow pace in the deep stretch at the Remsen, where his lead shrank from 3 ½ lengths to a half-length at the wire, could make him vulnerable.
Should that happen, look to closer Portos (6/1). Trained by Todd Pletcher, Portos broke his maiden by more than 10 lengths New Year’s Eve in the Aqueduct slop. He’s the one to watch if the early speed from Shotski, Monday Morning Qb (8/1), and Vannzy (5/1) prove costly.