There was no crowd at Belmont Park, so there was no roar.
But there was plenty of wow factor as Tiz the Law dominated his overmatched rivals to win the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes by nearly four lengths. The win gave Tiz the Law five triumphs in six tries and, more importantly, the first leg of the upside-down, backwards 2020 Triple Crown.
If all goes to plan, he’ll try to annex the second leg September 5 at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Derby. The third and final leg this year is, for the first time ever, the Preakness Stakes, set for Pimlico Race Course October 3.
In a modest field depleted by injuries and defections, Tiz the Law, a three-year-old colt by Constitution, towered over his nine rivals in terms of accomplishment, and he went postward at odds of 4-5 off a 6-5 morning line. Tiz the Law’s top win prior to today had been in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, his second Grade 1 triumph, which was two more than all nine of his rivals combined. He was the only one of the major prep race winners to tackle the Belmont, as the winners of the Arkansas Derby, Santa Anita Derby, and Louisiana Derby all passed for one reason or another.
In addition to the fanless atmosphere and unusual spot on the racing calendar — the Belmont is usually the finale of the Triple Crown — this year’s had the added distinction of having been shortened from the traditional 1 1/2-mile “test of the champion” to a one-turn, 1 1/8-mile contest.
One, that in the event, was no contest.
As expected, the speedy Tap It to Win, breaking from the inside gate under John Velazquez, grabbed the early lead and showed the way for the first three-quarters of a mile. Longshot Fore Left (25-1) and Jose Ortiz were just a length back, with Tiz the Law and regular pilot Manny Franco another length back and perched three wide. When that marker went by in 1:09.94, it seemed certain that Tap It to Win was up against it.
“It looked to me like everything just went like clockwork,” said winning trainer Barclay Tagg. “That’s the way the horse likes to run and that’s the position the horse likes to be in. Manny knows the horse very well. We discussed it quickly before I put him up on the horse and I felt very confident Manny would ride him that way. I felt pretty solid about halfway down the lane. It’s a good feeling.”
Tiz the Law moved up to even terms nearing the head of the lane, was asked for his best inside the final quarter-mile, and drew off to a commanding victory. Running time for the nine furlongs was 1:46.53 on a track rated fast.
“I was pretty confident by the time we hit the seven-eighths pole. He was so kind and relaxed for me,” Franco said. “He was so comfortable and never got keen, so I think that was the key.
“I’m not going to lie I was little bit nervous [in the gate], but at the same time I was confident because I know what I have under me. Like I said, I’m in good hands with Barclay,” he added.
The win was a popular one at the windows. Tiz the Law returned $3.60 to his many backers and topped an exacta, with third choice Dr Post, that paid $9.80 for a buck. The late-running Max Player rounded out the triple.
It was also popular for many New Yorkers. Tiz the Law is a New York-bred — the first of those to win the Belmont since 1882 — and owned by the New York-based connections of Sackatoga Stable. That group nearly took down the Triple Crown with another state-bred, Funny Cide, in 2003; that runner won the Derby and Preakness before coming up short in the Belmont.
“It’s tremendous [to win the Belmont with a New York-bred],” said Jack Knowlton, Sackatoga Stable’s operations manager. “We’ve been with Barclay Tagg for 25 years and I keep telling everybody, Barclay doesn’t get a lot of big horses, big opportunities, but when he does he knows what to do. He’s got his and Sackatoga’s got theirs. Triple Crown, two different horses, two different years [Funny Cide, 2003], and not a lot of people can say that.”
Knowlton and Tagg said that the Derby and Preakness are on Tiz the Law’s radar, but that’s a long range plan. Tagg suggested that the big horse might go to the repositioned Travers Stakes next. That Grade 1 event, a 10-furlong test at Saratoga, will be run August 8 at the Spa.
And after the Travers and the Triple Crown races?
“After that, they’ll probably want me to take him to the Breeders’ Cup,” Tagg said.