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 will take followers of America’s Best Racing on the Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve with him in a diary written with Tom Pedulla. Here is the first installment as the colt takes a 2-for-2 record into the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
In mapping out a pre-Derby campaign for Tiz the Law, we are following the advice of our trainer, Barclay Tagg, just as we did with Funny Cide. Barclay warned us not to try to do too much too soon with a 2-year-old when we had Funny Cide, and he reminded us of that with Tiz the Law.
As excited as we were after Tiz the Law was an impressive winner of the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes in early October at Belmont Park to gain an expense-paid entry in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, it was not all that hard for us to pass on that $2 million race. We made the same decision with Funny Cide, and that worked out pretty well.
Yes, we had a free shot at the Juvenile and the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series is a great program. But the Derby is the prize we are most interested in. The faces have changed since Funny Cide. For various reasons, Lou Titterton is the only partner remaining from the group that owned Funny Cide.
The new partners got involved because they would love to go to the Derby and have an experience that is priceless. For that reason, there was not one negative word when we passed on the Juvenile with Tiz the Law.
Once that decision was made, we knew we wanted to get one more start with Tiz as a 2-year-old to make sure we gave him a good foundation. We saw two options, the Kentucky Jockey Club or the Remsen, on Dec. 7 at Aqueduct racetrack.
We did not hesitate to take Tiz outside of New York for the first time (he debuted at Saratoga) by opting for the 1 1/16-mile Jockey Club. Unlike Funny Cide, who remains a bit rambunctious as a retired gelding at Kentucky Horse Park, this colt, a son of Constitution, is well-mannered and just goes about his business. Nothing fazes him. He faced adversity in each of the first two races – needing to split horses, getting dirt in his face, getting caught in traffic – and he overcame it with relative ease each time.
The chance to run Tiz in the Jockey Club, a Grade 2 race with a $300,000 purse, and give him a spin over the Churchill Downs track was definitely more appealing to us than the Remsen at a mile and an eighth. We know we want Tiz to make his first start as a 3-year-old in the Holy Bull at a mile and a sixteenth at Gulfstream Park at the start of February and we really did not want to be cutting back in distance at that point.
Barclay likes to give his horses plenty of time to recover from each start. We will ship Tiz from Churchill to the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida after the Jockey Club, so he will have nine weeks between starts. That gives him a nice break. If we are fortunate enough to make the Derby, we want to get there with as fresh a horse as possible.
The stakes are higher for us in the Jockey Club than we anticipated. When we passed on the Juvenile, we thought we were most likely passing on the Eclipse Award as 2-year-old champion. We did not start to think about that award again until the Juvenile was over.
As everyone knows, favored Dennis’ Moment stumbled at the start and finished last. Eight Rings, another potential Eclipse contender, never fired. Storm the Court showed quality as the upset winner but has a loss on his record.
I am biased, of course, and the voters must decide. But if Tiz wins the Jockey Club, certainly a strong case can be made for the Eclipse to follow.