By Mike Farrell
Barclay Tagg is clearly not ready to go gentle into that good night.
At 82, Tagg is still full of fight and vigor. In Tiz the Law, Tagg has the steed to carry the battle to the next round of the Triple Crown.
The victory in the $1 million Belmont Stakes (G1) on Saturday was one for the aged. Tagg became the oldest winning Belmont trainer. Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, who was 81 when Nashua won the 1955 Belmont, held the “old” record.
The crusty Tagg, not given to showing emotion in public, shared a rare moment of perspective when he told Britney Eurton at the Belmont trophy presentation “I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to get another horse like this. I wanted to have a Belmont victory before I gave it up or died.”
There’s still plenty of life in the old boy. Tagg is at the barn every day training his stable, still riding a pony to the track to supervise the morning activity.
One of the oldest clichés at the racetrack is that horses, especially good horses, keep you young. Tagg is proof positive.
He has done a remarkable job keeping Tiz the Law fit and happy from the time the New York bred debuted last August at Saratoga right through to the Belmont, the kickoff of this revised Triple Crown season.
Other contenders have flared out while Tiz the Law remains the model of consistency. He now owns three Grade 1 victories as the undisputed leader of this 3-year-old class.
In this topsy-turvy season, the biggest prize is still out there: the Kentucky Derby (G1) on Sept. 5.
Tiz the Law will likely race once more before the Derby. The logical next target is the $1 million Travers (G1) on Aug. 8 at Saratoga and then on to Churchill Downs.
A Derby victory would give Tagg another milestone. Art Sherman currently holds the record for oldest winning Derby trainer. He was 77 when California Chrome triumphed in 2014.
Dylan Thomas observed that “old age should burn and rave at close of day.”
There was no raving on Saturday, only a sense of closure after winning the Belmont that had eluded him in Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid in 2003.
“Funny Cide got us close and we topped it off with Tiz the Law here today,” Tagg said.
Gamine was the undisputed star of the Belmont undercard, winning the Acorn Stakes (G1) by 18 ¾ lengths in a stakes record 1:32.55 for the mile. It was only 31 hundreds off the track record, a brazen display by a 3-year-old filly in only her third start.
The victory was so decisive that some social media “experts” claimed she was in the wrong race, that the Belmont was where she belonged.
A little perspective is in order.
It simply doesn’t make sense to jump a filly, even one that cost $1.8 million, from a neck victory in an allowance race at Oaklawn into a Grade 1 contest against the boys for her stakes debut.
I doubt she could have controlled the early pace so easily against Tap It to Win, Fore Left and Tiz the Law in the Belmont.
She was in the right spot to show us her undisputed talent.
For those who want to see her tackle the colts, there is an inviting option coming up: the $1 million Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 18.
Bob Baffert, Gamine’s Hall of Fame trainer, owns a record eight victories in the Jersey Shore showcase.
Speed is always an asset at Monmouth, a factor that plays to Gamine’s strength.
The timing also works well. Gamine would have plenty of time to regroup for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs on Sept. 4.
Let’s close the gap between races
It is time for racing to close the gap.
We are not talking about the perceived gap between racing and the “major sports” like baseball, football and basketball.
No, we’re talking about needless gaps in racing cards. On Belmont Stakes Day, the Jaipur (G1) was off at 4:56 p.m. ET. The following race, the Belmont, went at 5:46.
Did we really need 50 minutes between races?
When there are 90,000 fans in the stands, the gap lets the crowd cash tickets, make bets, visit the restroom and buy a hotdog.
In front of an empty grandstand, 50 minutes is a needless eternity. In the coronavirus era, we are all betting on line. It is easy, and takes no time at all.
Racing is often criticized for being too slow, offering too little action over too long a time period compared to other sports and casinos.
The critics are right. The game needs to put on a crisper show. And so does NBC. The network blocked out over three hours for Belmont coverage yet showed only four of the six stakes races.
The sport would be better served if the six stakes were packaged into a two-hour production. That would cut down on the endless chit-chat and still leave time for the commercials that pay the freight.
The gaps only encourage everyone to take naps.
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.