ELMONT — Tiz the Law finished the job on Saturday.
But his work is far from done.
Owned by the Saratoga Springs-based Sackatoga Stable, Tiz the Law and jockey Manny Franco kicked away from the field with a powerful, sustained run down the Belmont Park stretch to put away nine rivals and win the 152nd Belmont Stakes by 3 3/4 lengths on Saturday.
In a topsy-turvy sports world disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tiz the Law’s Belmont victory gives him the first leg of the Triple Crown, instead of the third, but also completes a career Triple Crown for trainer Barclay Tagg and brings a Belmont trophy to Sackatoga Stable that was denied them when Funny Cide lost the 2003 Belmont.
“We’ve been with Barclay Tagg for 25 years, and I keep telling everybody, Barclay doesn’t get a lot of big horses, big opportunities, but when he does, he knows what to do,” Sackatoga managing partner Jack Knowlton said. “He’s got his, and Sackatoga’s got theirs. Triple Crown, two different horses, two different years, and not a lot of people can say that.”
Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2003, but was third to Empire Maker in the Belmont. Like Funny Cide, Tiz the Law is a New York-bred, and he was the first horse foaled in the Empire State to win the Belmont since Forester in 1882.
The New York Racing Association chose to shorten the Belmont from its traditional mile and a half to a mile and an eighth, because of the pandemic schedule disruption that closed tracks and postponed important races for over two months. State protocols regarding the pandemic kept spectators out of Belmont Park on Saturday, so Tiz the Law won in front of an empty grandstand and a scattering of workers on the apron.
The Sackatoga crew — there are 35 partners in Tiz the Law’s ownership group — held a viewing party in Saratoga Springs at Pennell’s restaurant, owned by Bruce Cerone, one of the partners.
“It’s always good to win with those guys, they’re just good guys,” Tagg said. “Actually, there’s only two guys left from the first group, but I’ve always liked Jack, and Jack just has an affinity for picking the right people and it goes very smoothly for him and it’s a lot of fun.”
The 82-year-old Tagg, who shies away from the attention and had a sometimes cranky relationship with the media when the Funny Cide circus grew and grew, was perhaps the only person who saw the bright side of no massive crowd at Belmont Park.
“Actually, it’s very nice,” he said with a grin. “I can’t complain about that. I’m not trying to be a jerk about it, but I thought the quietude was very nice.”
If anything, it left his star colt to make all the noise.
Already ranked No. 1 among 3-year-olds in North America, Tiz the Law solidified that status with a commanding domination of the Belmont field, guided patiently by the 25-year-old Franco, who won his first race in the Triple Crown series.
Tiz the Law stalked front-runner Tap It to Win in third before making his move on the turn, then accelerated away at the three-sixteenths pole. Dr Post got up for second, followed by Max Player.
“It looked to me like everything just went like clockwork,” Tagg said. “That’s the way the horse likes to run, and that’s the position the horse likes to be in. Manny knows the horse very well. I felt pretty solid about halfway down the lane.
“It’s a good feeling.”
“I was pretty confident by the time we hit the seven-eighths pole,” Franco said. “He was so kind and relaxed for me. He was so comfortable and never got keen, so I think that was the key.
“It means a lot to me. This is my home track. I’ve been riding here for about six years already. One leg of the Triple Crown is the dream of any jockey. I’m happy with the opportunity that I have right now.”
That opportunity includes all the big targets facing the good 3-year-olds, no matter how scrambled the schedule is.
The Travers is Aug. 8, the Kentucky Derby is Sept. 5 and the Preakness is Oct. 3.
Tagg said they’ll shoot for all of them.
“After that, they’ll probably want me to take him to the Breeders’ Cup,” he said.
There were five other stakes on the Belmont card, and three other Grade I’s, and Gamine stole that show by nearly breaking a track record for a mile on the main track by winning the Acorn in 1:32.55 under John Velazquez. Najran set the mark of 1:32.24 in 2003.
She won by a whopping 18 3/4 lengths.
“It was an amazing race out of her,” said Jimmy Barnes, trainer Bob Baffert’s assistant. “Especially coming into a Grade I and for it being only her third start. Johnny rode her right to the way we told him to go. We told him to take advantage of her position, and he certainly did.
“Bob does a great job at this. He buys a very good horse and it makes it a lot easier to get the job done like this. I wanted to see her run the one turn just because of the way she runs. Two turns, one turn, she can handle either one. We’ll go home, give her a little time and see what’s next for her. I can imagine something at Saratoga.”
No Parole went gate to wire to win the Grade I Woody Stephens at seven furlongs, enjoying a first half-mile in 45.01 before pulling away in the stretch under Luis Saez. His only loss in six career starts came in the Grade II Rebel on March 14, when he finished up the track to Nadal.
“To be able to draw inside and take advantage of that [speed] with a good rider like Saez, everything played out as we hoped,” trainer Tom Amoss said.
“You always want to slow the pace as much as you can, and today they gave me the opportunity, so we took it,” Saez said. “I was sitting chilly, and I knew I had a lot of horse. When we hit the stretch, he took off.”
In the other Grade I, the 6-year-old mare Oleksandra faced males in the Jaipur, and got up just in time to catch Kanthaka to win by a neck.
Sweet Melania, a daughter of American Pharoah who broke her maiden on the turf at Saratoga last year, led all the way under Jose Ortiz to win the Grade III Wonder Again at a mile on the firm Widener Turf Course in her first start since the Breeders’ Cup in November.
“We weren’t going to put her on the lead, we felt that she would naturally get herself there,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “Jose did a nice job of hashing it out, and she responded well.
“We planned on giving her a little time off after the Breeders’ Cup, and things went kind of crazy for a while. We didn’t know where she would come back. We knew a distance like a mile was what we were looking for, so when this race came out, we pointed toward this.”
Decorated Invader, who broke his maiden at Saratoga Race Course last year, won the Grade II Pennine Ridge at a mile on the turf under Joel Rosario.
“He’s been a top-class horse, even last year,” trainer Christophe Clement said. “He was very unlucky in the Breeders’ Cup. He won a Grade I in Canada. He won at Gulfstream this year. He won one today and I think he’s good enough to do a mile, a mile and a quarter. I could be wrong, but I think he’ll stay [longer distances].”
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott reached the 5,000 career victory milestone when Moon Over Miami won the third race at Churchill Downs.
He ranks seventh in all-time wins in North America behind Dale Baird (9,445), Steve Asmussen (8,873), Jerry Hollendorfer (7,651), Jack Van Berg (6,523), King Leatherbury (6,503) and Scott Lake (6,104).