It may not have a typical edition of the Curlin Florida Derby, but for the winning connections of Sackatoga Stable’s Tiz the Law there was as much of a celebration in different parts of Florida as there would have been in an overcrowded Gulfstream Park winner’s circle.
With the racetrack’s doors shut to the general public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented edition of Florida’s premier prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve unfolded March 28 with the 32 Sackatoga partners and trainer Barclay Tagg viewing a dominant performance by their 3-year-old from separate corners of a world in upheaval.
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
“He is something special no doubt,” said Jack Knowlton, who runs the Sackatoga Stable partnership that made traveling to Triple Crown races en masse in a school bus famous some 17 years ago with dual classic winner Funny Cide. “We’re going to enjoy this one, and if he stays healthy and things work out well, this is going to be a fun year for us.”
Under normal conditions, getting 100 qualifying points toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby by virtue of Tiz the Law’s 4 ¼-length victory in a race that has produced the highest number of run for the roses winners (24, and it would have been 25 if not for the disqualification of 2019 Florida Derby winner Maximum Security) would have prompted people to clear their schedule for a trip to the Bluegrass State on the first Saturday in May.
But in a world filled with misery and uncertainty due to the spread of the coronavirus, the road to Louisville is now considerably longer and trickier with the classic scheduled for a little more than five months from now, Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs.
Tiz the Law, a son of Constitution, would typically be heading to Kentucky as either the favorite or second choice off another gem in a string of brilliant performances. His easy victory in the Florida Derby came on the heels of an impressive three-length win in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, which was his 3-year-old debut. On that Feb. 1 afternoon, Ete Indien was second, and he in turn won the Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes by 8 ½ lengths and finished third behind 80-1 runner-up Shivaree in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile test.
Winner of the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes in his second career start, Tiz the Law’s only setback occurred in last year’s Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes when he finished third on a wet track.
“He’s got that aplomb about him,” trainer Barclay Tagg said. “Whatever you ask him to do he does. You see how easy he runs.”
As for what’s next, that’s the final Jeopardy answer.
Though the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby has been shifted to May 2, the day the Kentucky Derby was supposed to be contested, Knowlton said he has no interest in heading to Hot Springs.
“We’ll stay here on the East Coast and see what happens,” Knowlton said. “I don’t want to face [trainer] Bob Baffert until I have to.”
Instead, Knowlton will wait to see how the racing world looks in the coming months. His hope is that Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes will be run in the spring or early summer, or at the very least the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Presented by Resorts World Casino fills the void. After that, his wish list would be complete if the Runhappy Travers Stakes is moved to the start of August to avoid a conflict with the Kentucky Derby.
“You plan on being at Louisville in five weeks and we have a horse who had a great chance to win on the first Saturday in May,” said Knowlton, whose partnership won the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with the New York-bred gelding Funny Cide. “Now we have to find a path to get him to the first Saturday in September, and with the way the world is now, no one knows what that path looks like.
“I’m a New Yorker and I’d love to run in New York again. The Kentucky Derby is the be-all and end-all but if they do the right thing and move the Travers and they can run the Preakness and Belmont before, it would give us a nice set up to the Travers and Kentucky Derby.”
Bred by Twin Creeks Farm in New York, the bay colt out of the Tiznow mare Tizfiz was purchased by Knowlton for $110,000 from the Sequel New York consignment at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Preferred New York-Bred Yearling Sale.
As predictable as the fourth victory in five starts by Tiz the Law ($4.80) was, the runner-up finish by Jacks or Better Farm’s Shivaree was equally stunning. Sent off at huge odds off a string of five-, six-, or seven-furlong races leading up to the Florida Derby, the Ralph Nicks-trained son of Awesome of Course battled for the early lead in the field of nine and held on for second by three-quarters-of-a-length over Ete Indien.
The runner-up finish netted his connections 40 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.
Ete Indien pocketed 20 points for finishing third giving the son of Summer Front 74 overall to assure himself of a place in the starting gate. Gouverneur Morris was a neck behind in fourth and added 10 points to give him 14.
Tiz the Law received a sharp ride from jockey Manny Franco, who kept him reserved in third after Ete Indien and Shivaree covered the opening half-mile in :47.95. While Shivaree edged away from Ete Indien, Franco swung Tiz the Law outside of them turning for home and sailed past them to cross the finish line in 1:50.
“I want to give all the credit to the horse,” said Franco, 25. “I waited for the right moment and when I called on him, he was there for me. I hope everyone is happy.”
Tagg surely was, as he savored a second Grade 1 win from a horse who gave him his first top-level win in nine years. In a career that dates back to 1971, he will always be remembered for turning Funny Cide into a $3.5 million earner. But now Tiz the Law is giving him a new measure of acclaim, some new milestones, and a reason to hum the 1960s pop hit, “See You In September.”
“This was my first win in the Florida Derby,” Tagg said, “and I thought I was at a stage in my career when I was through with ‘firsts.’ Now we have work out how to get him to the Kentucky Derby.”