The only time likely Grade 1 Kentucky Derby favorite Tiz the Law has not earned a trip to the winner’s circle in seven career starts came at Churchill Downs when he capped his juvenile year with a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last November.
So much has changed since then for the New York-bred son of Constitution, including four straight graded stakes wins to start his sophomore campaign. After capturing the Grade 3 Holy Bull and Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, Tiz the Law has been making history since, becoming the first state-bred in more than a century to win the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes by 3 ¾ lengths on June 20 and followed by throttling the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers field by 5 ½ lengths on August 8 at Saratoga.
Those efforts have primed Tiz the Law, bred in the Empire State by Twin Creeks Farm, for a shot at history as he continues on the Triple Crown trail. The next challenge is a return engagement at Churchill, where he will be the likely heavy favorite in the 146th running of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on September 5.
Jockey Manny Franco, who expertly piloted the Barclay Tagg-trained Tiz the Law to four Grade 1 wins, including the Champagne in October at Belmont Park, said his charge has matured since his last appearance in the Bluegrass State.
“He’s a different horse now. He’s very mature and he’s improving race-by-race and I’m really happy with the way he’s doing it,” Franco said. “His mind is growing and he’s doing everything the right way. He’s ready for whatever happens.”
Traditionally the opening leg of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby is now the middle jewel, with the Belmont Stakes serving as the opener to accommodate the revised training schedule for 3-year-olds due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Though the circumstances are different with the race being in September instead of May, the “Run for the Roses” will maintain its signature full field, with up to 20 entrants still expected. Though Tiz the Law remains the unanimous leader in the NTRA top 3-year-old poll [and fifth in the top overall thoroughbred poll overall], Franco said the Derby will see the rest of the field looking to take down the favorite.
“If we get a good position, it’s going to be the same,” Franco said. “We just need a good break and put him where he’s comfortable, and he’ll have a great race.”
In the Runhappy Travers, Franco was able to gear down Tiz the Law in deep stretch, but said he likely won’t have that luxury a week from now.
“The Derby won’t be an easy race, so we have to be prepared for everything that day and I think on that day, I’m going to have to make him run and see what he has in the tank,” Franco said. “He gave me great confidence after the last race because he handled the mile and a quarter, and the way he won, it gave me more confidence.”
The opportunity to ride Tiz the Law for owner Sackatoga Stable has been a continuation of a flourishing career for Franco. Still just 25 years old, Franco has come into his own as a jockey, winning the last two New York Racing Association year-end riding titles on the highly competitive circuit. Last November, he won his first career Breeders’ Cup race, guiding Sharing to victory in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and won his first American Classic in this year’s Belmont.
A win in the Kentucky Derby would set up a potential history making spot in the Grade 1 Preakness on October 3, where Tiz the Law could attempt to become just the 14th Triple Crown winner in history.
“This is a horse that any rider needs; we all need a shot on this kind of horse,” Franco said. “I’m really enjoying the moment to have this opportunity. I’m trying to do the best I can. He does things the other horses can’t. I put him wherever I want and he’s going to be there for me. Some horses, that’s not [the case]. He has a lot of ability. He’s very easy to ride. He rates. He does whatever I ask.”
Franco, who started riding in the United States in 2013, has won seven of his 11 career Grade 1 victories occur since 2019. His agent is Hall of Famer Angel Cordero, Jr., who won a pair of Kentucky Derbies with Bold Forbes in 1976 and Spend a Buck in 1985.
“Angel is a Hall of Fame rider and I’m just happy to have him on my side because he’s been in this position before and he always talks to me about how to handle this time,” Franco said. “I’m just blessed to have him in my corner. I just listen to him and try to put it in practice.”
Franco entered Friday with 1,385 career wins in 9,710 starts.
NYRA Press/Susie Raisher- Photo Credit