Assessing Tiz the Law’s Derby Chances After Eye-Catching Holy Bull

Tiz the Law solidified his credentials as a leading 2020 Kentucky Derby contender with an impressive win in the Feb. 1 Holy Bull Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.

This week we take a closer look at Tiz the Law, winner of the $250,000 Holy Bull Stakes Feb. 1 at Gulfstream Park.

Whether he did not like being trapped inside in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes Nov. 30 or did not take to the sloppy track, Tiz the Law’s third-place finish in his final start at age two came as a surprise and a disappointment to his connections. He made amends in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes Feb. 1 with a three-length victory that confirmed his status as a top contender for the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.

tiz the law

Bay Colt

Sire (Father): Constitution

Dam (Mother): Tizfiz, by Tiznow

Owner: Sackatoga Stable

Breeder: Twin Creeks Farm (N.Y.)

Trainer: Barclay Tagg

Ability: The storybook narrative essentially wrote itself for Tiz the Law in his first appearance on the racetrack. Owned by Jack Knowlton’s Sackatoga Stable and trained by Barclay Tagg, New York-bred Tiz the Law rallied from fourth early and pulled away to a 4 ¼-length runaway victory in August 2019 at Saratoga.

The victory conjured memories of another New York-bred who took the same owner-trainer tandem to great heights in 2003 when fan-favorite Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

The bay Constitution colt faced a major challenge in his next start as he went from a state-bred maiden special weight race to the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes Oct. 5 at Belmont Park. Tiz the Law again proved much the best in a four-length win as the 7-5 second betting choice. He earned a 93 Equibase Speed Figure for the Champagne after recording a 95 in his debut.

Tagg next shipped Tiz the Law to Churchill Downs for the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and he encountered some adversity as the 3-5 favorite in the 1 1/16-mile race, which was his first try navigating two turns. The track was sloppy and Tiz the Law was basically hemmed in on the rail all the way along the backstretch and into the stretch. He did not find a seam until just after the eighth pole and showed some determination to split horses, but he could not reel in winner Silver Prospector and then was passed late by Finnick the Fierce.

“He was stuck on the worst part of a sloppy track with a pace much slower than the one he got in the Champagne,” Knowlton told Tom Pedulla before the Holy Bull. “Although he has a tremendous closing kick, we never got to see that kick in the Kentucky Jockey Club.”

Tiz the Law dipped to a 91 Equibase Speed Figure for the Kentucky Jockey Club, and the strength of the race was not flattered when Finnick the Fierce ran fourth in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes and then Silver Prospector finished fourth in the Smarty Jones Stakes.

Tiz the Law got plenty of time to recover from the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and made his 3-year-old bow as the 3-5 morning-line favorite for the Feb. 1 Holy Bull Stakes, a Grade 3 race at 1 1/16 miles. Perhaps he had lost some of his luster in the minds of fans and handicappers, however, as he drifted up to 13-10 odds by the time the Holy Bull started.

Tiz the Law got off to a terrific start with a short run into the first turn and led early. Jockey Manny Franco tried to settle him and eventually they got pushed over to the rail by pacesetter Ete Indien and Clear Destination coming through between Tiz the Law and Relentless Dancer. Rather than risk getting bottled up as he had in the Kentucky Jockey Club, Franco angled Tiz the Law out four paths shortly after the field turned onto the backstretch and made sure he had clear running room entering the final turn.

Tiz the Law drew alongside Ete Indien with little encouragement approaching the stretch. He ducked in a bit when changing leads but pulled away steadily with a final sixteenth of a mile in 6.58 seconds to win by three lengths in 1:42.04.

He improved his Equibase Speed Figure 22 points to a career-best 117 and earned a career-top 100 Beyer Speed Figure. The latter was the best figure earned by a winner of a 2020 Derby points race and the former was four points better than the 113 Authentic earned for winning the Grade 3 Sham Stakes, the previous top for a 3-year-old in a stakes race in 2020. Likewise, Tiz the Law earned a powerful 108 Brisnet speed rating, indicating this was probably the first true breakout performance on the road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.

Current plans call for Tiz the Law to make his next start in seven weeks in the 1 3/16-mile, Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, which should be sufficient time to recover from a huge effort and will give him six weeks between his final prep race and the Kentucky Derby. In many ways, the Holy Bull Stakes could not have gone any better for Tiz the Law and his connections.

 Running style: Tiz the Law is a classic stalker who has a nice closing burst when allowed to settle early, a few lengths off the pace. He has enough natural speed to keep himself within striking range of the leaders and it worked out with an improved trip in the Holy Bull. Stalkers don’t need to navigate as much traffic as deep closers, but they, too, can be a bit pace dependent and sometimes need a bit of racing luck.

What I really liked about the Tiz the Law’s Holy Bull win was how responsive he was, indicating a good mind, and how he accelerated explosively even after tracking a strong half-mile in :46.60.

Franco with Tiz the Law. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Connections: As mentioned earlier, Sackatoga Stable was the feel-good story of the 2003 Triple Crown as a bunch of high school friends from New York bought a racehorse who turned out to be special. As Funny Cide won important races, the number of friends and family following the gutsy gelding swelled to the point they needed four school buses to get them from the JFK Sheraton to Belmont Park, where he came up short in his bid to sweep the Triple Crown. Jack Knowlton has served as a managing partner of Sackatoga Stable since 1995 and as the racing manager for more than 30 horses.

Sackatoga Stable LLC was founded by Knowlton and Ed Mitzen in July 2006.

Barclay Tagg is a former steeplechase rider and assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Frank Whitely Jr. A Lancaster, Pa. native, Tagg has amassed 1,549 victories since 1976 with 183 stakes wins and 66 graded stakes victories through Feb. 3. 

In addition to Funny Cide and Tiz the Law, Tagg has trained Grade 1 winners Miss Josh, Royal Mountain Inn, Island Fashion, Showing Up, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Bit of Whimsy, Tale of Ekati, and Jersey Town.

Jockey Manny Franco has ridden Tiz the Law in his last three starts. Franco took out his jockey's license in 2013 and the Puerto Rico native earned his first career graded stakes victory in 2015 with Coffee Clique in the Grade 3 Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap. He recorded his first career Breeders’ Cup win in 2019 when he guided Sharing to victory in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Franco ranked seventh among jockey by North American purse earnings in 2018 with $17,088,709 and ninth in 2019 with $16,688,680.

Pedigree: Tiz the Law is from the first crop of Constitution, a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/8 miles at ages 3 and 4. By leading sire Tapit, Constitution ranked second behind American Pharoah on the freshman sire list in 2019 and has four graded stakes winners to date, including another top Derby hopeful in unbeaten Independence Hall.

Graded stakes winner Tizfiz, by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow, is the dam (mother) of Tiz the Law. Tizfiz’s four stakes wins came on the grass at distances ranging from a mile to 1 1/8 miles, the distance at which she won the Grade 2 San Gorgonio Stakes in 2009. Tizfiz’s full-sister (same dam, same sire), Fury Kapcori, won the Grade 3 Precisionist Stakes at 1 1/16 miles in 2014.

Tiz the Law’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Gin Running, by Go for Gin, earned her lone victory at one mile and made 15 of her 19 starts at one mile or longer. His third dam (maternal great-grandmother) was stakes-placed sprinter Crafty and Evil, a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to 1997 champion 2-year-old male and Horse of the Year Favorite Trick.

There are plenty of stamina influences here to be optimistic about Tiz the Law’s chances to excel as the races get longer, and he looks like a colt with elite talent and a strong mind along with experienced connections. Pencil him in as a formidable early favorite on the 2020 Kentucky Derby trail.

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