Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Triple Crown races, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was shifted from its normal first Saturday in May place on the calendar to Sept. 5, while the Preakness Stakes was postponed until Oct. 3.
The Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets kicked off the 2020 Triple Crown June 20 at the shortened distance of 1 1/8 miles, and Tiz the Law delivered a dominant victory in New York.
Because I previously profiled Tiz the Law in depth in this blog on Feb. 4 after his victory in the Holy Bull Stakes, let’s focus on what he has accomplished since that win and what the road ahead might hold for the winner of the $1 million Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets.
TIZ THE LAW
Entering the 2020 Belmont Stakes, Tiz the Law looked like a clear standout in what was for the first time in history the first jewel of the Triple Crown. He lived up to lofty expectations with a 3 ¾-length win as the 4-5 favorite. His connections subsequently said Tiz the Law would be pointed to the Aug. 8 Runhappy Travers Stakes and the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, so let’s take a look back at his last two races with an eye on his next two targets.
Ability: When Tiz the Law breezed past the finish line a decisive winner of the Belmont Stakes June 20, a major plotline in a storybook tale was completed. The New York-bred colt owned by Sackatoga Stable and trained by Barclay Tagg gave his connections the one classic trophy that they missed out on 17 years earlier during 2003 Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner Funny Cide’s memorable Triple Crown bid.
In truth, Tiz the Law captured the fancy of a legion of racing fans right from his debut when he rallied from fourth early and pulled away to a 4 ¼-length romp in August 2019 at Saratoga.
The bay Constitution colt won two of his next three starts, including the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes in his second start and the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes in February in his 3-year-old bow. The only blemish on his résumé came when he ran third by less than a length on a sloppy track in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, in which he was boxed in, forced to rally through a narrow seam, and never changed leads late.
Through three starts, the speed figures seemed to indicate a Derby contender with talent who needed to take a step forward, and that’s exactly what he did in his first start at 3 when winning the Holy Bull by three lengths. He improved his Equibase Speed Figure 22 points to a career-best 117 and earned a then-career-top 100 Beyer Speed Figure. Likewise, Tiz the Law earned a powerful 108 Brisnet speed rating in what was probably the first true breakout performance on the road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
But then things changed dramatically as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country and forced the postponement of all three Triple Crown races and the cancellation/postponement of many major Derby prep races.
One the handful of races that went on as planned was the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby, which was run without fans March 28 at Gulfstream Park. Facing his toughest test from a talent perspective, Tiz the Law stood tall with a 4 ¼-length runaway that was probably more impressive visually than it was on paper as his speed figures took a slight step back to a 112 Equibase Speed Figure, 96 Beyer Speed Figure, and 100 BrisNet speed rating. TimeForm US viewed the win as essentially pairing his Holy Bull 117 speed rating with a 118 for the Florida Derby.
Next came significant time off as the New-York-bred colt’s New York connections unsurprisingly opted to point Tiz the Law to the Belmont Stakes, which was postponed from June 6 to June 20 after both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness were rescheduled for Sept. 5 and Oct. 3, respectively.
Between the Tiz the Law’s Florida Derby win and the Belmont Stakes, the complexion of the 3-year-old division changed significantly as multiple top contenders, including Grade 1 winners Nadal, Maxfield, and Charlatan, were sidelined with injuries.
Tiz the Law became an overwhelming favorite for the Belmont Stakes and again lived up to the hype with a powerhouse performance as the 4-5 favorite. He stalked the pace from three wide under Manny Franco, inhaled pacesetter Tap It to Win entering the stretch, and pulled away to a commanding 4 ½-length advantage in early stretch. Tiz the Law completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.53 to win by 3 ¾ lengths, but even more impressively he covered the final furlong in 12.07 seconds, which is exceptional at that distance on dirt after he was within a couple of lengths of a strong pace.
The speed figures for the Belmont Stakes were encouraging: Tiz the Law earned a 113 Equibase Speed Figure, matched his career-best with a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, and earned a 106 BrisNet speed rating and a new top 120 TimeForm US rating.
Next up is the 1 ¼-mile Travers Stakes on Aug. 8 and nothing Tiz the Law has done to date indicates distance will be any issue at all. He has a win on the main track at Saratoga, will enjoy plenty of rest between starts, and very likely will be the fastest horse in that race.
