SARATOGA SPRINGS — When’s the last time you had a bad day?
OK, never mind that. The year 2020 may go down as a time when everybody seemed to have a bad day every day, to some degree.
But if you’re Tiz the Law … well, it’s been awhile.
In fact, when I asked trainer Barclay Tagg exactly that last week, the only thing he could come up with happened over five months ago.
These days, it’s easy to believe that anything can be too good to be true, but I’m going to keep a little faith this time and pick Tiz the Law on top in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday.
Not exactly going out on a limb — he’s even money on the morning line — but the urge to hug a tree trunk and not let go seems strong lately.
And he has been solid as an oak in every way a racehorse can be, at least within the limitations of what the people around him can read and try to interpret.
The word “perfect” keeps coming up, referring to his workouts, which we have been on hand for the last three weeks, his disposition, his health. And all of the unlucky stuff that is out of Tagg’s control has been sitting this one out so far, so I’m willing (perhaps desperate) to wager that it will continue on through shortly after 6:15 p.m. on Saturday.
The “bad day” in question occurred in Florida shortly after Tiz the Law had won the Grade III Holy Bull by three lengths on Feb. 1.
His first published work in the wake of the Holy Bull was on Feb. 10, and a bruised heel kept Tiz the Law from breezing again until March 2.
That still gave him plenty of time to prepare for the March 28 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, which he won by 4 1/4 lengths.
“When we were in Florida, we had a hind shoe come loose, and he stepped on one of the nails and we had a problem with that,” Tagg said. “The owners wanted to come see him and pet him and all that kind of stuff. We had to get him over that it was little testy then, but he got right over it.”
Since then, “He has been perfect, a pleasure to work with” — there’s that word again.
“Like I say quite often, Barclay doesn’t get real good horses that often, but when he gets them, he certainly knows what to do with them,” Sackatoga Stable operating manager Jack Knowlton said. “He’s certainly proven that with this horse. Really, the only hiccup was when he stepped on a nail, and that was a temporary thing after the Holy Bull. Other than that, knock on wood, it’s been just about perfect.”
This is not to suggest that Tiz the Law is a robot, a winning machine immune to bad trips, bad luck or bad tactics.
Exhibit A is Tom’s d’Etat just a week ago.
He could’ve still lost the Whitney without a mystifying stumble out of the gate that cost him all chance, but we’ll never know, will we?
Tagg likes to quote the late Allen Jerkens: “He used to say, the only thing certain about this game is uncertainty.”
What would the fun be, anyway, if you just loaded them in the gate and they ran to their odds every time?
That said, I’m betting that the Travers will run to its odds, at least from the top two spots, which means I’ve got the clear main threat to Tiz the Law, Uncle Chuck, in second.
I have no doubt that if Tiz the Law gets in a duel in the stretch with Uncle Chuck — or anyone — he’s well-equipped to accept the challenge and prevail.
“I tell you, I have him on the strap a lot and he is out on the racetrack warming up, if another horse gets too close or something, he is not shying away from him, he’s just ‘Let me at him,’ and he doesn’t have something in front of him,” Tagg said. “That is a nice trait he has there. It’s a little hard to control him sometimes when he is out there galloping and a horse is galloping in front of him, he wants to go by him – or kill him – one or the other. It is very obvious. [Exercise rider] Heather [Smullen] talks about it all the time, she will say, ‘I was fine until we got up to that horse on the rail and then it was hard to hold him.’
“I’ve never seen him take a deep breath. I’ve never had him out of breath after a workout. I’ve never had him way out of breath after a race and he cools off very quickly. His lungs settle right down and nothing seems to be a hazard. I could be all wrong in that. It might change in another eighth of a mile, I don’t know, but I’ve got no reason to worry about it.”
Even if perfection is too much to ask, my Travers superfecta is Tiz the Law, Uncle Chuck, Caracaro, First Line.
Have a nice day.