Jack Knowlton Diary: Confidence High Before 2020 Belmont Stakes

The Life
Jack Knowlton, right, leading Tiz the Law into the winner’s circle after he won the Feb. 1 Holy Bull Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Managing partner Jack Knowlton and his fellow Sackatoga Stable owners stepped out of a yellow school bus at Churchill Downs to gain an upset victory with New York-bred gelding Funny Cide in the 2003 Kentucky Derby. In another unexpected twist, Knowlton and Sackatoga have returned to the national spotlight with another stellar New York-bred.

Tiz the Law will enter a reconfigured Belmont Stakes as a solid favorite for the 35 investors who comprise this particular Sackatoga partnership after impressive victories in his only two starts this year for trainer Barclay Tagg and regular rider Manny Franco, the Feb. 1 Holy Bull Stakes and the March 28 Curlin Florida Derby. He ranks as the leading 3-year-old in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly poll.

Knowlton has been maintaining a diary that is now taking followers of America’s Best Racing through a season deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Belmont is customarily a 1 ½-mile marathon that provides the final leg of the Triple Crown and is known as the “Test of the Champion.” This year, it will be run without spectators as a one-turn, 1 1/8-mile contest that will be followed by the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and the Oct. 3 Preakness Stakes.

Here is the fourth installment of Knowlton’s diary, written with Tom Pedulla:

There is no telling what the odds will be when Tiz the Law enters the starting gate for the Belmont Stakes, but I know they will be low. We are all feeling some pressure as such a heavy favorite, but I would much rather have that than to be a 15-1 longshot.

Barclay has more confidence going into this race than I’ve ever seen him have going into a race. In his training and workouts, our horse has done everything we’ve asked him to do under really difficult circumstances. Everything seems to come so easily for him. He is amazing in that way.

Tiz will have to overcome a long layoff between races. It seems like a long time since the Florida Derby because it has been. But he had a lot of time off before the Holy Bull and the Florida Derby. In each case, it was no problem for him. We do not expect that to be a problem now.

This is a strange year in all kinds of ways. Obviously, the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby is nothing like it has been in the past. The configuration of the Triple Crown is upside down, as I like to call it. If we’re fortunate enough to win this race, it would not be until the third of October that we would have the Preakness as the final leg of the Triple Crown.

The Belmont is a tremendous opportunity for Tiz to get off to a great start in pursuit of the Triple Crown. It’s another Grade 1 at his home track. He has already won there, dominating the Grade 1 Champagne last fall. He only has to walk a couple of hundred yards from his stall to enter the paddock.

The configuration of the one-turn mile and an eighth should help him. During the long run down the backside, Manny is going to have every opportunity to find a trip that can work out well for him. He did that in the Florida Derby at this distance, and we are hopeful he can do the same thing here. We want to secure a good stalking position and be moving on the turn so Tiz can assert himself in the stretch as he has in all four of his wins.

I sat in my condo a mile away from Gulfstream for the Florida Derby, and understood why I could not attend. The pandemic was full blast right then and Gulfstream had no choice but to follow government regulations.

To not be able to attend the Belmont is disappointing and frustrating. We hear Gov. Cuomo every day telling everyone how well things are going as New York slowly re-opens. With Belmont Park being as big as it is, it is hard to understand why owners cannot be accommodated in some way. It just seems there could be a limited number of people there wearing masks, sitting outdoors and, with the size of the venue, maintaining a social distance much greater than six feet.

We have no choice but to make the best of the situation. Approximately half of the 35 partners invested in Tiz have signed up to attend an outdoor private party at Pennell’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. It is owned by Bruce Cerone, one of the partners, and is known for outstanding Italian cuisine. We will have a big outdoor screen set up to watch the Belmont.

There is nothing better than to be together with your fellow owners and cheer your horse to victory.  When I analyze the past performances and think about how well Tiz is coming into the race, unless something unforeseen happens, I fully expect him to win.

If that happens, the party at Pennell’s will just be getting started!

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