Looking even farther ahead to the Kentucky Derby, detractors almost certainly will point out that Tiz the Law’s lone loss to date came on the main track at Churchill Downs. That is true, but I would argue the circumstances – sloppy track, traffic – were more to blame than a dislike for the track at Churchill. If it comes up sloppy on Sept. 5 and Tiz the Law finds himself caught behind horses at a key moment, of course he could lose again … but that is the case with nearly any racehorse facing adversity in a 20-horse field.
I don’t view that loss in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes as anything more than a small piece of the Derby puzzle.
Running style: I mentioned in his February Making the Grade profile that Tiz the Law is a classic stalker who has a high cruising speed and nice closing burst when allowed to settle early. He’s very responsive and has enough speed that he can rate two lengths off a half-mile in :46.16 and still finish with a final eighth of a mile in 12.07 seconds. That’s a serious racehorse.
Connections: As mentioned in the previous post, Sackatoga Stable was the feel-good story of the 2003 Triple Crown when a group of high school friends from New York teamed to purchase dual classic winner Funny Cide. As Funny Cide strung together wins, the gutsy gelding’s following grew to the point they needed four school buses to get them from the JFK Sheraton to Belmont Park, where he came up short in his bid to sweep the Triple Crown.
Jack Knowlton has served as a managing partner of Sackatoga Stable since 1995 and as the racing manager for more than 30 horses. Sackatoga Stable LLC was founded by Knowlton and Ed Mitzen in July 2006.
Barclay Tagg is a former steeplechase rider and assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Frank Whitely Jr. The Lancaster, Pa. native draws on a wealth of knowledge cultivated from a lifetime of working with horses. He has amassed 1,554 victories since 1976 with 186 stakes wins and 68 graded stakes victories through June 23.
In addition to Funny Cide and Tiz the Law, Tagg has trained Grade 1 winners Miss Josh, Royal Mountain Inn, Island Fashion, Showing Up, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Bit of Whimsy, Tale of Ekati, and Jersey Town.
A vital part of Tagg’s operation is longtime assistant and partner Robin Smullen, who is Tiz the Law’s exercise rider. Tagg credited Smullen for the development of the stable’s latest star:
“I’ll say it: He’s been handled perfectly, too. I’ve had Robin ride him, and Robin can ride anything,” Tagg said. “She’s a brilliant horsewoman, and I can’t say enough about her. She has the heart of a lion, the judgment of Solomon, and the patience of Job.”
Jockey Manny Franco has ridden Tiz the Law in his last five races. Franco took out his jockey’s license in 2013 and the Puerto Rico native earned his first career graded stakes victory in 2015 with Far From Over in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes. He recorded his first career Breeders’ Cup win in 2019 when he guided Sharing to victory in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and earned his first classic win aboard Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes.
Pedigree: Tiz the Law is from the first crop of Constitution, a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/8 miles at ages 3 and 4. By leading sire Tapit, Constitution ranked second behind American Pharoah on the freshman sire list in 2019 and has sired five graded stakes winners to date along with multiple Grade 1-placed winner Gouverneur Morris.
Graded stakes winner Tizfiz, by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow, is the dam (mother) of Tiz the Law. Tizfiz’s four stakes wins came on the grass at distances ranging from a mile to 1 1/8 miles, the distance at which she won the Grade 2 San Gorgonio Stakes in 2009. Tizfiz’s full sister (same dam, same sire), Fury Kapcori, won the Grade 3 Precisionist Stakes at 1 1/16 miles in 2014.
Tiz the Law’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Gin Running, by Go for Gin, earned her lone victory at one mile and made 15 of her 19 starts at one mile or longer. His third dam (maternal great-grandmother) was stakes-placed sprinter Crafty and Evil, a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to 1997 champion 2-year-old male and Horse of the Year Favorite Trick.
Typically, I use pedigree to gauge a racehorse’s chances to handle longer distances, but I think at this point Tiz the Law looks like 1 ¼ miles is well within his scope given how he has performed in two-turn races and how he finished his final eighth of a mile in the Belmont Stakes.
Tiz the Law looks like he will be very tough to beat in the Travers Stakes, and provided he comes out of that race in good order he’ll very likely be the leading contender for the 2020 Kentucky Derby.