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 development, Knowlton and Sackatoga have returned to the national spotlight with another stellar New York-bred.
Tiz the Law will enter Saturday’s $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Course with the opportunity to emerge as a top candidate for the Eclipse Award as leading 3-year-old male and as Horse of the Year if he is victorious.
The Constitution colt swept his first four races this year, including Grade 1 triumphs in the March 28 Curlin Florida Derby, June 20 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and Aug. 8 Runhappy Travers Stakes, before finishing second to Authentic in the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. It marked only the second defeat of his eight-race career, with both of those at Churchill Downs.
Knowlton has maintained a year-long diary that has taken followers of America’s Best Racing through the twists and turns of a pandemic-impacted season like no other. Here is the eighth installment of Knowlton’s diary, written with Tom Pedulla:
When we decided to skip the Preakness after Tiz the Law ran second to Authentic in the Kentucky Derby, it was not a strategic decision. In reality, the horse told us with the way he came out of the Derby that there was no way he could be ready for another major race in four weeks.
He was dealing with a good amount of stiffness after the Derby, the same kind of stiffness he experienced after he closed his 2-year-old season with a third-place effort in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. It took us three weeks after the Derby to get him back to the point where he could be comfortable enough to work him.
The decision to miss the Preakness was so clear cut that assistant trainer Robin Smullen told me that Tiz the Law could not have run in the final leg of this year’s Triple Crown even if he had won the Derby and the Triple Crown had been at stake.
When you own horses, you quickly learn that you had better pay attention to what your horse is telling you. At Sackatoga, we pride ourselves on being good listeners with all of our horses.
Now, Tiz the Law is telling us he is as ready as he can be for the Classic. Our trainer, Barclay Tagg, tells me the colt has put on some weight since the Derby. Our horse looks great on the racetrack. You can see that he is just full of himself. Barclay and Heather Smullen, his exercise rider at Keeneland, say his training is reminiscent of what he was doing before he ran huge in the Travers, his best performance of the year.
It is very clear to us that Tiz the Law simply does not handle the track at Churchill Downs. Barclay told me that. So did Manny Franco, our jockey. So have many other people in the industry. His Beyer Speed Figure regressed six points from the Travers to the Derby. You could see him struggling with the surface during the stretch run. Even though Manny had him in perfect position to run down Authentic, he just did not have the same burst he showed in every other race this year.
After the experience at Churchill Downs, we wondered how he would adapt to Keeneland. Barclay made sure to ship him there early. That gave him plenty of time to acclimate and to work twice over the track.
The great news is that he has taken to the track very, very well. His two works prove the point. He drilled six furlongs in 1:13.20 on Oct. 23, followed by five furlongs in :59.20 eight days later. Horses don’t work that fast if they don’t like the racetrack.
As I think back on the season, I cannot help but think this is the year that Barclay proved beyond a doubt that he is worthy of election to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. He already had won the Derby and Preakness with Funny Cide. Now, he’s joined Hall of Famers Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas, and Nick Zito in winning the trainer’s Triple Crown.
He has done a superb job of navigating this extremely difficult year with Tiz the Law. Imagine the challenge of training a leading 3-year-old early in the season without knowing when the major races are going to be. To my mind, Barclay has already done enough to merit every consideration from Hall of Fame voters. And if Tiz wins the Classic, it becomes a no-brainer.
I wish the post-position draw for the Classic could have gone better for us. We would have preferred anywhere from post five through eight in what wound up as a field of 10. Instead, we got stuck inside more than we would have liked in post two. The good news for us is that Tiz the Law always breaks sharply. His natural early speed should allow Manny to secure an excellent stalking position without expending much effort.
As I see it, the draw probably hurt Authentic more than any other runner. Authentic shows every sign of being a horse that wants the front and needs to be there to run his best race. Against a field of this quality, he is going to have to work a little bit to get there.
For us, the Classic is something of a race within a race. With Authentic losing the Preakness to the terrific filly Swiss Skydiver, I would think Tiz has to win the Eclipse Award as leading 3-year-old male if he beats Authentic in the most important race of the year.
Even if we beat Authentic, we still have two other stars to deal with from what I like to call the “Baffert Brigade” and what Bob calls his “Dream Team.” Maximum Security and Improbable are about as good as they come. I see Tom’s d’Etat and By My Standards as two other major players.
Having said that, we know beyond a doubt that the mile-and-a-quarter distance is easily within Tiz’s range. We know that his tactical speed allows him to adapt to any pace scenario.
As much as I respect every horse in the race, I would not trade places with anyone.