Moments after Sackatoga Stable's Tiz the Law captured the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Belmont Park June 20, trainer Barclay Tagg could be heard asking those in charge of the trophy presentation to hurry things up – he had to get back to his horses.
The veteran conditioner, who accompanies each set of morning workers to the track on his pony, takes a hands-on approach to horsemanship.
Tagg said Tiz the Law has been easier to handle than many horses. "He's so easy to deal with. If you ask him to go fast, he goes fast. If you ask him to go slow, he goes slow," Tagg said.
Assistant trainer Robin Smullen also serves as the main exercise rider for Tiz the Law, and Tagg credits her with much of the Constitution colt's success.
"I'll say it: He's been handled perfectly, too. I've had Robin ride him, and Robin can ride anything," Tagg said. "She's a brilliant horsewoman, and I can't say enough about her. She has the heart of a lion, the judgment of Solomon, and the patience of Job."
Tagg and Sackatoga Stable teamed in 2003 to campaign Funny Cide, who won that year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before running third in the Belmont.
Though the connections are the same, and both horses are New York-breds, Tiz the Law and Funny Cide have many differences.
Tiz the Law posted a number of strong works leading into the Belmont, including a five-eighths effort in 1:00.53 June 8 and an easy half-mile in :50.42 June 14 on Big Sandy. The controlled final breeze for Tiz the Law was in sharp contrast to the bullet :57.82 Funny Cide clocked heading into the 2003 Belmont.
Smullen credits Tagg for understanding what each of the horses in his care needs and for putting them in a position to be successful.
"Barclay is so good at getting them to the right spot at the right time," Smullen said. "We tightened the screws (on Tiz the Law), but in the last work, we go in :50. And everybody asks, did you want to go that slow? Yeah, we did. That was on purpose. He's just so good at it.
"Our work two weeks out is usually our serious work, and the last work before the race is the easiest work – if you have the horse that can do it. With Funny Cide, you couldn't. His last work before the Belmont, he went in :57, but this horse is easy to ride 90% of the time."
Tagg mapped out all the details as Tiz the Law prepared for his first start in nearly three months following his score in the March 28 Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Smullen said he even planned out the celebration for jockey Manny Franco, who offered the slightest of fist pumps along with a cathartic yell as the New York-bred hero crossed the wire to give Tagg a personal Triple Crown.
"Barclay told him not to be jumping around on the horse. Sometimes they shift their weight (in the saddle), and it's bad," Smullen said. "So Barclay said to Manny, 'If you're winning, don't do that. Just don't.' That's the stuff that nobody thinks about, but he does. It might be the difference between making the next race or not making it."
Tiz the Law's sophomore season kicked off with a win in the Feb. 1 Holy Bull Stakes, and Tagg will be charged with keeping the colt in good order through a campaign he would like to see include stops in the Aug. 8 Runhappy Travers Stakes, the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, the Oct. 3 Preakness Stakes, and the Nov. 7 Longines Breeders' Cup Classic.
Tagg said he'll continue to listen to what his colt has to say.
"You have to pay attention to your horse. He tells you whether it's too much or too little," Tagg said. "He tells you all that stuff if you pay attention to it. You have to show up every day. You have to see if he eats every day and if he eats every night."
Tagg said he prefers to feed his horses later in the evening, and he's there each night to make sure each food tub is emptied.
"I like to come back at night, and if I can see his nose in the tub eating, I'm happy," Tagg said. "If one of them has walked away and is eating hay in the corner when his feed is sitting there, that's a signal there's something wrong. Maybe it's nothing too bad, maybe the groom gave the horse two cups instead of one cup, but you need to find all this stuff out.
"A lot of guys have horses all over the place, but we don't. So we have to make everything work."
The morning training, the perfect trip engineered by Franco, and even the celebration went according to plan.
And plans for Tiz the Law's next race in the Travers are already underway.
"He came out of the race great," Smullen said. "He ate up, and then he came out and grazed for an hour. His legs are good, his attitude and energy are good."
For the next few days, Tagg said Tiz the Law will walk the shedrow.
"He'll walk for three days, and we'll graze him every afternoon like we do," Tagg said. "The fourth day we'll take him out and jog him once around backwards to see how he moves and how he is, and if he eats up that night, we'll go to galloping. And 10 days after that, we'll give him an easy breeze, a half-mile."
The wheels are already in motion as Tagg looks to add another trophy to his cabinet.
"I've never won the Travers, and I want to win it," Tagg said. "It's very important to me."