SARATOGA SPRINGS — The fastest mover out of trainer Barclay Tagg’s barn this weekend was a car parked there Friday night, inhabited by a couple of people, presumably with amorous purpose.
Tagg was making his daily inspection rounds at 8:30 and chased the car out of there, his aggravation compounded by the fact that its headlights happened to be shining right into Tiz the Law’s stall.
The only reason the Belmont Stakes and Travers winner didn’t move faster than that the following morning is because a brief but intense rainstorm postponed his scheduled breeze until Sunday. Tiz the Law will have his first serious workout on the main track in the early Sunday hours in preparation for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby.
He still got out for an easy gallop of a mile and three-quarters under assistant trainer Robin Smullen, and continues to maintain a smooth path through his summer training and racing progression toward a possible Triple Crown. Saturday’s change of plans barely qualified as a hiccup.
“He’s been perfect,” Tagg said. “He’s a classy horse.”
“Robin said he was fine on the track, so he got his little gallop in, and we’ll wait another day,” said Jack Knowlton, Sackatoga Stable’s operations manager. “If you had three days of this, it might’ve been frustrating, but it’s not a big deal.”
Tiz the Law had three breezes between the June 20 Belmont and the Aug. 8 Travers, and will get just two now that the racing schedule remains compressed to four-week gaps.
The objective now is to keep his fitness at an optimal level without asking him to do too much when it is time for the more serious works.
“I got three workouts between the Belmont and Travers, and we’ll only get two here, but these [races] will be pushed together a little closer,” Tagg said. “He’s had some good racing, and it’s like the old boys say: You don’t want to squeeze the lemon.
“It’s hard to tell. I always like to give them 10 or 12 days off after a race, especially a hard race. Not that it seemed that hard to him, but it was a hard race. It was all the best horses running against him. If you come right back in seven days, like we usually work them, maybe he wouldn’t have been ready for that. We’ve got a tough schedule coming up, and just have to hope he can maybe do a little lighter thing like we’re doing and he can still handle it.”
Tagg’s barn has security cameras trained on the whole shedrow and an extra one just on Tiz the Law’s stall from across the walking ring.
He and Smullen can keep tabs on him through a live feed on their laptop computer.
“We usually check it to see if he’s sleeping,” Smullen said.
Tagg still checks the barn every night in person, too, not just for Tiz the Law, but as a general practice for the decades he has been training.
“I look at him morning, noon and night,” Tagg said. “I came back here last night around 8:30, and there was two lovers down there shining a bright light right in his stall, and I went nuts on them. It was just some couple. They left rather hurriedly.
“You’ve just got so many things to worry about all the time. What I’m trying to point out is you get no rest. So if you see me grumpy sometimes, you know why.”
Another Derby contender, Travers runner-up Caracaro, was able to sneak in a breeze despite the storm, covering five furlongs in 1:01.02 for trainer Gustavo Delgado.
“We wanted something easy,” assistant trainer Gustavo Delgado Jr. said. “In his first work after the Travers, we just want to see where we’re at. “Ideally, we’ll have Javier [Castellano] aboard next Saturday. We’ll see during the week how he comes back from this work and where his energy level is at, but so far, he’s doing well.”
SACKATOGA IN LIMBO
As far as traveling to watch the Derby, the Sackatoga owners are waiting for any new restrictions, after Churchill Downs announced on Friday that no fans would be allowed.
Churchill had put together a plan to let 40% capacity of its grandstand in — about 23,000 people — but a spike in COVID-19 positives in Kentucky led to the decision to close the gates to spectators.
How that affects owners remains to be seen. A limited number of owners, including a group of Sackatoga partners who watched Tiz the Law on Travers Day, have been allowed at Saratoga since early in the meet.
Knowlton said a traveling party of 60-70 Sackatoga people — not all with track access — were prepared to be in Louisville for the Derby.
“We’re waiting to find out what the ground rules are going to be,” Knowlton said. “They seem to leave a crack open that there would be owners there, but until I hear it and see it and know what the ground rules are, we’re waiting.
“How strict is it going to be? Will it be like NYRA, where it’s only licensed owners? I don’t know. Whatever the opportunities will be, we’ll take advantage of them. We have a lot of people who want to be there.
“No one can predict, in the world of a pandemic, what’s going to happen. That’s just the reality.”
No, racing fan Dave Vellante did not sneak into Saratoga Race Course on Saturday by squeezing between the iron fence bars circling the grounds.
He was skinny enough to pull it off, though.
Actually, that wasn’t him in the winner’s circle for the trophy presentation after the eighth race, it was a full-body cardboard cutout facsimile of Vellante, a Union College graduate who lives in the Boston area.
Saturday was his 60th birthday, so his friend Joe Garofalo hatched the perfect gift idea by securing naming rights to the eighth race, a common practice for people who wish to pay tribute to a friend or family member. He went the extra yard by having the cutout shipped to the track so Vellante could “participate” in the trophy presentation.
Winning jockey Joel Rosario smiled and put his arm around the “shoulders” of “Vellante” — nicknamed Two Star Dave, for being the two-legged version of the racehorse Fourstardave.
“I was glad I was able to pull it off for my good friend Dave,” Garofalo said by phone from his home in Atlanta. “He’s such a great guy, I had to figure out a way to get him in there.”