SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was the smallest margin of victory of the year for Tiz the Law.
Trainer Barclay Tagg hustled him onto the track on Saturday morning, Tiz the Law hustled around it, and the colt arrived back at the barn to beat the early-morning rain by a nose.
The Belmont Stakes and Travers winner breezed five furlongs in 59.21 seconds on the Saratoga main track under exercise rider Heather Smullen, a razor-sharp workout that should set him up nicely for next Saturday’s 146th Kentucky Derby.
Based on a weather forecast that called for rain starting late Friday night and lasting all day on Saturday, Tagg had planned to use Sunday for Tiz the Law’s final serious published work.
When the rain held off Saturday, Tagg had Tiz the Law on the track at the crack of 5:30, and it worked out so perfectly — that word keeps coming up with regard to this horse — that it actually started raining as soon as Smullen got Tiz the Law back to the shedrow.
The horse who hasn’t won a race by fewer than three lengths during a 4-for-4 2020 season beat Mother Nature on Saturday by the slimmest of margins.
“Same thing, he worked very nicely,” Tagg said. “The track was nice. That’s why we went out early, because we talked to the track man at 4 o’clock this morning, he said he was going to back-rake it twice, and it was a fast track. A little faster than you’d like, maybe, but the horse handled it fine, he worked good, I was very happy with him and he came out of it good.
“Certainly, it’s a relief. But we had to do it one of the two days, and we had no idea what it was going to be like tomorrow. We just thought if the track was good this morning, we’d take him out and work him.”
“The work was great,” Sackatoga Stable managing partner Jack Knowlton said. “He worked like he usually works. Just a tick under 59, and we got lucky. We beat the rain. Looking at it yesterday, we didn’t think we were going to be able to work today, but fortunately I woke up this morning and got a text from [assistant trainer] Robin [Smullen], she said the track looks good and … 5:30. So I came over, and it couldn’t have been better.”
Under a black sky 47 minutes before sunrise, Heather Smullen guided Tiz the Law onto the main track, barked out a little “Hey” as they approached the five-eighths pole, then gave the colt a “Good boooy” as he galloped out the next time around, having finished the fastest breeze of five that Tiz the Law has worked at Saratoga since July 18.
“He was playing around a little bit [at first],” Smullen said. “He was just having fun, and I’m like, ‘C’mon, we gotta go.’ ‘Oh, OK.’ And then off he goes. He just feels good. He’s a horse, they play. If they were dead-headed all the time, you’d be worried.
“He just goes out there and does his job. Don’t have to have to ask him for anything. He just has a high cruising speed.”
Tagg appeared to be in a bit of a pickle for this work, based on the weather forecast.
Monday remained an option, but Tiz the Law is scheduled to fly to Kentucky that day, so working him that morning would’ve only been a last resort.
A little window of opportunity presented itself first thing in the morning on Saturday, so they used it.
“I didn’t want to get to that if I could possibly help it,” Tagg said of a Monday breeze.
“You hate to deviate from your plan,” Knowlton said. “With the weather, you didn’t know what the track would be tomorrow [Sunday].
“He worked the way we expected to work. You know what you’re going to get every time you put him on the racetrack.”
Tagg will start his long drive to Louisville on Sunday, and the horse will follow on Monday, with Heather Smullen also on that flight.
Most of the Derby horses are already on the grounds at Churchill Downs.
Tiz the Law will arrive as a heavy favorite.
The Derby post-position draw will be held on Tuesday.
“Well, I read yesterday that [oddsmaker] Mike Battaglia’s thinking about making us even money,” Knowlton said. “When you get a horse that merits that kind of respect, it’s a little daunting, to be honest with you. It’s a little different from Funny Cide, when we went off at 12-1. So there’s a lot of high expectations and some pressure when you’ve got a big favorite like that.
“But everything he’s done and everything he’s telling us now, he’s going to be ready for it. We know it’s the Derby, 18, 19, 20 horses, a lot of things can happen. But it doesn’t look like he can come into this any better than he is. We’re excited, and hopefully we can check another box.”
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