Looking back at an unprecedented Kentucky Oaks and Derby weekend

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This past weekend of racing at Churchill Downs was unprecedented. The first weekend of September is normally reserved for pennant races in baseball, fantasy football drafts in the quick approach of the NFL and the first opening full weekend of college football.

The pandemic changed all that, of course.

Not only were there were no fans allowed onto Churchill Downs for the rescheduled Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby but so much for the pageantry that precedes both races was also gone.

I am laid up at home recuperating from a bruised foot sustained from stepping on a tree branch in my yard so I tuned into both FS1 and NBC Sports Network for the coverage on Friday and Saturday. As I was watching the races preceding the Derby, my cable all of a sudden decided to go out. Customer service advised me that it was a local issue because someone decided to knock out a cable line. How 2020 is that?

That said, wagering-wise Derby day was not going well either. So figuring that I live in a small town, I decided since I could not watch the Derby live I called one of my very best friends so I could hear his run of the Derby. Both of us had the favorite Tiz the Law with substantial investments to pay off nicely had Tiz the Law won. As you all know, he fell short to Authentic in a robust running of the Derby.

Let’s take a closer look back at both the Oaks and the Derby with a peak ahead to the Preakness which will close this year’s very different Triple Crown on October 3.

Kentucky Oaks: Shedaresthedevil shocks favorites in outstanding effort to win

What started as a weekend of great hope quickly turned into a disappointing start as a handicapper. The need to second guess myself has to take place. I did not pen a CCS column for either the Kentucky Oaks or the Kentucky Derby, but I’m honest as the day is long. I admittedly was a big fan of Swiss Skydiver to win the Oaks.

I could not understand why Gamine was 3-5, knowing she could not get the two turns of the Oaks. So I made a lot of multirace wagers singling Swiss Skydiver. I was alive to multiple Pick 4 wagers and also made a sizeable Oaks Derby Double tying Swiss Skydiver to Tiz the Law in the Derby.

My focus was on the exotics. With a fraud favorite of those odds, I went price hunting. ShedarestheDevil, Donna Veloce and Speech were used in my gimmicks.

As they went to the gate for the Oaks, I exuded confidence. For most of the early part of the race, it played out as I expected with Gamine showing the way and Swiss Skydiver sitting just off the pace. I wondered how I could lose at this juncture.

There was one instance where I called into question the judgment of Tyler Gaffaliaone, the rider of Swiss Skydiver. After around the six furlong pole, there was a spot on the rail that an elephant could go through; I was begging Tyler to hit the rail. Had he done so, he would have one the Oaks? Even after he missed that chance, he tipped his horse three-wide for a clear run. As they straightened away, I still was counting my money but realized that at the 1/8th pole I would lose.

Shedaresthedevil, who Swiss Skydiver had beaten by 10 and a half lengths earlier this year, was not going to be denied on this Oaks day. Give credit to winning trainer Brad Cox and rider Florent Geroux for winning their second Oaks in the last three years. They had her ready for the Oaks and she rewarded them. Swiss Skydiver ran a gallant race in defeat but was only second best on the day. Gamine ran a weakening third, showing her distance limitations.

Kentucky Derby: Authentic stuns Tiz the Law

After the heartbreak of the Oaks, I was looking to do what good handicappers do – bounce back. My day started at 8 a.m. as I co-hosted Bayou State Sports Saturday live stream with my friends Johnny Marchese and Mike Garcia. Knowing that Churchill Downs had a first post of 10 a.m. and not having any thing invested in those early races, I bided my time by reading my past performances for the Stakes races preceding the Derby.

I then made my appearance on the Three Tailgaters radio show with Ken Trahan and Ed Daniels to give out a winning exacta box in the Derby but I threw both of my friends a curveball. I was all in on Tiz the Law to win the Derby and decided to give straight exactas instead of my annual box recommendation. As we discussed the Derby further, a thought of how Tiz The Law could get beat kept nagging me. When you look at his races, he especially this year was given eight-to-11 weeks per race. But going into the Derby, he had only just four weeks of rest. That made me think about looking for other options to try and beat him but the rule of not second guessing yourself last minute applied instead. I just did not feel like anything in this field was good enough to beat Tiz the Law on the square.

As I said, I did not watch the Derby live because of what happened to my cable line so my first viewing was a replay after the fact. Like the Oaks the way, the race did play out as I expected. My first Derby winner pick since 1994 was coming (yes, I am snakebitten beyond belief when it comes to the Run for the Roses). When they turned for home, Tiz the Law poked a head in front of Authentic. It was too good to be true. Again.

Credit to Authentic for gutting out a resolute win. I thought he couldn’t get the mile and a quarter Derby distance considering the way he stopped in the Haskell but his trainer Bob Baffert’s Derby preparations included two-mile works to increase his stamina. That strategy helped Authentic immensely.

There are those on social media who want to claim Baffert doped his horse, considering he already got caught with two failed drug tests at Oaklawn earlier this year. Admittedly, the thought crossed my mind. No proof, no guilt though. This did look like a clean race.

As for Tiz the Law, my gut was right and I did not listen to it. There’s no surprise that Tiz The Law will not run in the Preakness. He will train straight up to the Breeders Cup Classic. Perhaps the long rests provide his biggest key to victory.

How about Mr. Big News and his third place effort? It came a surprise to many as he outran his huge odds. Honor A.P to me got jostled slightly at the start but honestly I don’t think it cost him any positions lost in the Derby.

Preakness Stakes: An brief look at a wide-open race

Authentic and Thousand Words, who was scratched in the paddock preceding the Derby, will head over to Pimlico. Art Collector, who was going to be a major player in the Derby, and King Guillermo, who spiked a fever two days before the Derby, are also going to Maryland. A prospective field of 12 to 13 horses awaits on October 3, and I will have a comprehensive preview of the Preakness as we head to Old Hilltop. Below is the prospective field for the Preakness.

 

2020 Preakness Stakes (G1)

Horse Trainer Last Start Status
Tiz the Law B. Tagg 2nd, 2020 Kentucky Derby (G1) Unlikely
Art Collector T. Drury 1st, 2020 Ellis Park Derby (LS) Probable
Authentic B. Baffert 1st, 2020 Kentucky Derby (G1) Probable
King Guillermo J. Avila 2nd, 2020 Arkansas Derby (G1) Possible
Dr Post T. Pletcher 4th, 2020 Jim Dandy (G2) Possible
Mr. Big News W. Calhoun 3rd, 2020 Kentucky Derby (G1) Possible
Finnick The Fierce R. Hernandez 7th, 2020 Blue Grass Stakes (G2) Possible
Thousand Words B. Baffert 1st, 2020 Shared Belief Stakes (LS) Probable
Mystic Guide M. Stidham 1st, 2020 Jim Dandy (G2) Possible
Shirl’s Speight R. Attfield 1st, 2020 Marine (G3) Goal
Pneumatic S. Asmussen 1st, 2020 Pegasus (LS) Probable
Lebda C. Gonzalez 3rd, 2020 Robert Hilton Memorial (LS) Goal
Mongolian Wind W. Eno 1st, 2020 Manitoba Derby (LS) Goal
Happy Saver T. Pletcher 1st, Sar Allow (7/26/2020-R8) Possible

 

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George Pepis

George Pepis

Horse Racing Analyst

George Pepis provides racing analysis during each Fair Grounds racing season. He also shares commentary and selections for major stakes events and prep races around the country. In the past, George has hosted sports talk programming on WGSO 990am in New Orleans. He has served as both play-by-play and color analyst on Louisiana high school football radio and internet broadcasts.

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