If heavily favored Tiz the Law becomes the first New York-bred Belmont Stakes winner in more than 130 years on Saturday, trainer Barclay Tagg hopes an upside down Triple Crown year won't detract from his achievement.
The Belmont will kick off US flat racing's Triple Crown for the first time in history thanks to a racing schedule scrambled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kentucky Derby, postponed from May 2, will be held on September 5 at Churchill Downs and the Preakness, normally the middle jewel of the coveted treble, will serve as the finale on October 3 at Pimlico.
"What will bother me is if they put an asterisk after it," Tagg said. "If it's the Belmont Stakes, let it be the Belmont Stakes. It's got good horses in it."
The 152nd running of the Belmont Park classic will cover 1 1/8 miles rather than its usual marathon distance of 1 1/2 miles.
Tiz the Law, with four wins in five starts, is the only Grade 1 event winner in the 10-horse field off his March 28 victory at the Florida Derby and triumph last October at Belmont in the Champagne Stakes.
The field is also missing a trio of 3-year-old thoroughbreds who had plenty of attention before injuries -- Bob Baffert-trained Nadal and Charlatan plus Maxfield.
But retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, now an NBC analyst, says the Belmont still offers a chance to see Tiz the Law stamp himself a superstar.
"Tiz the Law has been the best 3-year-old since January basically, and he remains that," Bailey said. "He would have been favored in whatever Triple Crown race we ran first, so we have a superstar that we're going to see on Saturday."
The cavernous grandstand at Belmont Park will be empty of spectators on Saturday, with even owners of the runners barred.
It will be a far cry from the 2003 Belmont, when the Tagg-trained Funny Cide arrived with the Kentucky Derby and Preakness under his belt but finished third behind Empire Maker on a rain-soaked track in his bid to complete the Triple Crown.
Back then, the rollicking syndicate of owners who had dubbed themselves Sackatoga Stables turned up to watch Funny Cide's bid for history in a school bus.
The same group is behind Tiz the Law, and for them the prospect of winning a Triple Crown race remains a thrill.
- Lightning strikes again -
"I figured once in a lifetime for an outfit like ours, that typically buys one horse, maybe two horses a year," Sackatoga's managing partner, Jack Knowlton, said. "So to have it happen again, still, I wake up and kind of pinch myself and say, 'You know what? It looks like lightning really has struck twice.'"
Much of the credit for that goes to Tagg, the taciturn 82-year-old who plucked up Tiz the Law as a yearling for $110,000.
The imposing bay colt will vie to become just the fourth New York-bred to win the Belmont after Ruthless in 1867, Fenian in 1869 and Forester in 1882.
Jockey Manny Franco will be in the irons when Tiz the Law, made an early 6-5 favorite, breaks from the eighth post on Saturday.
"I'd have rather been a little closer (to the rail), but I don't think it makes much of a difference," Tagg said. "He's coming in good. I can't be happier with him."
Fast-closing Sole Volante, saddled by US-based French trainer Patrick Biancone, drew the second post and was priced at 9-2 with the Todd Pletcher-trained Dr Post the early third favorite at 5-1 after drawing the ninth post in the field of 10.
Belmont Stakes favorite Tiz The Law with exercise rider Robin Smullen up and Trainer Barclay Tagg riding alongside walk along the main track at Belmont Park during morning training prior to the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes