When the 152nd Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) was finally decided late in the day June 20, the outcome was rather predictable.
Sackatoga Stable's Tiz the Law ($3.60) lived up to every single one of his press clippings and pulled away to a decisive 3 3/4-length victory over Dr Post 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 (G1).
At least that's the hope.
An impressive victory put an exclamation point on a day filled with question marks for the past 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 (G1) moved to Sept. 5 and the Preakness Stakes (G1) 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 first time in the long and storied history of the series.
The Belmont Stakes was also cut back from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/8 miles, making the longest Triple Crown test the shortest of the three.
By winning, Tiz the Law became the only horse capable of winning the Triple Crown, but to do so, the colt bred by Twin Creeks Farm 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 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 a 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-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-bred, 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, who along with Lew Titterton are the lone remaining members of the partnership from the Funny Cide days. "It's tremendous (to win the Belmont Stakes with a New York-bred). We buy New York-breds—that's our game—and we don't spend a lot of money. We've been with Barclay Tagg for 25 years, and I keep telling everybody Barclay doesn't get a lot of big horses, big opportunities, but when he does, he knows what to do. … 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 the race at Pennell's Restaurant in Saratoga Springs 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 (G1) Aug. 8 at Saratoga Race Course, and 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 (after) 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. 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 5-1 second choice who was trainer Mark Casse's hope for a third consecutive 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 the lead to 4 1/2 lengths and crossed the wire in 1:46.53.
"It means a lot to me," said the 25-year-old Franco after his first Triple Crown win. "One leg of the Triple Crown is the dream of any jockey."
Sixth after six furlongs, St. Elias Stable's Dr Post grabbed second for trainer Todd Pletcher.
"He ran great. No excuses. He got beat by a good horse," jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. said.
While Tiz the Law had 122 qualifying points and was assured of a spot in the Kentucky Derby before 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 the top four finishers.
A son of Quality Road , Dr Post made just his fourth start and competed in a graded stakes for the first time, picking up his initial batch of Kentucky Derby points.
George Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds' Max Player also put in a nice late run, moving up from ninth to take third, 5 1/4 lengths behind Tiz the Law, in the son of Honor Code 's first start since Feb. 1.
The victory kept Tiz the Law undefeated at 3 and lifted his record to five wins in six starts, including a victory in the Champagne Stakes (G1) last year at 2, with earnings of $1,480,300.
Out of the Tiznow mare Tizfiz, he was purchased by Knowlton for $110,000 from the Sequel New York consignment at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton New York-Bred Yearlings Sale.
Tizfiz is also the dam of stakes-placed Awestruck and has a yearling colt by Mission Impazible.