When 65-year-old horse trainer Barclay Tagg, who grew up in Abington and is a 1961 Penn State graduate with a degree in animal husbandry, sent Funny Cide out to try for the 2003 Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown, there were 101,562 people at old Belmont Park on a miserable, rainy day.
When 82-year-old Barclay Tagg made his way out of the paddock to the Belmont Park grandstand late Saturday afternoon, he was one of fewer than 200 people at America’s biggest race track. He trained Tiz the Law, the 4-5 favorite for the 2020 Belmont Stakes, the first leg of the Triple Crown in this bizarre year.
It was an eerie scene, but wonderful in its own way as the most significant sporting event in the United States since the country shut down in mid-March, played out in the emptiness that so many have experienced for so long, but somehow delivered an ending everybody could appreciate.
Funny Cide led but could not hold on, finishing third. Tiz the Law, like Funny Cide a New York-bred and by far the most accomplished 3-year-old in the 10-horse field, was third on the forever run down the backstretch of the 1⅛-mile race (660 yards shorter than the Belmont’s normal 1½ miles. When Tiz the Law cruised up to front-runner Tap It to Win near the end of Belmont’s final, sweeping turn, it was obvious what was about to happen.
Tiz the Law went right on by, opened up several lengths immediately and came under the wire 3¾ lengths in front, giving Tagg a personal Triple Crown as well as making him and his horse the only ones alive for this Triple Crown, which will play out over the next 15 weeks, with the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5 and the Preakness Oct. 3.
“I’m just glad I lived long enough to where I got another horse like this,” Tagg said on NBC.
He had won the Derby and Preakness with Funny Cide. Now, the Belmont Stakes at his home track.
“I wanted to have a Belmont victory before I gave it up or died or something like that,” said Tagg, as only a man in his ninth decade might say.
Jockey Manny Franco, who has been riding only since 2013, won his first Triple Crown race, giving Tiz the Law a perfect trip.
Franco, who is closing on 1,400 wins and $85 million in mount earnings, rode the horse with great confidence. And why not? Tiz the Law was the only Grade I stakes winner in the field.
The Belmont Stakes now gives the colt three wins at horse racing’s highest level. Tiz the Law is 5-for-6 and should be 6-for-6, his only loss an unlucky third at Churchill Downs last November.
It will be back to Churchill in September for the Derby, but there will almost certainly be another race in between, the most likely the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 8, four weeks before the Derby.
It was at Pennell’s Restaurant, a mile south of the venerable track in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where Jack Knowlton and half his 35-person Sackatoga Stable partnership in Tiz the Law watched the race, as owners were not allowed at Belmont Park.
It was another Knowlton partnership that owned Funny Cide. Like his trainer, the owner now has his own personal Triple Crown.
Tiz the Law ran the distance in 1:46.53, barely one second off the track record.
It was impressive in every way, but perhaps the most impressive 3-year-old to run at Belmont Park onSaturday was the 3-year-old filly Gamine. Her trainer Bob Baffert, who was not represented in the Belmont Stakes because his two best colts were recently injured, has been telling anyone who would listen that Gamine is his next superstar.
All Gamine did in the Acorn Stakes was win by 18¾ lengths and run 1 mile in 1:32.55, 0.31 seconds off the track record.
Baffert does not typically run fillies against colts, so Gamine likely will be run in the Kentucky Oaks on Sept. 4, the day before the Derby.
For now, it is all about Tiz the Law. In a perfect world, rather than 150 or so people, 150,000 will be able to see the colt at Churchill Downs in 11 weeks.