By Richard Rosenblatt
With virtually no one there to cheer him on except his octogenarian trainer, Tiz the Law proved too good for his rivals as he swept to a commanding 3 3/4-length victory in the rescheduled $1 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday, 2020’s first leg of the Triple Crown.
Under jockey Manny Franco, riding in his first Belmont, New York-bred Tiz the Law broke alertly and sat perched on the outside behind Tap It to Win and Fore Left. The half mile went in 46.16 seconds in the 152nd edition of the race, shortened from its customary 1 ½ miles to 1 1/8 miles.
Rounding the far turn, Franco gave Sackatoga Stables’ color-bearer his cue, and the son of Constitution responded with his customary powerful run to the finish line, cruising to the easy victory.
Sent off as the 4-5 favorite in the field of 10, Tiz the Law ($3.60) completed the race in 1:46.53.
The scene was markedly different than in 2003, when Sackatoga and the then 65-year-old Barclay Tagg saddled Funny Cide to win the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the Preakness (G1) only to come up short in the Belmont.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, no spectators were allowed in the cavernous Belmont Park grandstand and the few that were on hand – mostly trainers, grooms, and hot-walkers — were careful to maintain social distancing and most were wearing masks.
“It’s a lot smaller crowd,’’ said Sackatoga’s managing partner Jack Knowlton, who watched the race with about half of the 35-person partnership group at a local restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York. “We’ve been with Barclay Tagg for 25 years. It’s tremendous. We just buy New York-breds.”
Tiz the Law is first New York-bred since Forester in 1882 (that’s 138 years ago) to win the Belmont Stakes. He was purchased for $110,000 by Sackatoga at the same sale where the group purchased Funny Cide.
“I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to get another horse like this,’’ said Tagg, who accepted the trophy with assistant Robin Smullen during a brief post-race presentation. “I wanted to have a Belmont victory before I gave it up or died.”
Franco said he felt good aboard Tiz the Law all the way around the one-turn Belmont, which started in the chute that leads into the backstretch before the field makes the one sweeping turn around Big Sandy.
“I was pretty confident when we hit the three-eighths pole,’’ said Franco. “He was so kind and so confident. I think that was the key to the victory.”
Tiz the Law has now won five of six starts, and stands at the head of the class of 3-year-olds heading into the summer season before the Derby – now the second leg of the Triple Crown – is held on Sept. 5. The Preakness is scheduled for Oct. 3.
With undefeated colts Nadal and Charlatan – both trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert – sidelined, and Maxfield headed to the Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland on July 11, Tiz the Law was the only Grade 1 winner in the 10-horse field for the Belmont.
He came into the race off victories in the Holy Bull (G3) and the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park. The only blemish on his record came at Churchill Downs – home of the Derby – on Nov. 30, when he finished second by three-quarters of a length to Silver Prospector in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over a sloppy track.
The Belmont also is a Derby-points qualifier, with Tiz the Law earning 150 points to increase his No. 1 spot to 272 points. Dr Post, trained by three-time Belmont winner Todd Pletcher, finished second and earned 60 points to move into contention at No. 8 (60 points). Max Player, with Linda Rice bidding to become the first female trainer to win the Belmont, was third (30 points to move to No. 12 at 40 points); and Pneumatic was fourth (15 points to No. 20 (25 points).
Tap It To Win was fifth, followed by Sole Volante, Modernist, Farmington Road, Fore Left and Jungle Runner
Unlike the traditional Triple Crown of five weeks, this year’s “backwards Triple Crown” as Knowlton calls it, is spread over 11 weeks. And that could mean another race for Tiz the Law and others over the summer.
Knowlton has said he’d love to run in the Travers at Saratoga, a race that was moved up three weeks to Aug. 8 when NYRA announced the Spa schedule on Friday.
Barry Irwin’s Team Valor International Oleksandra came through with a thrilling last-to-first run and won the 6-furlong Jaipur to earn an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
With Pure Sensation, the 9-year-old looking for his second Jaipur in his fourth attempt, and Hidden Scroll leading the way, Oleksandra got off to a slow start. But jockey Joel Rosario timed the race perfectly, and the only female in the field of eight, finished with a flourish as the 2-1 favorite and returned $6.50
“I didn’t have a good break, I think the one horse (Kanthaka) got me a little, but I just her do her thing,’’ said Rosario, who has now been aboard the 6-year-old mare seven of her last eight races (four of them victories). “I just let her do her thing. She had a nice cruising speed and better and better in the end.”
