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Trainer Barclay Tagg learns from miss with Funny Cide in 2003 to win his first Belmont Stakes title

Barclay Tagg, trainer of Tiz the Law, speaks

Barclay Tagg, trainer of Tiz the Law, speaks with jockey Manny Franco after winning the Belmont Stakes on June 20, 2020, in Elmont. Credit: Getty Images/Al Bello

Barclay Tagg’s roots in horse racing date to the 1960s. So the veteran trainer’s wait for his first Belmont Stakes championship has been a lot longer than his Triple Crown miss with Funny Cide in 2003.

“For a lot longer than that, I was hoping to win the Belmont,” Tagg said after his horse, Tiz the Law, delivered that elusive victory with a dominant performance in Saturday’s 152nd running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes, contested at 1 1/8 miles instead of 1 1/2 miles. “Funny Cide got us close, anyway, and we topped it off with Tiz the Law here today.”

Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid ended with a third-place finish to Empire Maker at a rain-soaked Belmont. Tiz the Law’s Triple Crown bid began on Saturday under sunny skies on the first day of summer.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a radical realignment to the horse racing calendar, so the Belmont Stakes became the Triple Crown’s first leg instead of the last, the Kentucky Derby is now Sept. 5 and if Tagg is to win a Triple Crown, it will come at Pimlico Race Course in the Preakness on Oct. 3.

So far, Tagg, 82, has brilliantly adapted to horse racing’s changed circumstances.

Tiz the Law had not raced since winning the Grade I Florida Derby on March 28. Instead, Tagg kept the New York-bred horse at Belmont with regularly scheduled workouts. The delayed NYRA spring/summer meet at Belmont Park finally began June 3.

“We could have turned him out for two weeks,” Tagg said. “But why do it? We had no idea when they were going to open. You use common sense and it worked out.”

Tagg supervised Tiz the Law’s controlled final workouts, as he went four furlongs in 50.2 seconds on June 14 and five furlongs in 1:00.2 on June 8.

Funny Cide’s final work before trying to go a mile and a half in the Belmont was a furious, five-furlong breeze in a speedy 57.82 seconds, something Tagg has acknowledged he still regrets allowing.

“You had to have it in the back of your mind a little bit, the layoff in between,” Tagg said of Tiz the Law’s workouts. “He didn’t show me anything pertinent that would have been a problem. It’s not as traditional. You’re never sure if you’ve got them exactly right.”

For Tagg, this one was a long time coming.

“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,” said Jack Knowlton, the operating manager of Sackatoga Stable and one of Tiz the Law’s 34 co-owners. “But when he does, he knows what to do.”

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