Sackatoga Stable’s Tiz the Law, undefeated in his sophomore campaign with three consecutive graded stakes victories, will return to the site where his racing career began last summer as part of an eight-horse field of top 3-year-olds in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Runhappy Travers at historic Saratoga Race Course.
The 151st running of the Runhappy Travers, listed as Race 11 on a loaded 12-race card with a post time of 6:15 p.m. will be one of five graded stakes on the day. An enticing undercard includes the Grade 1, $300,000 Longines Test for sophomore fillies; the Grade 1, $300,000 Ballerina presented by NYRA Bets, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint; the Grade 3, $200,000 Troy for 4-year-olds and up on Mellon turf and the Grade 3, $150,000 Waya for older fillies and mares on the inner turf. FOX will have live coverage from 5-6:30 p.m.
Tiz the Law made history in becoming the first New York bred in 138 years to win the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, capturing the nine-furlong American Classic on June 20 in the first leg of the revised Triple Crown schedule. With five wins in six career starts, the Barclay Tagg trainee is the even-money morning-line favorite from post 6 and enters the 1 1/4-mile “Mid-Summer Derby” leading all horses with 272 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby. He has a chance to add to that record-breaking total, as the Travers will offer 100-40-20-10 points to the top four finishers to the “Run for the Roses” on September 5.
Tagg said he was pleased drawing near the outside.
“I think he’s matured enough now that outside or inside is not going to bother him too much,” Tagg said. “I’d prefer that he’s on the outside just because you have less chance of getting in trouble. Not that you can’t, but you have less chance. I think post 6 is fine. Five would have been fine. Four would have been fine. Any of those three would have been fine with me.”
Tiz the Law burst onto the scene with a 4 1/4-length debut win at the Spa in a 6 ½-furlong New York-bred maiden sprint in August 2019. The Constitution colt parlayed that effort into a four-length triumph in the Grade 1 Champagne in October at Belmont Park and capped his juvenile year with a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in November at Churchill Downs. That marked the only time Tiz the Law has not earned a winner’s circle trip.
Bred by Twin Creeks Farm, he has gone 3-for-3 in 2020, racking up wins in the Grade 3 Holy Bull in February and the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 28, both at Gulfstream Park, before winning the Belmont Stakes that was run at 1 1/8 miles to accommodate the revised schedule for 3-year-olds in training due to COVID-19.
The Belmont win gave Tagg a career Triple Crown. After Funny Cide, a fellow New York bred owned by Sackatoga Stable, won the 2003 Kentucky and Preakness before running third in that year’s Belmont, Tagg earned glory in this year’s Belmont edition with Tiz the Law and is now seeking his first Travers win to add to a career that started with his first victory in 1972.
Tagg said competing at 10 furlongs shouldn’t be an issue.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. We’ve been very fortunate,” Tagg said. “I don’t think any distance makes a difference for this horse. From what I’ve seen, I just don’t have any feeling that he can’t handle it. It would be nice to win it if we could.”
Manny Franco, who won his first Classic in the Belmont, has been aboard for all four of Tiz the Law’s graded stakes wins and will have the return engagement.
“I’ve never seen him take a deep breath,” Tagg said of Tiz the Law. “I’ve never had him out of breath after a workout. I’ve never had him way out of breath after a race and he [cools] off very quickly. His lungs settle right down and nothing seems to be a hazard. I could be all wrong in that. It might change in another eighth of a mile, I don’t know, but I’ve got no reason to worry about it.”
While Tiz the Law will have to wait to the fall to complete the Triple Crown trail [the Preakness is slated for October 3, just four weeks after the Kentucky Derby], he will be tested in the Travers by Uncle Chuck. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will ship the lightly raced but incredibly talented son of Uncle Mo, who enters 2-for-2.
Unraced as a juvenile, the quarter-million dollar purchase at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale won his debut by seven lengths on June 12 at Santa Anita and handled a step up in class with aplomb with a four-length victory at 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 3 Los Alamitios Derby on July 4.
“He’s quick,” Baffert said. “He’s a big, tall horse but he’s really quick on his feet. He’s got a tremendous stride. That’s why I thought the mile and a quarter would suit him well. If you can win the Travers, it’s a big thing. But Tiz the Law looks unbelievable. I watched his last work and he looked tremendous, so Uncle Chuck will have to step it up. It should be a great race.”
