Tiz the Law kicked off the 2020 Triple Crown series with a four-length victory in the Belmont Stakes. Here are three takeaways from the race as we begin a long wait for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby and the Oct. 3 Preakness Stakes:
Tiz the Law delivered as classy a performance as you could ask for from a heavy favorite.
The New-York-bred colt went off as a 4-5 favorite, unusually heavy for the first leg of the Triple Crown series. Those odds spoke to the quality Tiz the Law had demonstrated but also to a field diminished by injuries to undefeated challengers Nadal, Charlatan and Maxfield.
So in a sense, Tiz the Law could only hold serve in the Belmont. With the race featuring mild competition and going 1 1/8 miles instead of the usual 1½, he would not be asked any questions he had not already answered.
It’s easy for a star to disappoint under such circumstances, but Tiz the Law did not. Instead, he showed all the traits that will make him difficult to beat for the rest of the year. He broke sharply and sat comfortably in third as Tap It to Win pushed the early pace. Jockey Manny Franco, who’d never ridden a horse nearly this good on the Triple Crown stage, showed superb patience, and Tiz the Law matched his calm. When it was time to go, he put the field behind him and brooked no challenge.
“There wasn’t really a lot of drama here,” Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey said on the NBC broadcast. Tiz the Law made sure that was the case with his talent and professionalism. From his first win this year in the Holy Bull Stakes to his commanding performance in the Florida Derby to his Belmont triumph, he’s grown with each race.
It’s a testament to the horse but also to the work of 82-year-old trainer Barclay Tagg, who hasn’t had a 3-year-old this gifted since he won the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Funny Cide. As owner Jack Knowlton said all week, Tagg doesn’t receive a lot of superstar horses, but when he does, he knows what to do with them.
This was the strangest Belmont Stakes in recent memory, but it still worked as a television event.
A string of pre-race images captured all that was different about the Belmont in a year defined by the coronavirus pandemic.
There was the near-empty paddock at Belmont Park, normally jammed with connections, onlookers and photographers in the moments before the horses go to the track. There was the lonely pre-race bugle call, answered by silence instead of the typical roar from rowdy New Yorkers stuffing the grandstand. There was the shot of that spectator-free grandstand, glimpsed from a distant starting gate that had been moved because the race was shortened.
They still played “New York, New York” as Tiz the Law walked out to do his work, but no one was there to sing along.
Give NBC credit for capturing the eerie aspects of the event. Host Mike Tirico summed it up well, saying, “It’s a big-time moment without the big-time feel.”
Once the gate opened, however, normalcy flooded back into the experience. The setting ceased to matter, and we got the usual condensed thrill of a star 3-year-old testing himself over an unforgiving gauntlet. The sport’s brevity has always been one of its greatest strengths. The tension is so great for those 2 minutes (or 1 minute, 46.53 seconds in Tiz the Law’s case) that little else matters.
Nothing about the 2020 Triple Crown series will be normal. Events that usually take over Louisville and Baltimore will not carry their customary grandeur. But as we look ahead to September and October, the races are still worthy of our anticipation.
Tiz the Law has to be taken seriously as a Triple Crown contender.
At the very least, we did not see the horse that can beat him in Saturday’s Belmont field. Tiz the Law will likely face tougher competition in the Derby, with Santa Anita Derby champion Honor A.P. and Bob Baffert-trained Authentic lining up to challenge. Once we get to the Preakness, Charlatan, who would have rivaled Tiz the Law for favorite status at the Belmont, might rejoin the fray.
But Tiz the Law went into Saturday with the best resume in this 3-year-old class and came out with the best by a mile (or 1 1/8 miles as the case may be). If there’s a flaw to his game, we haven’t seen it. A clean-breaking horse with plenty of speed and the maturity to hold it in reserve is pretty much the prototype for a Triple Crown candidate.
“I got the horse for the race,” Franco said when asked about his Derby chances.
Time appears to be Tiz the Law’s greatest enemy. In this most unusual of years, he will likely run in the Aug. 8 Travers Stakes before he heads to Churchill Downs. That will mean another chance to shine but also another chance to stumble into misfortune. As we’ve seen with the injuries to Nadal, Charlatan and Maxfield, 2½ months is forever in the life of a champion thoroughbred.
Or an unforeseen challenger could emerge. It’s common enough for the best 3-year-old in a given year to burst forth in the summer, after the Triple Crown series. So Tiz the Law’s dominance of the first six months guarantees nothing.
Tagg, who sees every angle after 50 years in the game, would be the first to tell you so. He has a terrific horse, though, one who could come to Baltimore with a chance to win the mutant Triple Crown on the first Saturday in October. Would the achievement carry an unofficial asterisk because of the scrambled, elongated schedule? Almost certainly. But fans of the series should be excited, because after the Belmont, they have a legit star to follow.