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 Saturday’s $1 million Runhappy Travers Stakes as a solid favorite for the 35 investors who comprise this Sackatoga partnership after impressive victories in each of his three starts this year for trainer Barclay Tagg and regular rider Manny Franco. The Constitution colt has swept the Feb. 1 Holy Bull Stakes, March 28 Curlin Florida Derby and June 20 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets. 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 1 ¼-mile Travers, which is known as the “Mid-Summer Derby” and serves as the centerpiece of Saratoga Race Course’s prestigious summer meet, will be run without fans. It also will serve as the last major race for 3-year-olds leading to the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs.
Here is the fifth installment of Knowlton’s diary, written with Tom Pedulla:
Everyone is beginning to focus on the Kentucky Derby and the first Saturday in September. Not us. We are locked in on the Travers, a race we have had in mind since the beginning of the year.
For myself and a good number of New York-based partners in Sackatoga Stable, the “Mid-Summer Derby” means probably more than you can imagine. I have lived in Saratoga Springs since 1984 and spent so many wonderful afternoons at the racetrack. The buildup to the Travers is always tremendous. Winning the premier race at Saratoga would be huge.
There is a lot at stake here. I believe Tiz the Law can all but lock up the Eclipse Award as leading 3-year-old if he comes through on Saturday. It would be his third Grade 1 win this year following the Florida Derby and the Belmont Stakes, the opening leg of the Triple Crown this season, and it would make him 4-for-4.
Given what we have seen so far, it is hard to imagine anyone coming along and topping that. Another horse would have to run the table by sweeping the Derby, the Preakness, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I cannot imagine that happening, especially with Tiz standing in his way.
Our trainer, Barclay Tagg, wants to win the Travers badly. I believe he, too, may have a lot at stake. For me, he has already done enough to merit induction into the Hall of Fame. His handling of Funny Cide and now Tiz has been as close to perfection as a person can get. He has devoted decades of meritorious service to the game, always conducting himself with honor and integrity, always taking the best possible care of the horses he loves.
I know some people out there who would like to see at least one more major victory on Barclay’s resume. I hope the Travers will be that victory and move the needle on his getting into the Hall of Fame. It is important to remember that he has played the game and won at the highest level without access to the finest bloodstock. He does not have owners who spend millions on racing prospects.
Barclay was convinced Tiz the Law had the pedigree to cover classic distances, so we are welcoming our first crack at a mile and a quarter. We are convinced the mile and a quarter is right in our horse’s wheelhouse. In fact, Barclay had hoped they were going to keep the Belmont at a mile and a half instead of dropping it to a mile and an eighth. He greatly preferred the much longer distance and was totally comfortable with Tiz’s ability to handle that.
We think the mile and a quarter of the Travers will definitely be to our advantage. When you look at Tiz’s pedigree, being out of a Tiznow mare and [sire] Constitution being a son of Tapit, there is every reason in the world to believe he is made for the classics.
His training suggests the same thing. I have been able to watch his last three works, all at Saratoga Race Course. They are all strikingly similar. He does whatever exercise rider Heather Smullen asks and never fails to gallop out powerfully. He is always full of run at the end. He is almost machine-like in the way he works.
I’m very confident Tiz is coming into the Travers in great form for Manny Franco, his jockey. Manny knows exactly how Tiz wants to run by this point, and the horse is extremely responsive to him. Tiz wants to be forwardly placed, well within striking distance of the leader. When Manny tells him it’s time to go on the far turn, he’s been going.
With the way Tiz is coming into the Travers, we definitely think it is going to be hard to beat him. We also think he will face his toughest competition in the Derby, not here. But Saratoga is known as the “Graveyard of Champions” for a reason.
That is always in the back of your mind. If you get beaten, you could always say, ‘American Pharoah lost here.’ Just last weekend, Tom’s d’Etat was upset in the Whitney and Midnight Bisou, who appeared to be unbeatable, got beaten in the Personal Ensign. But I would not want to make excuses, especially for a horse as good as Tiz the Law.