SARATOGA SPRINGS — Typically, Saturday morning on the Saratoga Race Course backstretch is a madhouse of activity, horses everywhere, trams pulling fans around on tours, owners eager to watch their horses train.
Since most of the big stakes races take place on Saturdays, trainers also use that day to send out their best horses for serious workouts, in keeping with a week-to-week schedule of breezes leading up to the next race.
Jack Knowlton scanned his surroundings on the almost barren backstretch Saturday morning, and observed, “This is so weird. It’s like a private screening.”
However few sets of eyes were there, they probably were watching Sackatoga Stable’s Tiz the Law, who gave everyone an eyeful with a monster five-furlong workout in 59.63, the fastest of 20 workouts at that distance on the main track on Saturday.
It was his first strenuous public workout since winning the Belmont Stakes on June 20, but it didn’t seem at all hard on the New York-bred Tiz the Law, who will next race in the Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 8. On the contrary, trainer Barclay Tagg, Knowlton and exercise rider Heather Smullen agreed that Tiz the Law looked and acted like a horse who wanted to keep going.
But game plans are game plans, so Smullen got Tiz the Law to gradually decelerate through a robust gallop-out in 1:12 and 3 seconds for six furlongs and 1:25 and 4 for seven furlongs, on the stopwatch of assistant trainer Robin Smullen, Heather’s aunt.
“I thought the work was good, didn’t you?” Tagg said with a grin. “We were looking for a nice work like that, and he did it just right. Everything was right. The time was good, Heather rode him good.”
“He doesn’t look like a tired horse, does he?” said Knowlton, the Sackatoga operating partner. “Scary.
“You saw him come back from the work, he’s hardly blowing. It’s pretty amazing. Everything you ask him to do, he does it, he seems to do it effortlessly. If we can keep him healthy and sound, it’s going to give us a lot to look forward to in three weeks, and hopefully four weeks after that.”
Tiz the Law is undefeated from three starts in 2020 and is the top 3-year-old male in North America. After the Travers, he’s scheduled to resume his quest for the Triple Crown in the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5 and the Preakness on Oct. 3.
He had two easy breezes at Belmont Park to get back into the swing of things following the Belmont, but Saturday’s work, his first at Saratoga since arriving on Monday, had purpose behind it, and Tiz the Law fulfilled it.
Jockey Manny Franco usually would have been in the saddle, but with new COVID-19 restrictions, jockeys aren’t allowed on the backstretch, and if they’re assigned to a workout, they have to meet the horse in the paddock.
The Tiz the Law camp decided it wasn’t worth making the colt walk halfway around the track for that, when Tagg’s barn is less than 100 yards from the track. Plus, Heather Smullen, who worked Tiz the Law when he was wintering at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Florida, was available.
It was the first time she had been on his back in three months, and she said, “He’s so much stronger than he was in Florida,” as they walked back to the barn.
“It’s pretty noticeable,” she said. “You can just feel he’s maturing and getting older and doing everything the right way. Like, everything you ask him to do, he just does. And he feels really good doing it. He does whatever you tell him to do, and still on the bridle, and you have more horse.”
So much more horse that Tiz the Law needed some extra coaxing to be convinced that the workout was officially over, especially when he got to the clubhouse turn and some other horses were beginning to break off to start their works.
“He always likes a target. He was like, ‘We can go past them, too,'” Smullen said. “And I said, ‘We don’t need to, though. We can stop now.’ He’s not easy to pull up, but he doesn’t do it in a bad way. He’s a really good horse, and good horses want to do that. He’s not a run-off or anything, but he’s like, ‘No, we can keep going.’ He would go around again if you let him.”
“I thought he looked great [on the gallop-out]; I was glad I didn’t have to catch him,” Tagg joked.
That supports the opinion of the Tiz the Law connections that he would’ve had no difficulty if the Belmont Stakes had been kept at a mile and a half, instead of cut back to a mile and an eighth because of the disrupted training and race schedule in the spring.
“Anybody who watched that race, if you were to try to make the case that, if it was a mile and a half that day, he wouldn’t have won it, I’d like to hear the case they’d make,” Knowlton said.
Owners were allowed on the backstretch for training hours as of Friday, when the New York Racing Association was given permission by the New York Gaming Commission to let in a limited number of people.
Knowlton had not seen his horse work in person since March at Palm Meadows.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “When you get a good horse like this, it’s pretty exciting to get to see him do that.
“I saw him work here last summer before he ever ran. That’s what really impressed me. He galloped out, and more horses, particularly most 2-year-olds, they don’t do that. He did it, and turned out he was a real good horse going forward. One little hiccup. Other than that, five [wins] out of six [starts], and hopefully make it six out of seven in the Travers.”
As of Saturday, Sunday’s card at Saratoga was expected to be run as scheduled.
The National Weather Service forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-90s, with a heat index pushing 100. A heat advisory will be in effect from 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
The New York Racing Association works with a professional meteorological service that develops real-time forecasts specifically for the location of Saratoga Race Course. It also follows the guidance from the New York State Gaming Commission, which has guidelines for heat management at race tracks.
Those guidelines say that when the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration heat index reaches 105 degrees, the track veterinarian is to advise stewards, judges and management that dangerous conditions exist. NOAA is the parent agency of the National Weather Service.
Delaware Park announced on Saturday that it would cancel its Monday card because of the heat.
AUTHENTIC HANGS ON
Authentic and jockey Mike Smith appeared to be in the clear for the victory in the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, but Ny Traffic had other ideas.
The New York-bred Ny Traffic made a big charge inside the sixteenth pole to come close, but Authentic held on for a nose victory, as trainer Bob Baffert’s top remaining Kentucky Derby prospect got back into the winner’s circle after finishing second to Honor A. P. in the Santa Anita Derby.
“He’s a colt with an abundance of talent,” Smith told the Monmouth Park media staff. “Ability is something he does not lack. But what he is lacking right now, he’s learning. He’s growing up.
“Once that horse started to come at him, I wanted to get into him a little bit just to get him going. If he was going to start playing again I thought ‘I just better stay riding and hope he could hang on at that point’ — which he did. I rode him well past the wire just to show him to keep running. I didn’t want to think it was over when he hit the wire.”
“I’m just so proud of him, but I was like everybody else, telling Mike, ‘You better stay after him. You’d better keep busy,’ Baffert said in a phone interview with Monmouth Park. “He looks at everything, as we’ve seen in his past races. I could tell he wasn’t focused going down the stretch, but he held on. He saw that horse coming to him and he took off again.”
For finishing second, Ny Traffic earned 40 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, so trainer Saffie Joseph said they’ll proceed accordingly toward that goal.
“We were a head in front right after the bob at the wire,” he said. “I just want to keep going forward. That’s the important thing. Hopefully all goes well to the Kentucky Derby and we’re living the dream.”