Kanthaka, a 16-1 long shot, finished second and Texas Wedge third. Winning time was 1:06.80.
A Bob Baffert-trained 3-year-old was in the winner’s circle at Belmont Park – for a record-setting victory in the one-mile Acorn for fillies, not the Belmont Stakes.
Gamine ($3.40), ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, put in a champion-like performance in one of the nation’s top races for fillies, rolling to an 18 ¾-length victory in the fastest Acorn in 90 editions – 1:32.55 for the mile (just off Najran’s track record of 1:32.24 set in 2003).
“It was an amazing race out of her,” Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes said. “Especially coming into a Grade 1 and for it being only her third start. Johnny rode her right to the way we told him to go. We told him to take advantage of her position and he certainly did … “Two turns, one turn, she can handle either one. We’ll go home (to California), give her a little time and see what’s next for her. I can imagine something at Saratoga.”
The Acorn is a Kentucky Oaks qualifier, and Gamine picked up 50 qualifying points. Pleasant Orb (20 points), Water White (10) and Lucrezia (5) were second, third, and fourth, respectively.
A speedster breaking perfectly from the inside post turned into a winning formula for No Parole, who led at every call and pulled away in the stretch for a 3 ¾-length victory over Echo Town in the 7-furlong Woody Stephens.
Ridden by Luis Saez, No Parole is now 4-for-4 in sprints, and this race confirmed the 3-year-old’s comfort zone is shorter distances.
Trainer Tom Amoss tried No Parole in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes (G2) on March 14, but the Louisiana-bred finished eighth, 49 lengths behind the winner, Nadal.
No Parole ($8.20) led the five-horse field through an opening quarter mile in 22.31 seconds, covered the half-mile in 45.01, and three-quarters in 1:08.62. Winning time was 1:21.42 over a fast main track.
“He did it perfect. (Speed) was the game plan,” Saez said. “You always want to slow the pace as much as you can, and today they gave me the opportunity, so we took it. I think it worked pretty good … We came to the half-mile and I had a lot of horse. When we hit the stretch, he took off. I was sitting chilly and I knew I had a lot of horse. When everyone got close to him (turning for home), he took off again.”
Amoss said the son of Violence, owned by Greg Tramontin and Maggi Moss, is best at one-turn races and the goal is the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland in November.
“I think No Parole’s game is his speed,” Amoss said. “He’s shown that in all his races. To be able to draw the inside and take advantage of that with a good rider like Saez, everything played out as we hoped.”
Echo Town and Shoplifted, both trained by Steve Asmussen, ran second and third, respectively, followed by Mischevious Alex and Meru.
Odds-on favorite Decorated Invader ($3.20) didn’t disappoint with an authoritative 4 ¾-length victory in the $150,000 Pennine Ridge (G2). Trained by Christophe Clement and ridden by Joel Rosario, the 3-year-old son of Declaration of War topped five rivals and covered the mile on turf in 1:33.66.
At 2, Decorated Invader won the Grade 1 Summer at Woodbine and ran fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. The colt started opened his 3-year-old campaign in May, winning the Cutler Bay at Gulfstream Park.
“He’s very classy,” Rosario said. “The pace was OK, but not too fast. He was there for me and so relaxed, so I just let him be there [closer up] because it looked like there was no pace up front. I made a move before the turn and I saw the horse inside [Proven Strategies] come off the rail a little bit, go in and out, and I wasn’t sure what he was doing. I let him go inside and started working from there.”
Proven Strategies was second, followed by Mr. Kringle, Vanzzy, Famished, and Venezuelan Hug. Maroon Maniac was scratched.
Another gate-to-wire victory in a stake on Belmont Stakes Day. Sweet Melania won in her 3-year-old debut with a 1 ½-ength victory in the $150,000 Wonder Again for 3-year-old fillies going a mile on turf.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, the filly named for First Lady Melania Trump by owners Robert and Lawana Low improved her record to 3-1-3 from seven career starts. The 6-5 favorite returned $4.60 to win.
Ridden by Jose Ortiz, Sweet Melania held off fast-closing Highland Glory, who finished a half-length ahead of Antoinette. Speaktomeofsummer and Selflessly were fourth and fifth, respectively.
Winning time was 1:34.23.
“She relaxed well and we started picking it up little-by-little. At the three-sixteenths pole, she gave me a nice kick. She’s a nice filly,” Ortiz said.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.