SARATOGA SPRINGS — Jack Knowlton’s voice got a little wistful Wednesday morning as he acknowledged that the canoe bearing the colors of Sackatoga Stable will only be floating in the Saratoga Race Course infield pond for a few more days.
The canoe has been in the pond for a little more than a year, setting sail a few days after Tiz the Law scored a dominating win in the 2020 Travers Stakes for Sackatoga, the ownership group that Saratoga Springs resident Knowlton has been the operating manager of since 1995.
The Sackatoga colors will soon be replaced by those of the horse that will emerge from Saturday’s seven-horse Travers field, but the memories for Knowlton will last long beyond the emblems of Tiz the Law’s victory — both the canoe, and the lawn jockey stationed just inside the Marylou Whitney Entrance — are no longer on display on the Saratoga grounds.
“The canoe will be gone, but we got a lot of pictures of that,” Knowlton said. “Just great memories. Little Sackatoga Stable, that only has New York-breds, we’re players.”
Tiz-Mania swept the Capital Region in 2020 as, 17 years after the humble Sackatoga partnership won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Funny Cide before coming up short of the Triple Crown in the Belmont and missing the Travers due to illness, Tiz the Law stamped himself as the class of the year’s 3-year-old crop in a season shuffled around by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The colt came into Saratoga having already won the Florida Derby and Belmont Stakes, with the buzz reaching such a fever pitch that a local resident, Bob Giordano, tacked on placards celebrating Tiz the Law on the four stop signs at the intersection of Nelson and York avenues in Saratoga Springs for a brief period last July before they were taken down by the city.
“The town was ‘Tiz this, Tiz that,’” Knowlton said. “Everything was Tiz.”
Travers Day itself was a surreal affair, moved up by three weeks from its usual spot on the penultimate Saturday of the Saratoga meet, but also turning the Midsummer Derby into a de facto prep for a rescheduled, Labor Day weekend running of the Kentucky Derby.
The pandemic also meant that, unlike this Saturday when 40-50,000 fans will pack the Spa for Travers Day, Tiz the Law’s resounding victory on Aug. 8, 2020 came in front of a fanless grandstand, with only a few owners — including 18 representing Sackatoga — allowed on the premises to watch.
“I knew all the support was there, even without the crowd,” jockey Manny Franco said following the Travers victory. “I felt everyone was watching me.”
It was an especially sweet moment for Knowlton, who said he’s attended every Travers since 1969 — only missing out in 1980 — even if some of the atmosphere was missing.
“We were ecstatic,” Knowlton said. “Winning the biggest race at our home track was such an accomplishment. We were all disappointed we couldn’t have 50,000 people there, because it would’ve been a madhouse.
“It would’ve been a raucous Travers if we’d been able to have people. But, we’ll take it. We got to be there ourselves, 18 of us, and got to have a little drink of champagne afterwards.”
Not only did Tiz the Law win the 151st Travers, he did so in dominant fashion.
The son of Constitution won the 1 ¼-mile race by 5 ½ lengths, tying for the fifth-fastest time in the races history while Franco geared him down as he cruised through the stretch run.
Team Tiz was at the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame across Union Avenue on Tuesday for a signing, and Knowlton got a chance to reflect with Franco about Tiz the Law’s shining performance.
“[Franco] looked back and there was nobody coming,” Knowlton said. “He sat there and let him carry him over the finish line. He didn’t ask him for anything.”
That dominant win in the Travers was also the last victory of Tiz the Law’s career.
Four weeks later at Churchill Downs in a Kentucky Derby ran on the first Saturday in September, rather than the first Saturday in May, Tiz the Law was second-best to Authentic. He then skipped the Preakness and trained up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but ultimately finished sixth in that race.
Still, winning a Belmont and a Travers — New York’s two biggest 3-year-old prizes, and the two that Sackatoga missed out on the first time around with Funny Cide — helped make up for it.
“Everything was weird last year,” Knowlton said. “The best-laid plans got derailed with the pandemic, of course. . . . Obviously, we were disappointed to not win the Derby a second time, but winning the Belmont and winning the Travers, those were pretty nice consolation prizes.”
Plans were in place for Tiz the Law to return to the track this year as a 4-year-old, but after developing severe bone bruising, the decision was made last December to send the superstar into retirement.
Tiz the Law now stands for a $40,000 stud fee at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky, where he’s neighbors with the likes of Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify.
Despite getting a late start to his career as a stallion, Knowlton said that Tiz the Law currently has 130 mares in foal.
Eventually, he hopes, “one or two” of those upcoming Tizlets will race in Sackatoga colors.
“The silver lining I look at from him retiring is that hopefully we’ll be able to have one or more of his offspring in Sackatoga a year earlier,” Knowlton said. “Three years down the road, we’re hoping that we’ll have some little Tizes in the barn.”
And maybe one of those offspring, or one of the up-and-coming horses currently being trained for Sackatoga by Barclay Tagg, will give the relatively humble ownership group famed for traveling to big races via yellow school bus another chance at glory.
“Realistically,” Knowlton said, “you can’t expect that it’s going to happen again. But, you don’t know.
“We’ll keep swinging at it.”
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