When the 152nd Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets was finally decided late in the day June 20, the outcome was rather predictable.
Sackatoga Stable's Tiz the Law lived up to every single one of his press clippings and pulled away to a decisive, 3 ¾-length victory for jockey Manny Franco and trainer Barclay Tagg in the $1 million stakes as a 4-5 favorite.
"It looked to me like everything went like clockwork," Tagg said after the winner's first start since a victory in the March 28 Curlin Florida Derby.
Yet when you take a step back and ponder the achievement by the New York-bred son of Constitution and the circumstances around it, what happened Saturday at Belmont Park may never be duplicated.
At least that's the hope.
An impressive victory put an exclamation point on a day filled with question marks for the last few months.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Belmont Stakes was pushed back two weeks from its original date of June 6. With the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve moved to Sept. 5 and the Preakness Stakes finding a temporary home on Oct. 3, the Belmont Stakes jumped to the head of the line and became the initial leg of the Triple Crown for the very first time in the long and storied history of the series.
The Belmont Stakes was also cut back from 1 ½ miles to 1 1/8 miles, making what normally would be the longest Triple Crown test the shortest of the three for 2020.
By winning, Tiz the Law became the only horse capable of winning the Triple Crown – but to do so, the colt will have to overcome the series' longest time frame: 105 days between Saturday and Oct. 3.
And, with no spectators in the huge Belmont Park facility, it felt more like a Thursday afternoon card at beautiful Belmont Park in the pre-pandemic days than the setting for a nationally televised American classic.
Not that Tagg minded all those empty seats.
"There's no one to boo you," he joked.
Instead, fans had to watch from home as an odds-on favorite allowed his connections to beat some staggering odds.
For Sackatoga, which only campaigns a few horses each year, and Tagg, who went nine years without a Grade 1 win until Tiz the Law came into his life, to win the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with the New York State-bred gelding Funny Cide was akin to a miracle.
For them to win another Triple Crown race 17 years later, again with a New York State-bred who became the first horse bred in the Empire State to win the Belmont Stakes since 1882, it's akin to hitting Powerball – twice.
"To win Triple Crown races in two different years, not many people can say that," said Sackatoga managing partner Jack Knowlton. Knowlton and Lew Titterton are the lone remaining members of the partnership who were part of the Funny Cide days. "It's tremendous (to win the Belmont Stakes with a New York-bred). We had a great and amazing day. 'Tiz' delivered for us."
Back in 2003, it was a third-place finish on a rainy day in the Belmont Stakes that ended Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid – and for Knowlton, Saturday's experience was light years removed from 17 years ago.
"The 2003 Belmont wasn't much fun," said Knowlton, who watched this year’s race at Pennell's Restaurant in Saratoga with about 18 of 35 partners who own a share of Tiz the Law. "It was a lot of fun today. It was a wild time."
Speaking of time, unlike traditional Triple Crown chases when the Preakness comes up in two weeks, Tiz the Law's next stop in an undefeated 3-year-old season will come seven weeks from now in the 1 1/4-mile Runhappy Travers Stakes Aug. 8 at Saratoga Race Course. After that, there's the Kentucky Derby. Considering how well Tiz the Law handled a 12-week layoff Saturday, Knowlton believes Tagg can keep the multiple Grade 1 winner on the right track, even if the wait is months rather than weeks.
"Barclay had him in great shape," Knowlton said. "People were talking about the layoff, but he won off eight weeks off and nine weeks off and now he did it in (12). Barclay was brimming with confidence, which is unlike him, and 'Tiz' got the job done easily.
"Time off doesn't matter," he added. "The longest amount of time off going forward will be what he did today, and look how he handled it. I'm very excited about seeing him go a mile-and-a-quarter in the Travers. He certainly looked like a horse who can handle it today.”
Tiz the Law and Franco also handled their nine rivals rather easily Saturday.
Live Oak Plantation's Tap It to Win, the 5.20-1 second choice who was trainer Mark Casse's hope for a third-straight Triple Crown win, set the pace in the one-turn Belmont, leading by a length after an opening half-mile in :46.16.
Tiz the Law was third at that point, Franco patiently awaiting the right moment to pounce on the leader. After Tap It to Win carved out six furlongs in 1:09.94 and then faded to fifth, Franco went to work and Tiz the Law cruised to the front.
In the stretch, it was no contest. Tiz the Law extended to a 4 ½-length lead and completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.53, with St. Elias Stable's Dr Post closing from sixth to take second for trainer Todd Pletcher.
"He ran great. No excuses. He got beat by a good horse," said Dr Post’s jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
While Tiz the Law had 122 qualifying points and was assured of a spot in the Kentucky Derby prior to Saturday's race, the runner-up finish was important for Dr Post as he picked up 60 points from the 150-60-30-15 Kentucky Derby points that were awarded to Saturday's top four finishers.
A son of Quality Road, Dr Post made just his fourth career start Saturday while competing in a graded stakes for the first time and picking up his initial batch of Kentucky Derby points.
George Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds Corporation's Max Player also put in a nice late run, moving up from ninth to take third, 5 ¼ lengths behind Tiz the Law, in the son of Honor Code 's first start since Feb. 1.
"He was still running on at the end," said trainer Linda Rice, who was trying to become the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race. "He hasn't run in five months so it was a pretty good effort."
Winchell's Thoroughbreds' Uncle Mo colt Pneumatic was fourth.
The victory improved Tiz the Law’s record at age 3 to a perfect three-for three, and lifted his career record to five wins in six starts, including a victory in the Champagne Stakes last year at 2, with earnings of $1,480,300.
Out of the Tiznow mare Tizfiz, Tiz the Law was purchased by Knowlton for $110,000 from the Sequel New York consignment at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga Preferred New York-Bred Yearlings Sale.