Coming in with the only Grade 1 victories in the field, Tiz The Law was supposed to be in a class by himself in the Belmont Stakes. He brazenly lived up to that billing.
Chasing an honest pace, jockey Manny Franco calmly hit Tiz The Law’s accelerator in the turn, took the lead at the quarter pole and pulled away to a 3¾-length victory over nine overmatched rivals Saturday afternoon.
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So in the first year that the Triple Crown opened with New York’s race, a New York-bred horse won it for the first time since it was run in 1882 at a racetrack that is now a reservoir the North Bronx.
“I was pretty confident when we got to the seven-eighths pole,” Franco told NBC Sports while he was still on Tiz The Law just after the race. “He was so kind and relaxed to me. He was so comfortable. He never got keen. That was the key.”
Paid workout is a phrase often laid on a race like this. But not a Grade 1 race. Not a $1 million race. Not one that was established as the first American classic only two years after the end of the Civil War. But that is just what this was. The nine furlongs around the one turn played out exactly like trainer Barclay Tagg would have levered it.
“I hate to say it, but I was expecting it,” Tagg said. “I was glad to see it work out that way, because nine times out of 10 it doesn’t work out that way.”
Both sharp and public bettors called it. They made Tiz The Law (4-5 pari-mutuel, 4-5 Circa Sports, 5-6 William Hill) the first odds-on favorite in 44 years for a Belmont Stakes that did not have a Triple Crown there for the taking on race day.
It was not just Tiz The Law who played his scripted role to the letter. Tap It To Win (5-1, 5-1, 9-2) and Fore Left (22-1, 50-1, 18-1) set the pace, clocked at 23.11, 46.16 and 1:09.94. Fore Left looked gassed out on the turn, and Tap It To Win followed suit in the stretch.
All the while Tiz The Law kept coming, and he did not let up, finishing the nine furlongs on a fast main track in 1:46.53.
Two closers – Dr Post (7-1, 8-1, 8-1) and Max Player (12-1, 12-1, 11-1) – finished second and third, but they were never a threat. Tiz The Law went the last furlong in 12.06 and the last three in 36.39, suggesting that he has the capacity to go another eighth of a mile in the Aug. 8 Travers, not to mention the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby.
“Man, I got the horse for the race,” Franco said. “The horse is really good.”
Good enough to follow in the footsteps of Funny Cide, the gelding trained by Tagg to wins in the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness only to come up short in the Belmont. With Tiz The Law, Tagg completed a personal career Triple Crown and, at 82, became the oldest trainer of a Belmont winner.
“I was just glad I lived long enough to have gotten another horse like this,” Tagg said. “I wanted to have a Belmont victory before I gave it up and died or something like that.”
Tiz The Law did not just pay off for bettors. With a $535,000 first prize, he upped his career earnings to $1,480,300. So the Constitution colt out of a Tiznow mare is also making good on the $110,000 investment that Jack Knowlton of Sackatoga Stable made in buying him as a yearling nearly two years ago.
“We just buy New York-breds,” Knowlton told NBC from a restaurant party near his home up state in Saratoga Springs. “That’s our game. We don’t spend a lot of money.”
New York through and through, Knowlton’s faith in Tagg has been unflagging for 25 years.
“I keep telling everybody Barclay doesn’t get a lot of big horses and big opportunities,” Knowlton said. “But when he get them he knows what to do.”
It may not happen over a five-week sprint. But in the next four months Tiz The Law may take Tagg on the ride of his long lifetime with Franco and Knowlton in tow. William Hill has held firm in its Derby futures, keeping Tiz The Law as its 3-1 favorite ahead of Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A. P. at 7-2.
Oh, what about Gamine? All she did Saturday was win the Grade 1 Acorn on the Belmont undercard in stakes-record time – 1:32.55 for the mile – and by a record margin – 18¾ lengths.
After a victory like that got her to 3-for-3 with her average margin of victory nearly 8½ lengths, why wouldn’t she take on the boys and try and get into the Kentucky Derby?
“Didn’t nominate her,” was the response from her trainer Bob Baffert. Asked what her next race would be, he texted, “Kentucky Oaks” and then added, “One more prep.” Which one? “Not sure.”
Coming through as a 7-10 odds-on favorite, Gamine qualified for the Kentucky Oaks on Sept. 4. In Europe she became the favorite to win the race at odds no longer than 7-4, according to Oddschecker.com.
Still hanging over Gamine, though, is the report last month that she tested positive for an overdose of the legal drug lidocaine in a split sample taken May 2 at Oaklawn Park. As is his right Baffert called on Arkansas racing officials to test the other split of that sample in hopes that Gamine would be cleared. There has been no announcement of any result of that second test on Gamine or on Arkansas Derby second-division winner Charlatan, the other Baffert horse that was said to have failed a drug test last month.
If Gamine’s victory underscored a speed bias most of the day on the main track at Belmont Park, it was established early Saturday, when No Parole (3-1) wired the Grade 1 Woody Stephens for 3-year-olds. Unbeaten in four starts on fast tracks, the Violence colt trained by Tom Amoss and ridden by Luís Sáez won by 3¾ lengths in 1:21.41, two seconds off the track record.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning – more frequently for big races – at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. The RFRP is available via Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts and is sponsored by 1/ST BET.