SARATOGA SPRINGS — Robin Smullen, trainer Barclay Tagg’s assistant, was just about back to the barn with a 2-year-old who had galloped at 8 a.m. Sunday when the colt dumped her and took off in the backstretch.
Somebody caught the loose horse, Smullen dusted herself off and moved on to the next set.
“I did everything I could to stay on,” she said. “He’s just big and leggy and all over the place.”
Halfway down the shedrow, the commotion didn’t even register with Tiz the Law, who was allowed to sleep in and dictate the morning on his own terms.
He earned it, as the red carnation Travers blanket fringed in white draped over a rail attested.
The bay colt with the enormous blaze of white on his forehead and nose — and enormous blaze of glory during his 2020 racing season — will get 10 easy days to rebound from the Travers before Tagg cranks up his training again for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby.
By winning the 151st Travers by 5 1/2 lengths at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, Tiz the Law solidified his status as the top 3-year-old in North America. The allure of the Derby will be powerful for other contenders, but everyone will go in knowing that there’s a good chance that second place might be the best outcome.
Tiz the Law was that good on Saturday, and has been all season. So now it’s back to the daily routine as Saratoga Springs-based Sackatoga Stable looks forward to duplicating their 2003 Derby win with Funny Cide.
“It was probably the most confident I’ve ever seen Barclay going into a race,” said Sackatoga operating manager Jack Knowlton, who has been working with Tagg for 20 years.
“And he was right. We went to the Belmont, and he wanted a mile and a half. So, mile and a quarter, watching him in his breezes, watching him in his races, it looked like a mile and a quarter would be right in his wheelhouse. He showed that yesterday.”
“It’s something pretty great, isn’t it, to see him finish like that. I was very pleased,” Tagg said.
“I expected it, in a way. I thought if this horse is what I think he is, he should do this, easily. I didn’t think he’d do it that easily, but … Of course, bad things can flash through your mind, too.”
Tiz the Law earned a 109 Beyer speed figure despite the fact that jockey Manny Franco stopped asking Tiz the Law for acceleration just outside the sixteenth pole and let his momentum carry him to the wire while facing no threat from the other six horses.
His final time of 2:00.95 was one of the fastest in the history of the race, which has been run at a mile and a quarter 118 times.
Tagg said Tiz the Law will stay in Saratoga until a Monday, Aug. 31 Tex Sutton flight to Louisville.
The colt will get two or three breeze workouts in once he gets past a week and a half of the easy life. By 9 a.m. Sunday, Tiz the Law was out of his stall under the watchful eye of groom Juan Barajas for a bath and some time grazing on grass.
Sent off at odds of 1-2, Tiz the Law stallked the early pace and powered away from the field when Franco asked him to on the second turn.
“I kind of pictured the horse being at his best laying second or third, just off the leader, and I figured the leader would be Baffert’s horse [Uncle Chuck],” Tagg said. “So, we discussed that quickly, Manny and myself, and that’s exactly what he did, and it worked out.
“I was very pleased with the way he ran it. He did everything a good horse ought to do. I don’t know how else to describe it.”
“Manny’s not even trying the last sixteenth of a mile,” Knowlton said. “He’s saving him for Louisville.
“This horse is scary good. Now he’s got half of the so-called Quadruple Crown, let’s see what happens. People say the Belmont is a mile and an eighth, it’s not a legitimate Belmont, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda. Well, now they can’t say it wasn’t a legitimate Travers.”
Sackatoga Stable won the 2003 Derby and Preakness with Funny Cide, who lost his Triple Crown when he was third to Empire Maker in the Belmont.
Knowlton already plans to revive the yellow school bus tradition from 2003, when the Sackatoga partners used one to get around Louisville during Derby weekend.
There are 35 partners invested in Tiz the Law.
“It’s just crazy,” said one of them, Rick Funaro of Clifton Park, who was among the dozen Tiz the Law owners visiting the colt on Sunday. “You get involved in this, you win a race at Saratoga, that’s all you want. I don’t know if anybody even dared, in their wildest dreams, to say, ‘You know, we could win a Derby with Sackatoga Stable.’ You don’t think like that, because to a certain degree — and Jack has said it — we’ve already had lightning in a bottle. What are the chances of hitting it again?”
The Sackatoga partners hit the town on Saturday night, and by Sunday morning, Knowlton said he was still getting a flood of congratulations.
He said he didn’t bother to bring his phone out with him on Saturday, and found “60-70 texts, 40-50 emails and I don’t know how many missed calls.”
“Oh. It was crazy,” Knowlton said. “I picked up newspapers this morning, and three people there said something. It’s crazy. It’s a ride that I never thought in any way, shape or form could ever happen again.”
“Oh, yeah, I was very impressed, and very happy for Barclay and Robin and all the owners,” said trainer Chad Brown, whose colt Country Grammer was fifth. “I think they’re great for the sport. Barclay and Robin, they’ve been friendly with me since I worked for [Bobby] Frankel. Just nice people. They’re hard workers, and there staff is, but they’ve done a really good job with that horse.
“I hope he stays healthy and in as good of condition as we saw him yesterday, for their sake and for horse racing’s sake. He’ll be tough to beat, but it is horse racing. You just never know, race to race. “
Brown said Country Grammer would not go to the Kentucky Derby and that he believed the quick three-week turnaround from his Peter Pan win on opening day to Travers Day may have had some effect on how he ran.
“He got a beautiful trip, he just didn’t fire,” he said. “No excuse. I got the trip I wanted. We were following Baffert’s horse out of the gate. We figured he’d go out there. I got a good trip on the inside saving all the ground, like he did in the Peter Pan. He just didn’t fire.
“Everyone was running for second as it turned out anyway. Running back in three weeks, he didn’t handle it well. So he was never going to be a factor to win, but I thought he’d have more of an impact with the rest of the field. So we gave it a shot, I thought it was worth a shot, but I got a beautiful trip. I don’t have any excuses that way.”
Caracaro, who was second to Tiz the Law, will advance to the Derby.
“Well, I don’t think there is any horse around that can be at that same level as this horse right now,” assistant trainer Gustavo Delgado Jr. said. “I don’t think it will change much in a month. But again, it’s one horse, and we all know anything can happen. It will be a long four weeks, especially for the guys that will have the pressure on them. So he looked like the best horse — he was the best horse — but it’s a long four weeks, for everybody.”
Trainer Linda Rice said she’ll keep the Derby option open for third-place finisher Max Player, who was also third to Tiz the Law in the Belmont.