Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby 146 Selections

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Four months later than originally scheduled, the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) will take place on Saturday, Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs.

For the first time since 2003, less than 20 horses have been entered in the 1 1/4-mile "Run for the Roses," and the field has been further reduced by the scratch of #6 King Guillermo due to a fever.

With 17 horses left to handicap, here's how I break down the key contenders:


#17 Tiz the Law

With the exception of the Belmont Stakes (G1), I've played against Tiz the Law in all his races this season. I keep looking for chinks in his armor, trying unsuccessfully to find a way to beat him. But now the truth has dawned on me—Tiz the Law doesn't have any chinks. He doesn't have any shortcomings. He's just a flat-out racehorse with the talent and mindset of an elite competitor.

Tiz the Law's rousing triumphs in the Florida Derby (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1) were certainly eye-catching, but it was his runaway victory in the Travers (G1) that convinced me the son of Constitution is the real deal. After pressing the talented Uncle Chuck through splits of :23.65, :48.36, and 1:11.95, Tiz the Law took command and blew the doors off his pursuers down the straight, sprinting the final quarter-mile in an excellent :24.53 to win by 5 1/2 lengths.

Tiz the Law's final time of 2:00.95 marked the fifth-fastest 1 1/4-mile Travers in history and produced strong speed figures of 109 (Beyer) and 115 (Brisnet). The New York-bred sensation enters the Kentucky Derby as the fastest horse on paper, blending speed with stamina to form a formidable package. He's also drawn an outside post, setting the stage for a clean and unencumbered trip.

In short, how can anyone defeat Tiz the Law? He's training up a storm, so assuming he brings his A-game (there's no reason to think he won't), the rest are likely running for second place. I won't get creative this time—I'll just accept that Tiz the Law is the best horse and key him in all my exotic wagers.


#16 Honor A. P.

In a normal year, Honor A. P. would be my choice to win the Kentucky Derby. A powerful son of Honor Code conditioned by John Shirreffs, Honor A. P. was an eye-catching winner of the Santa Anita Derby (G1), rallying from off the pace to defeat three-time graded stakes winner Authentic by 2 3/4 lengths. This performance yielded strong speed figures across the board, including triple-digit Brisnet E1, E2, Late Pace, and Speed ratings—an impressive combination rarely seen.

Honor A. P. was subsequently beaten to second place in the Shared Belief Stakes, but I wasn't disappointed by his performance. He'd trained modestly heading into the race and endured a tricky trip, racing wide and making a big early move before settling back down again. Even in defeat, he earned strong speed figures of 102 (Beyer) and 103 (Brisnet).

In the weeks since the Shared Belief, Honor A. P. has posted significantly sharper workouts  under the guidance of jockey Mike Smith, so I'm confident the dark bay ridgling will take a big step forward at Churchill Downs. He looms as the main threat from behind the speed, and I fully expect Honor A.P. to crack the exacta. But catching Tiz the Law will be a difficult task.


#2 Max Player

A one-run deep closer, Max Player probably isn't up to winning against this caliber of competition. He's been hesitant to race through kickback, so breaking from post three in the Kentucky Derby could be problematic, potentially prompting him to fall even farther off the pace than usual.

But Max Player is resilient once he gets going, as he displayed when rallying to finish third in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Travers (G1). Late-running longshots frequently hit the board in the Run for the Roses, so if you like Tiz the Law—and who doesn't?—you have to respect Max Player as a candidate to pick up the pieces and crack the trifecta or superfecta.

#3 Enforceable

A stoutly-bred son of Tapit, Enforceable fits in the same category with Max Player as a one-run closer with a chance to finish on the board. Trained by Mark Casse, this full brother to 2016 Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher Mohaymen has finished the final three furlongs of his last three prep runs in less than :38 seconds, a deceptively strong turn-of-foot that will make him dangerous racing 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs.

Enforceable most recently ran a solid race when finishing fourth in the Blue Grass (G2). Making his first start off a 3 1/2-month layoff, the gray colt wasn't cranked for a peak effort, but came running nicely to miss third place by just a neck. I'm optimistic he'll take a step forward at Churchill Downs, and drawing post three sets up the potential for a ground-saving trip. At 30-1, he's my favorite play among the longshots.

#10 Thousand Words

Sold for $1 million as a yearling, Thousand Words has used his relentless, grinding fortitude to win three stakes races with a wide variety of running styles. A front-running trip saw Thousand Words upset Honor A. P. in the Shared Belief, but with stablemate Authentic likely to set the pace at Churchill Downs, Thousand Words seems more likely to settle behind the Derby speed and make a sustained rally to reach contention.

Part of me wonders if Thousand Words' grinding style won't be suited to the chaotic nature of the Kentucky Derby—he's probably not fast enough to set the pace, but he isn't the type to drop back and make a late rally to pass tired rivals. But Thousand Words just keeps on enriching his resume, so on accomplishments alone he's worth including for five-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert.

#12 Sole Volante

True, Sole Volante never fired when finishing sixth behind Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes. But the gelded son of Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) winner Karakontie was running back just 10 days after an allowance win at Gulfstream Park, and considering he's bred to excel on turf, perhaps he didn't care for the sandy track at Belmont Park.

Sole Volante hadn't missed the trifecta in his six previous starts, including a couple of big efforts at Tampa Bay Downs during the winter. A powerful stretch-running victory in the Sam F. Davis (G3) was followed by a deceptively strong runner-up effort in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). In each instance, Sole Volante unleashed legitimately fast finishing fractions while displaying a willingness to race inside rivals.

Sole Volante is training forwardly in advance of the Kentucky Derby, and since Churchill Downs is known for playing kindly toward turf horses, this deep-closing colt could be set for a vastly improved performance on the first Saturday in September.

#15 Ny Traffic

He might not be a frequent winner, but Ny Traffic is as game as they come and never gives up. He improved steadily while hitting the board in four consecutive Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races, including the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Haskell (G1).

Ny Traffic's effort in the Haskell was particularly noteworthy. After tracking Authentic through modest fractions, the son of Cross Traffic appeared beaten when Authentic kicked clear down the stretch. But Ny Traffic somehow found another gear in the final furlong and re-rallied boldly to miss by a nose.

With an abundance of tactical speed in tow, Ny Traffic figures to enjoy a comfortable stalking trip in the Kentucky Derby, staying clear of traffic while forwardly positioned. If he takes another step forward on Saturday, he can certainly fight for a spot on the board.

#18 Authentic

While I'm still skeptical whether this speedy son of Into Mischief can handle the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby, his talent is impossible to deny. A front-running winner of the Sham (G3), San Felipe (G2), and Haskell (G1), Authentic brings competitive speed figures to the equation and figures to break running on Saturday with an eye on setting the pace.

Authentic has also been the beneficiary of several key defections from the Kentucky Derby field. The loss of Shirl's Speight and King Guillermo has sharply reduced the amount of early speed in the mix, giving Authentic a greater chance to get out in front, relax on the lead, and hang on down the stretch to finish in the exotics.


1st: Tiz the Law
2nd: Honor A. P.
3rd: Enforceable
4th: Sole Volante


$6 trifecta: 17 with 16 with 2,3,10,12,15,18 ($36)
$2 superfecta: 17 with 16 with 2,3,10,12,15,18 with 2,3,10,12,15,18 ($60)

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Kentucky Derby?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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