By Bill Finley
In a normal year, the winner of the GI Curlin Florida Derby would soon be on his way to Churchill Downs, assured of a spot in the GI Kentucky Derby and likely to be among the favorites in the race everybody wants to win.
But there is nothing normal about this year, a year where a win in the 2020 Florida Derby doesn’t guarantee anything.
Tiz the Law (Constitution) beat a deep field in the Florida Derby and did so with authority. He has never been better and is sitting on the proverbial go. If the Derby were to be run May 2, instead of Sept. 5, he would likely be ready to deliver a career-best performance.
Yet Tiz the Law and every other top 3-year-old will be on a very odd path to the Kentucky Derby. If the race were run on it’s normal date, Tiz the Law would be in the neighborhood of 5-2 and widely regarded as the best 3-year-old in the country not trained by Bob Baffert. Trainer Barclay Tagg’s primary job would be to see to it that Tiz the Law holds his form for another five weeks.
“We sure like this horse,” said owner Jack Knowlton. “Its going to be a long five months instead of a long five weeks.”
Now, Tagg’s job is much more complicated. What races will be available to Tiz the Law between now and the Kentucky Derby? How many more starts should he have before Sept. 5? What sort of training regimen should he design for Tiz the Law, knowing that there is a fine line between doing too much and not doing enough? The goal is to keep him healthy and sound, but what’s the best way to do that? There is no blueprint so far as how to proceed.
Knowlton admits he doesn’t know what path he and Tagg will take. But he sees reasons to be optimistic that the delay won’t them a chance to win the Derby.
“We felt he was a horse who would be ready to go a mile-and-a-quarter on the first Saturday in May,” he said. “He proved that today. Now there’s a chance a bunch of other horses can catch up to him. Baffert has a stable full of those horses. But Tiz the Law has a chance to continue to get better. Nobody knows what the world is going to look like five months down the road.”
So far as Tiz the Law’s schedule, Knowlton threw out some options. He believes NYRA may reschedule the GII Wood Memorial and run it in late May or early June at Belmont. If so, that would be a perfect race for Tiz the Law. He is also eyeing the GI Travers, now scheduled for a week before he Kentucky Derby, but all but certain to be rescheduled.
“I know we want to do a Travers-Derby double,” he said. “That is a long-range goal. Where we go between now and then, who knows? We’re not in a rush. We have the points to run on the fist Saturday in September. For now, we’ll just stay in place and wait for all these questions to be sorted out.”
Knowlton is placing much of his faith in Tagg. Her figures he will figure it out.
Winning the Derby now involves an element of luck that would not be there on May 2. Of the top 20 horses now in line for a Derby start, how many will be hurt and sidelined come Sept. 5? Six? Ten? Maybe more. If not hurt, will they be in the same form Sept. 5 as they were May 2? What about the horses who are behind the divisional leaders now but will develop and be ready for Grade I company come September?
Tiz the Law has momentum on his side, but momentum is fleeting. There’s no telling what his situation will be come Sept. 5. That also goes for every 3-year-old out there. It’s a tricky situation, but if you’re horse is good now you want to see the Derby run in five weeks and not in five-plus months.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Knowlton said. “We can’t change the calendar.”