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 are back on the Derby trail with another promising New York-bred, Tiz the Law.
Knowlton is maintaining a diary to take followers of America’s Best Racing on the Road to the Derby. Tiz the Law heads into the $750,000, Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby on Saturday at Gulfstream Park as the 6-5 favorite after scoring a rousing victory in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes Feb. 1 at Gulfstream.
The Florida Derby headlines a card that features 10 stakes, six graded, worth $1.825 million in purses. Racing will be held without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve has been postponed until Sept. 5, the Florida Derby remains a major steppingstone. The 1 1/8-mile race will award points to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 basis.
Here is the third installment of Knowlton’s diary, written with Tom Pedulla:
I hope I am breathing a big sigh of relief once the Florida Derby is over. It would mean that Tiz the Law had run well enough to secure the points we need to have a place in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in September.
I know that sounds strange, the first Saturday in September, but these are strange times that require constant adjustments. All of the horsemen really appreciate it that The Stronach Group is doing everything it can to see that racing continues under the safest circumstances possible. It has been eight weeks since Tiz the Law last ran. His trainer, Barclay Tagg, and I could not be more eager to see this race run.
When the year started, we planned on going to the Holy Bull since Tiz the Law wintered at nearby Palm Meadows Training Center and then the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby, which was run last Saturday at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
We switched to the Florida Derby for the second start due to its Grade 1 status and the fact that it is a 45-minute van ride down the Florida Turnpike from Palm Meadows to Gulfstream. Barclay focuses on easing the load on young horses as much as possible, as he did with Funny Cide. It makes all the sense in the world.
The Florida Derby has been a major Kentucky Derby prep through the years, and it has drawn a salty field worthy of its Grade 1 status. Four of the top 10 horses you find in most polls are part of the large field on Saturday – Tiz the Law, Ete Indien, Gouverneur Morris, and Independence Hall.
We feel it certainly helped our chances when we drew post seven and Ete Indien got stuck far outside in post 12, never a fun place to be at Gulfstream. Ete Indien has a lot of speed as he showed when he was a runaway winner of the Fountain of Youth, but jockey Florent Geroux is going to have to use it to get his usual position at the head of the parade.
Manny Franco, our jockey, will be able to assess what is going on around him from post seven. He should be able to secure a nice, stalking position while keeping Tiz from getting stuck down inside. Our horse has tactical speed, a huge asset in a race like this, and he has been training well.
The eight weeks between starts really helped because it gave him ample time to recover from a minor foot bruise. He has had four good works since then, so we did not lose anything at all from a fitness standpoint.
It is impossible to tell what is next for Tiz, no matter how he runs. They pushed the Arkansas Derby to the first Saturday in May, but I do not see that as an option for us. We are New Yorkers and Tiz will eventually be moved to Belmont Park. If the Wood Memorial can be rescheduled, that might well be of interest to us.
If the Travers is moved from its typical position at the end of August to either the end of July or the start of August, we definitely want to make the Travers at Saratoga, my home track and the home track to many of Sackatoga’s partners.
Although this situation is beyond anyone’s control and nothing is more important than keeping as many people as possible healthy through social distancing, it is impossible not to feel frustrated at this stage. Barclay has been locked in on having Tiz ready for the first Saturday in May since we won the Grade 1 Champagne last October.
Our success with Funny Cide reminded us that the Derby is all about timing, having a young horse ready to run the best race of his life at a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May. Tiz was primed to do that.
The delay may give horses that were not quite as mature a chance to catch up. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has at least a couple of horses that fit that profile. It also could be that Tiz will benefit from additional time to mature.
For now, we can only focus on what is in front of us, the Florida Derby. And we know Tiz the Law is as good as he can be.