By Nicholas Godfrey
Travers day at Saratoga was illuminated by a pair of spectacular displays as Kentucky Derby favourite Tiz The Law slammed his rivals in the $1 million feature and star filly Gamine was equally dominant in the G1 Test on the undercard.
Travers Stakes G1 $1m 1m2f, dirt, 3yo
Tiz The Law (Barclay Tagg/Manny Franco)
Hometown hero Tiz The Law produced a sensational display to crush his rivals in the Travers Stakes as he cruised home by nearly six lengths in Saratoga’s $1m signature contest.
Make no mistake: this was an outstanding performance from a superstar dirt horse. In a topsy-turvy season turned upside down by coronavirus, the popular New York-bred colt has provided a steadfast solidity going unbeaten in four races.
He now has four G1 victories on his CV, and he is a justifiably hot favourite for the Kentucky Derby – run this year on the first Saturday in September rather than May – with dreams of completing the Triple Crown a month later in the Preakness.
Given that Tiz The Law has already won the Belmont and Travers Stakes before running at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, we are already witnessing a US Classic campaign like no other. Throw in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in November, and it is now looking entirely possible we could see something completely extraordinary.
Certainly, 82-year-old trainer Barclay Tagg and small-scale Saratoga-based owners’ syndicate Sackatoga Stable can scarcely believe their luck to have found another top-class horse 17 years after Funny Cide won the first two legs of the Triple Crown. After being beaten at Belmont, Funny Cide missed the Travers with a fever.
Ridden with confidence by Manny Franco, Tiz The Law sat three wide until halfway as market rival Uncle Chuck set an unhurried pace.
Once Tiz The Law was allowed to stride alongside, however, the writing was on the wall. Uncle Chuck folded like the cheapest of suits – he was sixth of seven – as the 1-2 favourite went on to score eased down by 5½ lengths from staying-on Caracaro in a time of 2m0.95s.
Shall we talk about it?
Barclay Tagg (Tiz The Law’s trainer): “I thought Manny rode him just right. Both Manny and I thought another horse would go with him, the Baffert horse. It’s the way I thought he would be all along. I thought he’d have to come to Uncle Chuck into the stretch and he would go by him if he quit. It went so easy for him, which is fine with me, too. The easier, the better.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve always wanted to win the Travers. This has been in my head my whole life and now it happened so it couldn’t be better.”
Manny Franco (Tiz The Law’s jockey): “I didn’t expect a race like that, but we’ll take it. He ran huge. He was there the whole way for me and I was just waiting for the moment because it is a long way to go – a mile and a quarter – and he hasn’t gone that distance before, so I’m trying to save as much horse as I could before I made my move.
“I had a lot in the tank and I was just trying to save horse, because there’s still three or four more races to go, so I have to save some horse. He became part of my family, this horse. He’s unbelievable and I’ve never been on a horse in my career like this one. I’m enjoying the moment.
“He gave me chills. When I pressed the button, he just took off. He accelerated really hard. After that, I took a peek back and he was going away and I just saved horse.”
Jack Knowlton (operating manager of Sackatoga Stable, Tiz The Law’s owners): “To be in the race and to be 1-2, there’s a lot of pressure. We had well-wishers from everywhere. We saw a performance today that just blows me away. We know we had a nice horse. We thought we had the best horse. To do what he did today, we’re looking forward to going to Kentucky now. We’re getting redemption 17 years later – Tiz won the Belmont, now he won the Travers. This is the greatest springboard to move on to Kentucky and I think he’s proven today that he certainly is a mile and a quarter horse and Barclay has said that all along.”
Saratoga: Test Stakes G1 $300,000 7f, dirt, 3yo fillies
Gamine (Bob Baffert/John Velazquez)
Another wide-margin victory for star filly Gamine, still never headed in four races (albeit one DQ at Oaklawn) as she easily handled high-class rival Venetian Harbor entering the stretch and then eased clear to score in a time of 1m20.83s.
Straightforward indeed but brilliant nonetheless from the 3-10 favourite. While it might not have been the 18¾ lengths of her breathtaking success in the Acorn Stakes on her previous outing, the margin was hardly shabby at seven lengths.
Although the Kentucky Oaks is a two-turn race over two extra furlongs, Gamine was quoted at 4-6 for the fillies’ Classic on September 4.
John Velazquez (Gamine’s jockey): “Obviously, she’s very good; you love to be on these kinds of horses. Bob said she breaks well and to kind of let her do her thing. If another horse wants to go too fast, we just let her sit second and she’ll be fine sitting second. But she broke so good and the other horse [Venetian Harbor] kind of stayed right next to me and didn’t press the pace very much, so I just kind of let her do what she wanted to do the first quarter-mile. Once we got to the turn, I let her get into the turn and she got really comfortable and really smooth and got away from the other horse and kept going.”
Jimmy Barnes (assistant to Gamine’s trainer Bob Baffert): “She’s rising straight to the top. For what she’s accomplished so far for such a lightly raced filly, we look forward to stretching her out and see what comes of that.”
Saratoga: Ballerina Stakes G1 $300,000 7f, dirt, 3yo+ f/m
Serengeti Empress (Tom Amoss/Luis Saez)
A remarkable effort from Serengeti Empress as the four-year-old recorded her first G1 success since last year’s Kentucky Oaks. Often derided as a one-dimensional front-runner – albeit a fast one – she missed a beat at the gate and had to be ridden hard to get the lead after a furlong.
Although enervating fractions ensued (21.75s, 43.73s) as she was harried by Mexican sensation Letruska, Serengeti Empress was not for turning and held the challenge of favoured Bellafina by a length. The Ballerina is a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Tom Amoss (Serengeti Empress’s trainer): “That was very valiant. She didn’t break on time; she was a step slow. I really thought that opening half-mile was going to be her doing in. I thought we learned a lot about her today. What we learned is that this is a real good middle-distance filly. I look forward to staying at the seven-eighths distance, maybe getting one more start in her before the Breeders’ Cup.”
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