The saying goes, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” This Friday and Saturday at Churchill Downs bettors are faced with doing it over consecutive days.
The chalk players have to be loving what they see in the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. Heavy favorites in Gamine in the premiere stake for 3-year-old fillies followed by Tiz the Law in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
So, what’s a punter to do? This could easily produce the smallest Oaks-Derby double payoff in history. Gamine is even-money on the morning line against eight others — okay, actually just Swiss Skydiver — and Tiz the Law is an astounding 3-5 in a field of 18 for the Run for the Roses. Or, if one or both fail to win, there will be big balloons on the tote board.
Gamine’s three victories in four starts have been by a combined 31 lengths. Her only “loss” came after a winning race due to a post-race drug test overage at Oaklawn. The daughter of Into Mischief faces a formidable challenger in Swiss Skydiver, who is coming in off a romp in Saratoga’s Alabama after an impressive second against the boys in the Blue Grass.
However, Swiss Skydiver breaks from the rail, a position that has proven to be disadvantageous in recent Oaks history.
The rail has not produced a single trifecta finisher in the last 15 years, while post two has produced only one top-three finisher during the same timeframe.
Advantage, Gamine. This is Gamine’s fifth career start. She has never been headed at any pole in any race. Gamine crossed the finish line first in all four starts but was disqualified from purse money at Oaklawn in May. She’s been impeccable on the track and has a 110 Beyer, which tops the best number for Tiz the Law. She is being asked to run nine furlongs for the first time. Swiss Skydiver did it in both the Blue Grass and Alabama. There are those who believe staying away from a horse being asked to do something for the first time is the gospel.
“The two turns that’s the whole thing with her, but we know she’s fast and she’s done (two turns) before so it’s not like it’s new,” trainer Bob Baffert said of Gamine. “We’re just blessed we have a filly like this. We gave a lot of money ($1.8 million) for her and it’s worked out. A lot of times you do that and they don’t work out. We’re just enjoying her.”
“They paid more in taxes for Gamine than we did to buy our horse,” said Kenny McPeek, who trains Swiss Skydiver and got her for $35,000.”
McPeek referenced the distance question.
“I think the question mark with Gamine is that she hasn’t done two turns on a regular basis,” McPeek said. “When she did, she had to fight for it. We ran on the same racetrack that weekend at Oaklawn and I don’t think there’s a lot separating them. It’s going to be fun to watch. That’s what makes me confident. (Bob Baffert’s) filly is going to have to do something she hasn’t experienced and it’s something we’ve done over and over all year.”
Still, Gamine’s Beyers are superior to Swiss Skydiver. She appears to be in a better position than Tiz the Law to reward her favoritism. And, how much fun would it be for these two to knock heads in the Preakness or another race further on up the road if they could win on back-to-back September days in Kentucky?
Of the two, Tiz the Law appears more vulnerable. And it would be because of a numbers game more than anything. Tiz the Law is in a gate — 17 — that has never won the Derby and while drawing outside is beneficial one never knows what kind of trip a horse will get in a field as large as the Run for the Roses..
It is never a good sign, too, when a trainer is distracted by events he can’t control. Louisville is the center of protests over the killing of Breonna Taylor and 82-year-old Barclay Tagg weighed in after the draw Tuesday. Tagg is one to avoid the spotlight at all costs. However, it found him big time and one thing may have nothing to do with another but when you are looking for a reason to avoid the chalk …
“I don’t know what those guys are going to do, these rioters,” he told WDRB in Louisville. “Who knows? All I know is you’re not allowed to shoot them, and they’re allowed to shoot you. That’s what it looks like to me, so I don’t know what to think about it.
“I couldn’t be anything else but very, very concerned. I don’t want my people hurt, I don’t want myself hurt, I don’t want the horse hurt. The world’s crazy right now, and hopefully we can pull it off without something disastrous happening.”
Tagg is correct. The world is crazy right now. And it would be far too predictable for both of these brilliant horses to run to their favoritism. The feeling is Gamine will run them off their hoofs in capturing the Oaks and someone will upset Tiz the Law in the Derby.
So, if you want to have some fun in the Run for the Roses, back-wheel the field with Gamine and/or Swiss Skydiver on the front end of an Oaks-Derby double.