SARATOGA SPRINGS — Thank you, Whistling Man, you mad genius.
It was one of those bright, piercing, two-fingers-in-the-mouth, wish-I-could-do-that whistles.
The privileged few of us inside the Saratoga Race Course bubble empathize with the public who have been barred from the grounds. We wish you were here, and wonder how you all are doing out there.
At least on Saturday evening, we could tell the answer was: Pretty damn good.
Tiz the Law and jockey Manny Franco trotted back around the clubhouse turn, having just blown away the competition in the 151st Travers Stakes, and the most remarkable sound escorted them all the way around the bend.
We couldn’t see them, it was just a horse, a jockey and a long green fence. The New York Racing Association, in an effort to discourage fans from gathering outside the Nelson Avenue fenceline, had installed netting, so-called “privacy screening” that messes up the view of the track, any good glimpse, distant though it is.
But they were there on this day. It could’ve been 20 people, I don’t know. But we could hear them.
I’ll always remember this just as vividly as when Rachel Alexandra “raised the rafters” upon winning the Woodward in front of over 30,000 at Saratoga in 2009.
This time, a disembodied wave of cheers followed Tiz the Law and Franco back toward the clubhouse, and as horse and rider started to peel away from the straight line of Nelson, Whistling Man pierced the air with the perfect punctuation, a sharp, loud series of sonic joy, admiration and respect.
The 2020 Travers will be marked by many benchmarks, especially after Tiz the Law dispatched six rivals for Sackatoga Stable and trainer Barclay Tagg and his loyal and dedicated crew.
Echoes of Funny Cide’s run in 2003, when he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before missing out on the Triple Crown by finishing third in the Belmont Stakes, are easy to hear.
I asked Sackatoga operating manager Jack Knowlton last week if there would be a Tiz the Law beer coming out, like they did for Funny Cide, and he chuckled and said, “No. That’s too complicated. I got the first [Funny Cide] case that came off the line. I’ve still got it.
The Old Smoke clothing line has a “Fire Up the Bus” Tiz the Law t-shirt for sale, a reference to the yellow school bus that the Sackatoga owners rode from the hotel in Louisville to Churchill Downs for the Derby in 2003. But mostly, Tiz the Law’s presence out in the public is found in the maroon face masks you can get at Stewart’s, a sign of the times if ever there was one.
“When we had Funny Cide and won the Derby, it was Funny Cide mania and everything in town was everything Funny Cide,” Knowlton said. “There was a Funny Cide store [in downtown Saratoga Springs] and everything.
“It’s taken a little time, I think, for Tiz to get to that point. I really believe after this race that he is going to be adopted, not only by Saratoga but also by New York, and hopefully the country. The mask we have with Tiz on it, we’ve been getting calls from California and all over the country; they want a Tiz the Law mask. 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.”
That’s the distance Tiz the Law ran in the Travers, and the distance he will face at Churchill in the Derby on Sept. 5.
Knowlton said they will revive the old yellow school bus tradition in Louisville, and at the Preakness, too, on Oct. 3 in Baltimore.
I’m not the only one to have made this observation, but if you’ve been here every day of the meet, one thing you notice is that every day seems the same, whether it’s Whitney Day or a middling card on a Wednesday with no stakes juice.
We feel like the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, except the Persian army never showed up.
Saturday was different.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the track to fans, but they got in, anyway, in their own way.
Tiz the Law brought them in.
There are 35 Sackatoga Stable partners in the horse, many of them local residents.
But Tiz the Law is everybody’s now.