Last year's Kentucky Derby was plenty weird.
Remember that interminable wait as the stewards at Churchill Downs debated whether Maximum Security's victory would stand? Or the collective gasp when they disqualified him and handed the Derby to 65-to-1 longshot Country House, who would never run another race? Was that really only 16 months ago?
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Derby already feels strange on an entirely different scale. The signature race on the American calendar will be run on Labor Day weekend instead of the first Saturday in May. The usual crowd of 150,000, decked out in spring dresses, seersucker suits and outlandish hats, will be absent. The Derby will go down as the second jewel in a mutated Triple Crown series scheduled to culminate with the Oct. 3 Preakness Stakes.
But the show will go on, as it did before an empty grandstand at Belmont Park when the series started on June 20. The Derby remains a monumental occasion for the trainers, owners and jockeys who target it with every moment and dollar they invest in promising 3-year-olds. With that in mind, here's a look at five key storylines for the Sept. 5 race:
Just how big a favorite will Tiz the Law be?
The Derby is often a collision of mysteries and untested theories as the most promising 3-year-olds in a given year face unfamiliar questions of distance, crowding and competition. It was amazing that before the odd happenings of May 4, 2019, six consecutive favorites had won the race, from Orb in 2013 to Justify in 2018.
None of those champions, not even eventual Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify, entered the Derby with more steam than Tiz the Law.
The Barclay Tagg-trained colt won the Belmont Stakes with a classy performance that left few doubts about his versatility, poise or speed. But that's really just the tip of his resume. Tiz the Law also won both of his Florida prep races without issue and if anything, did his Belmont performance one better with a dominating pull-away in the Aug. 8 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
Bob Baffert, who trained the last two Triple Crown winners, knew his horse, Uncle Chuck, was "in big trouble" when Tiz the Law pulled eye-to-eye with him in the Travers. With jockey Manny Franco asking little of him, Tiz the Law had hardly broken a sweat, and his victory already seemed inevitable. The 1 1/4-mile distance, same as the Derby, posed no problem. This was the stuff of greatness.