Jack Knowlton knows he may have a second horse of a lifetime in Tiz the Law, the presumptive favorite for Saturday's $1 million Belmont Stakes.
And that’s two more than he ever expected to have with his Sackatoga Stable investors.
“We don’t buy horses even hoping they’re going to be running in the classic races, or Grade 1 races,” the owner said Monday in a telephone conversation with Newsday. “We’re hoping to have horses compete in New York-bred races, maybe win a race at Saratoga. That’s maybe the top of expectations.”
Sackatoga Stable’s Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby – at 12-1 – and the Preakness in 2003 before the New York-bred gelding missed out on a Triple Crown by finishing third to Empire Maker at a rain-soaked Belmont.
The New York-bred Tiz the Law, like Funny Cide trained by Barclay Tagg, comes into this unique Belmont Stakes off wins in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes and Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 28. He won the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont last year as a two-year-old.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a radical realignment to the horse racing schedule. The Belmont Stakes is being run without fans in the giant grandstand as the first leg of the Triple Crown, instead of the last leg as usual, and at 11/8 miles instead of its usual marathon 11/2 miles. The Kentucky Derby will be run on Sept. 5 instead of May 2 and the Triple Crown will conclude with the Preakness on Oct. 3
But even if this were a normal Triple Crown schedule, Knowlton said there are vast differences between his experience in 2003 and now, just as there are personality differences between the high-strung, hard-to-handle Funny Cide and the laid-back Tiz the Law.
“It’s totally different,” Knowlton said. “With Funny Cide, he was under the radar. He won his New York-bred races, he was fifth in the Holy Bull, third in the Louisiana Derby and then ran a very credible second to Empire Maker in the Wood Memorial.
“This guy won the Champagne,” Knowlton added. “He’s on everyone’s radar. The expectations have been high. I have been in the news with this horse really going back to the Champagne. With Funny Cide, none of that started until the Derby.”
Not bad for the $110,000 investment made by Knowlton and 34 Sackatoga Stable partners.
“What’s gratifying to me is this is our second time showing the world that people who don’t spend a lot of money, people that aren’t wealthy that get into a partnership, have the opportunity to participate at the top level,” Knowlton said.
But Sackatoga Stable’s down-to-earth public profile – the owners’ calling card became taking school buses to Funny Cide’s Triple Crown runs – won’t be as much of a story this year because owners are not expected to be allowed at Belmont.
Instead, Knowlton said on a National Thoroughbred Racing Association media teleconference on Monday that he’ll likely watch the race with other partners at Pennell’s Restaurant in Saratoga.
“Everything is upside down this year,” Knowlton said. “I know people will say if some horse wins it, it’s not legit because he didn’t win a 11/2-mile race. Others will say it’s probably a more difficult feat spacing the races and keeping your horse sharp for a much longer time.”
Notes & Quotes: The Belmont Stakes post position draw will be Wednesday at noon and will be streamed live on NYRA’s YouTube channel. Eight horses are entered but the Bill Mott-trained Modernist is still expected to be added to the field…The Steve Asmussen-trained Jungle Runner breezed a half-mile in 50.50 seconds Tuesday on Belmont Park’s dirt training track as the colt prepares for his New York debut in the Belmont Stakes.