Tiz the Law won the Belmont Stakes June 20, becoming the first New York-bred horse to win the race in 138 years and giving owner Jack Knowlton the win he never got 17 years ago with Funny Cide, which won the first two legs of the Triple Crown only to lose at the Belmont in 2003.
When Funny Cide made a run for the title in 2003, no horse had won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. He was the first New York-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby, and he was the favorite going into the Belmont.
The track was sloppy after heavy rain, and Knowlton said he and trainer Barclay Tagg thought Funny Cide just didn’t handle the surface well. He came in third and became the 17th horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown but lose the Belmont.
“We had the opportunity, the Triple Crown on the line, a $5 million bonus from Visa and immortality for Funny Cide should he have been able to win that day, but it didn’t happen,” Knowlton said on Glenn Clark Radio June 22. “I tell everybody I’ll go to my grave wondering what would have happened if it didn’t rain five inches that day because that was not a race track that he seemed to handle well at all.”
It would be another 12 years before American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015, breaking a 37-year drought. Provided that Tiz the Law continues to run well and stay healthy, he could have the opportunity to cap off the third jewel in the Triple Crown in the Preakness in Baltimore because of this year’s changeup in the schedule.
Knowlton and Tagg started lining Tiz the Law up to qualify for the Kentucky Derby last year. They skipped the Breeder’s Cup in November 2019 because they didn’t want to ship a young horse to California.
“Barclay and I plotted out what his journey would be that hopefully would get him to Kentucky on the normal first Saturday in May,” Knowlton said.
Tiz the Law’s 3-year-old season started off with wins in the Holy Bull Stakes and the Florida Derby, making him one of the favorites to win the Kentucky Derby before racing was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All three of the Triple Crown races this year were rescheduled, making the Belmont the first leg. The race, usually the last and the longest of the three, was shortened this year from 1 ½ miles to 1 1/8 miles.
This year’s races will span a 15-week period instead of the five weeks from the Kentucky Derby to the Belmont. Because of that, there is speculation that if Tiz the Law wins the Triple Crown, he will have an asterisk next to his name. But Knowlton said that the circumstances have made it even more challenging for the horses and riders, extra time or not.
“If they were to win the Triple Crown, everybody talks about the asterisk and all that,” Knowlton said. “But … I tend to think that keeping a horse sharp over this extended period of time, going from the 20th of June until the third of October, probably is a tougher feat of horsemanship than winning three races in a five-week period.”
Tiz the Law exceeded expectations when he won two races as a 2-year-old despite placing third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. With his win on Saturday, the 3-year-old is undefeated this year.
Knowlton said he and Tagg plan to run Tiz the Law in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, N.Y., which was recently moved to Aug. 8, making it essentially a warm-up before the Derby. Knowlton lives in Saratoga, and he is excited about the horse’s chances of winning the Grade 1 race so close to his home.
After Tiz the Law’s win, Tagg added his name to a distinguished group of trainers who have won all three Triple Crown races, known as a career Triple Crown. Knowlton said he is happy to be able to share the experience with the 82-year-old trainer who was there for the Funny Cide saga.
“I think Barclay definitely is someone that should be considered for the Hall of Fame,” Knowlton said. “… Barclay’s been talking since we won Saturday. The Travers is now a race that he would really like to win. But winning the Belmont, for him, I think was just a huge deal. And I’m just so happy that we can be the ones that are helping take him on this ride.”
After Funny Cide in 2003, Knowlton didn’t expect another horse of that caliber to come around again.
“Getting lucky once with a horse like Funny Cide is all that anybody could ever ask and then to have Tiz the Law come along and do what he has is just absolutely incredible,” Knowlton said.
Knowlton buys New York-bred horses and doesn’t spend as much money as some of the other groups do. Thirty-five people have a share in Tiz the Law through Sackatoga Stables.
He is happy to be able to share the success with other folks, some of whom are new to Sackatoga. He added that some of them are new to owning stakes in racehorses and are lucky to start off with a horse like Tiz the Law.
“Our hope is to buy horses that can run in New York, that can hopefully win a race in Saratoga, that may be good enough to run in New York stakes races, but we don’t pay a lot of money,” Knowlton said. “We paid $75,000 for Funny Cide and we bought Tiz the Law for $110,000. That’s kind of our wheelhouse.”
Knowlton is looking forward to the Preakness, which he said is his favorite of the Triple Crown circuit. That’ll be the last of the three this year and take place at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore Oct. 3. If Tiz the Law wins the Kentucky Derby Sept. 5, Pimlico could be the backdrop for a Triple Crown ceremony.
“The Preakness has been my personal favorite of all the Triple Crown races. … We’ll be there one way or the other,” Knowlton said. “I believe that our plan would be, win or lose the Derby, as long as he comes out of it well, we’ll be competing in the Preakness.”
For more from Knowlton, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Adam Coglianese