It’s a unique year for thoroughbred racing with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing radical changes to the Triple Crown run. And trainer Barclay Tagg believes he has a unique horse in the Belmont Stakes’ presumptive favorite Tiz the Law.
“He’s fast, that’s what it comes down to,” Tagg said. “A fast horse is a unique one.”
But Tagg — remembering the past — deliberately kept the New York-bred Tiz the Law from blazing through his final serious workout before Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. Instead, Tiz the Law breezed a half-mile in a controlled 50.42 seconds with Manny Franco aboard on Belmont Park’s main track on Sunday.
The 152nd running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes, originally scheduled for June 6, will mark the first time the race will be the first leg of the Triple Crown instead of the last. As a result, it will be run at 1 1/8 miles instead of its usual marathon 1 1/2-mile distance. No fans will be in the giant grandstand.
The Kentucky Derby was postponed to Sept. 5, from May 2, and the Preakness, originally scheduled for May 16, will be this year’s final leg of the Triple Crown on Oct. 3.
“What will bother me is if they put an asterisk after it,” Tagg said. “If it’s the Belmont Stakes, let it be the Belmont Stakes. It’s got good horses in it.”
Tagg jokingly said that he saw a lot of pigeons when asked to describe the atmosphere at Belmont without spectators.
“Actually, when working with horses, it’s a lot easier if people aren’t wandering through,” Tagg said. “All in all, it’s been fine.”
Tagg has certainly been in the Belmont Stakes’ spotlight before. In 2003, the Tagg-trained Funny Cide, like Tiz the Law of Sackatoga Stable, won the Derby and Preakness before finishing third to Empire Maker at the rain-soaked Belmont.
Funny Cide’s final work before trying to go a mile and a half at Belmont was five furlongs in a speedy 57.82 seconds, something Tagg has acknowledged he still regrets.
There’s no question Tiz the Law has the breeding for a typical Belmont Stakes. His great-great grandsire is A.P. Indy, who won the Belmont Stakes in 1992, and the bloodlines also include Triple Crown winners Secretariat (1973) and Seattle Slew (1977).
Tiz the Law won the one-mile Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont on Oct. 5.
“He makes my work a lot easier,” Franco said. “He’s a versatile horse. He can be there on the pace or sit off. He’s run here before and won and I think he likes the track. So, that’s to our advantage.”
Notes & quotes: Pneumatic, trained by Steve Asmussen and with Ricardo Santana Jr. up, has been confirmed for the Belmont Stakes’ field, bringing the field to eight. The Bill Mott-trained Modernist, who breezed five furlongs in 59.20 seconds on Sunday, is also a possibility for the race . . . Asmussen selected Reylu Gutierrez to ride Jungle Runner. It will be the first Triple Crown mount for Gutierrez, 23, who was born in Rochester, New York and attended SUNY-Cortland. “I’m kind of speechless,” Gutierrez said. “I was working the horse for the Belmont Stakes but I was assuming I was working him just to get ready.”