By Nicholas Godfrey
So you know this was a Belmont Stakes like no other – won by Tiz The Law. You know it was run as the first leg of the Triple Crown instead of the last, at a mile and an eighth rather than a mile and a half. But here’s some other stuff you might like to know. Note to readers: also features a new G1 star in Gamine.
What’s going on?
Tiz The Law imposes sense of order
A notable sense of certainty amid the topsy-turvy disorder of the 2020 Triple Crown surrounded Tiz The Law’s thoroughly dominant victory in the 152nd edition of America’s oldest Classic.
Regarded as a major contender for the US Classics even back in the old days before coronavirus threw everything into disarray, the Florida Derby winner was all business in the Belmont.
Trained by 82-year-old Barclay Tagg, Tiz The Law was sent off odds-on favourite for the $1 million contest. He sat handy throughout under Puerto Rican rider Manny Franco before taking command at the head of the stretch ahead of a professional 3¾-length triumph over Dr Post at an eerily quiet behind-closed-doors Belmont Park.
In taking his career record to five out of six, the son of Constitution stopped the clock in 1m46.53s. Third place went to Max Player, a length and a half behind Dr Post.
Travers first, then Kentucky Derby
After such a decisive effort, Tiz The Law is hot favourite for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby on September 5, with bookmakers Bet365 even going a shade of odds on at 4-5.
First, though, his connections will look at the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, now due to be run on August 8, four weeks before Churchill Downs. The final leg of the Triple Crown will be the Preakness at Pimlico on October 3.
“The long-range plan would be the Travers, the Derby and then the Preakness,” said Barclay Tagg. “After that, they’ll probably want me to take him to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Kentucky Derby betting (Coral): 6-4 Tiz The Law, 4 Honor A.P., 10 Authentic, 16 Cezanne, Max Player, 20 bar.
New York, New York is home, sweet home
It cannot be denied that it felt rather bizarre to hear Frank Sinatra’s ‘Theme from New York, New York’ being blasted across barren stands.
However, that this was a hometown victory cannot be denied as Tiz The Law was the first New York-bred horse to win the New York Classic for 138 years since Forester in 1882.
‘I’m glad I lived long enough to get a horse like this!’
Quote of the day must go to Tiz The Law’s octogenarian trainer Barclay Tagg, who has a deserved reputation as a man of few words.
“I’m just glad I lived long enough to get a horse like this,” he said. “I wanted to have a Belmont victory before I gave it up or died, or something like that.”
And the lack of atmosphere? “I’m not trying to be a jerk about it,” added Tagg. “But I thought the quiet, to me, was very nice.”
Memories of Funny Cide
Tiz The Law carries the colours of the Sackatoga Stable syndicate run by Jackson Knowlton, who earned racing fame in 2003 when popular New York-bred gelding Funny Cide (also trained by Tagg) won the first two legs of the Triple Crown before being defeated in a muddy Belmont.
Knowlton bought Tiz The Law for $110,000 at Fasig-Tipton in Saratoga in 2018.
Acorn: Gamine’s stunning 18¾-length tour de force
An utterly spectacular performance from Gamine (Bob Baffert/John Velazquez), who took her unbeaten record to three in the G1 Acorn with an astonishing all-the-way victory in stakes record time by the small matter of 18¾ lengths.
Sent off 7-10 favourite, the daughter of Into Mischief stopped the clock in 1m32.55s – a stakes record, and just 0.31s off the one-mile track record at the ‘Big Sandy’.
Both trainer Bob Baffert and jockey John Velazquez were winning the Acorn for the fifth time.
“We always knew she was that kind of filly,” said Baffert, speaking to the Daily Racing Form from southern California. “That was cool. I’m excited. She showed her stuff.”
Gamine is now as short as 11-8 favourite with bookmakers Coral for the rescheduled Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on September 4 – though such was her performance that there may well be calls for her to be tested in the Kentucky Derby 24 hours later.
Oaklawn victory still under scrutiny
Lest it be forgotten, Gamine’s second career victory at Oaklawn Park is still under review.
Alongside her stablemate Charlatan, who is now sidelined through injury, the filly is believed to be the second Baffert-trained horse to have tested positive for a banned substance on the Arkansas Derby card on May 2. Officials are awaiting the results of the split sample before any judgement is issued.
But if the Oaklawn victory is still under official scrutiny, the Acorn brooked no dissent as to Gamine’s talent. “We had to make a statement,” Baffert told the Form. Gamine did that all right.
Jaipur: Oleksandra gets Breeders’ Cup berth
Team Valor’s much travelled mare Oleksandra (Neil Drysdale/Joel Rosario) earned a guaranteed place in the Breeders’ Cup starting gate with a last-to-first success in the G1 Jaipur.
Having started life in Australia, the five-year-old is now trained by the Californian-based Englishman Neil Drysdale. With a time of 1m06.74s, she was only .06s off the track record.
As part of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge, the winner of the Jaipur receives an all-expenses paid trip to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland in November.
Shall we talk about it?
Barclay Tagg (Tiz The Law’s trainer): “It looked to me like everything just went like clockwork. 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. We discussed it quickly before I put him up on the horse and I felt very confident Manny would ride him that way. I felt pretty solid about halfway down the lane. It’s a good feeling.”
Manny Franco (Tiz The Law’s jockey): “I was pretty confident by the time we hit the seven-eighths pole. He was so kind and relaxed for me. He was so comfortable and never got keen, so I think that was the key.”
Jack Knowlton (managing partner of Sackatoga Stables, Tiz The Law’s owners): “It’s tremendous. We just buy New York-breds, that’s our game. We don’t spend a lot of money. We’ve been with Barclay Tagg for 25 years. I keep telling everybody Barclay doesn’t get a lot of big horses and big opportunities, but when he gets them he knows what to do.”
Jimmy Barnes (assistant to Gamine’s trainer Bob Baffert): “It was an amazing race out of her, especially coming into a Grade 1 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.
“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.”
John Velazquez (Gamine’s jockey): “She’s a little bit on the aggressive side, but I let her relax around the backstretch. Once we got to the five-sixteenths pole I let her run. By the quarter-pole she opened up so quickly I had to look back. She’s very nice and professional. I wish they were all that easy.”
Neil Drysdale (Oleksandra’s trainer): “She had been training really well into this race. She is so much fun to watch race; she makes life very exciting. At Santa Anita, going five and a half furlongs, it’s very difficult to run down speed. We were pleased with the way she ran and that’s why we sent her to Belmont.”
• Find out more at the NYRA/Belmont Park website