By Brian DiDonato
LOUISVILLE, KY–After a four-month delay, the world spotlight finally shines again on Churchill Downs. While Saturday’s GI Kentucky Derby has certainly lost some of its luster due to a number of high-profile defections along this seemingly never-ending Triple Crown trail, tensions remain extremely high in Louisville–which at times of late has felt like the epicenter of concurrent national crises. COVID-19 cases in Kentucky have continued on an upward slope while the overall U.S. graph trends downward, and the commonwealth’s largest city has remained in the headlines as the community has let its outrage be known following the fatal shooting by police of 26-year-old African-American EMT Breonna Taylor in March.
There have been calls to cancel the Derby until charges are brought against Taylor’s killers, with protestors marching in front of Churchill last week and expected to be out in full force this weekend (members of the group Until Freedom held a press conference Friday ahead of Saturday’s planned protest). The police and military presence surrounding the famed oval Friday morning had it looking more like Fort Knox 45 miles south than a racetrack, and it seemed to the ear as if white noise machines had been put in place to keep the sound of potential demonstrators from carrying to inside the track.
While Churchill Downs Inc. had originally announced that it would allow some 23,000 spectators at the Derby, it reversed course just two weeks before the race. Whether that change of heart was due more to fears of turning the “Run for the Roses” into a superspreader event or the possibility of civil unrest isn’t entirely clear and has been relegated mostly to social media speculation, but one thing’s for certain: there will never be another Derby like this one… at least let’s hope not.
In a year of uncertainty, and anxiety, and for many downright misery, Sackatoga Stable’s Tiz the Law (Constitution) has some thinking he’s a sure thing. The blaze-faced bruiser has been dominant in all four of his sophomore starts, and displayed a brilliance last time in his GI Runhappy Travers S. romp that lofted him from looking like a very good horse in a very strange year to, possibly, an all-time great. To find a legitimate knock on him is tough, but the one prior time he looked anything but unbeatable was in his lone appearance at Churchill Downs, when he found himself trapped inside and ultimately third in November’s GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. But Tiz the Law has matured since then, and young jockey Manny Franco probably has too. Plus that race came in the slop, and while it rained heavily on and off earlier in the week, the strip will be totally dry come Saturday at 7:01 ET after sunny skies Friday and Saturday. It remains tough to envision an upset–and one-eyed, rail-drawn KYJC runner-up’s Finnick the Fierce (Dialed In)’s defection Friday removed one temptation for the Racing Gods, but it’s 2020–who knows what to expect at this point?
To read more about Tiz the Law’s ownership group, as well as his remaining competition, see the TDN‘s Kentucky Derby Special Edition.