By Sean Morris

Tiz the Law headlines G1 Florida Derby

By Sean Morris
They'll be no crowd at Gulfstream Park for the 2020 Florida Derby
They'll be no crowd at Gulfstream Park for the 2020 Florida Derby

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As U.S. racing steadily recedes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gulfstream Park, which has remained open without spectators, will provide a much-needed oasis on Saturday in the form of a fantastic 14-race card, including 10 stakes races headlined by the Grade 1, $750,000 Florida Derby.

Traditionally an important Kentucky Derby prep race, the Florida Derby will retain its robust qualifying point structure (100-40-20-10) toward a berth in the race, however with the ‘Run for the Roses’ being moved to September 5, it can no longer serve as a direct tune-up for the race. Despite its placement on the calendar, it still drew a full field of some of the top 3-year-olds at this juncture, led by early Derby favorite Tiz the Law.

Trained by Barclay Tagg for Sackatoga Stable, the same connections that campaigned 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, Tiz the Law continued his steady ascent to the top of the sophomore ranks with an emphatic win in the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream on February 1 in his 2020 debut. The New York-bred son of Constitution put himself on the Derby radar with a dazzling win in last year’s Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park, but subsequently faltered in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in his juvenile finale.

His win in the Holy Bull left no doubt as to his quality, however, and he was installed as the decisive 6-5 morning-line favorite. He will be ridden by Manny Franco and drew post 7.

Ete Indien will look to turn the tables on Tiz the Law, who got the better of him by three lengths in the Holy Bull, but unfortunately drew outermost post 12 in his bid to do so. The Summer Front colt was able to overcome a wide post, normally the kiss of death in two-turn dirt races at Gulfstream, in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, breaking like a shot from the 10-hole and then proceeding to run the field off their feet in the 1 1/16-mile race to win by a widening 8 ½ lengths. Should he buck the trend again he’d be following in the footsteps of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, who became the first horse ever to win the Florida Derby breaking from post 12.

Trained by Pat Biancone, Ete Indien was made the second choice on the morning line at 4-1 and will be ridden again by Florent Geroux.

Once considered to be on par with Tiz the Law, Independence Hall’s reputation has been dinged a bit since a supernatural performance in last year’s Grade 3 Nashua at Aqueduct Racetrack for which he earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, but there’s still plenty of time for the Michael Trombetta trainee to get back on track. The Constitution colt kicked off the year with a facile score in the Jerome while regressing sharply on the Beyer scale, and then failed to hold off Sole Volante in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs after pressing a fast pace.

The Florida Derby presents an interesting crossroads for the son of Constitution, as he can either reassert the dominance he showed in the Nashua or continue to show he’s a very good but not great member of this 3-year-old crop. He will be ridden by Joel Rosario for the first time and is listed at 9-2 on the morning line.

Behind the big three there are several other noteworthy horses entered in the 1 ⅛-mile Florida Derby, such as the up-and-coming Gouverneur Morris; Candy Tycoon and As Seen On Tv, who finished first and second in the Fountain of Youth; the graded stakes-placed Ajaaweed; and the Saffie Joseph-trained Disc Jockey. The field is completed by longshots Shivaree, Soros, My First Grammy and Sassy But Smart.

Analysis:  I’m not trying to beat Tiz the Law (#7) in this race. He was sensational in the G3 Holy Bull in his 2020 debut, easily handling one of his main rivals, Ete Indien (#12), who also happened to draw poorly in the Florida Derby, making it even more unlikely that he’ll be able to overturn that result. Tiz the Law possesses the tactical speed, tractability, and post to work out a good trip for himself regardless of circumstance, and it would take monumental improvement from someone else to beat him. I just don’t see that happening.

Independence Hall (#9) may rival Tiz the Law as far as raw talent goes, however it’s becoming increasingly apparent that he may have distance limitations, or just isn’t progressing the same way Tiz the Law has been. He ran well in the G3 Sam F. Davis chasing a fast pace and hanging in gamely for second, but pressing a hot pace hasn’t prevented him from finishing with authority in the past, as he did in last year’s G3 Nashua, so I’m not sure it’s fair to expect a much better effort from him if he can relax early. He’s very good and certainly capable of turning in a monstrous performance, but I’m not sold on him at this distance.

Gouverneur Morris (#5) has been generating a lot of buzz in this race, and while I get the appeal, I’m not fully there. His comeback this year was pretty good, a noticeable step forward off his juvenile form, but still not an overly impressive effort. If he’s going to get bet down off his 8-1 morning line, there are plenty of other talented horses that have already demonstrated they might be fast enough to win, whereas with Gouverneur Morris you’re banking on upside.

As Seen On Tv (#1) was a major disappointment last time, Disc Jockey’s (#3) last race is better than it looks, Ajaaweed (#6) seems to be at his best in New York and Candy Tycoon (#10) just isn’t fast enough at this juncture. This is Tiz the Law’s race to lose.

Selections:  7-12-9-5

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