Baffert is a three-time Travers winner, including with Arrogate, who set both the stakes and track record when he dominated the field in 2016, hitting the wire in 1:59.36. Baffert won for a second year in a row with West Coast in 2017.
Luis Saez, aboard for his stakes win, will be in the irons against from post 3. Uncle Chuck is listed at 5-2.
“He’s been training well, and I thought he deserves a chance to run in it,” Baffert said. “He’s only had two races, but they were pretty impressive. The talent is there, he’s just still figuring it out and putting it together.”
Another upstart in the race is Max Player, the Belmont Stakes third-place finisher, for trainer Linda Rice.
A winner of the Grade 3 Withers in February at Aqueduct Racetrack, Max Player has never finished off the board in four starts, posting a 2-1-1 ledger. Owned by George E. Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds, Max Player is 15th on the Derby leaderboard with 40 points.
Max Player will stretch out to a mile and a quarter for the first time after competing at 1 1/8 miles in his previous two starts.
“He was closing ground at the end of the mile and an eighth in the Belmont, so I’m hoping the extra distance only works in his favor,” Rice said. “It would be great if we had an honest pace in this race, so it would set up better for a horse coming from off the pace.”
The Honor Code colt is listed as 6-1 on the morning line and will break from post 4 under Joel Rosario, who will have a Travers mount for the fifth consecutive year.
Rice was the first female to win a Saratoga training title when she paced all conditioners with 20 wins in 2009. She will be saddling her second Travers starter and first since Kid Cruz [fourth] in 2014.
“For someone who has raced in New York year round for quite some time now, the Travers is one of those races on your bucket list that you’d really like to win,” Rice said. “It’s exciting to be in the race. It’s disappointing that we won’t have the crowds or the fanfare that goes with it, but I’d still be thrilled to win a race like the Travers.”
The top-two finishers of the Grade 3 Peter Pan on July 16 at Saratoga will make short turnarounds to rematch in the Travers, including the winner Country Grammer, who will bid to give four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown his first “Mid-Summer Derby” victory.
Country Grammer, owned by Paul Pompa, Jr., worked a sharp half-mile Saturday in 47.66 seconds in company with last year’s Grade 1 Secretariat winner Valid Point.
A maiden winner at second asking when travelling nine furlongs in November at the Big A, Country Grammer was fifth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth in his seasonal debut in February at Gulfstream. Following a closing third in a one-turn, 1 1/16-mile allowance event on June 4 at Belmont, Country Grammer made his return to two turns a winning one in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan on Opening Day July 16 at Saratoga.
Brown said the breeze, which was the colt’s first since his Peter Pan win, went according to plan.
“The work went super. He’s not a great work horse but for him it was one of the better works I’ve seen. He’s gotten a lot stronger,” said Brown. “He’s a May foal and he was always destined to fill out and get stronger as he goes along.”
Bred in Kentucky by Scott Pierce and Debbie Pierce, Brown said the bay son of 2014 Belmont Stakes-winner Tonalist should appreciate the additional furlong on Saturday.
“He’s looking for more ground,” said Brown. “He’s going to have to step it up obviously on short rest and the fact that it’s a much tougher race. But the horse, physically, is doing everything you want him to do. We’re excited to participate and give him a shot.”
Listed at 6-1, Irad Ortiz, Jr. will have the call from post 2.
Global Thoroughbred and Top Racing’s Caracaro was the Peter Pan runner-up, a neck behind Country Grammer. Conditioned by Gustavo Delgado, the son of Uncle Mo ran second in his debut in December at Gulfstream at seven furlongs and broke his maiden with a six-length win at one mile on January 11 at the Florida track before taking the step up in class last month.
Delgado has won his native Venezuela’s equivalent of the Triple Crown with Taconeo in 2007 and Water Jet in 2010. He will bid for Saratoga glory with Caracaro, who is listed at 10-1.
Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano holds a record six Travers wins, two more than the next-closest competitors all-time, and will aim for No. 7, piloting Caracaro from post 7.
Jacks or Better Farm’s Shivaree ran second to Tiz the Law in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and will make his first start at Saratoga after compiling two stakes wins, capping his 2-year-old year with a victory in the Buffalo Man at Gulfstream Park and starting 2020 with a Limehouse win on January 4 at Gulfstream.
Trained by Ralph Nicks, Shivaree, a son of Awesome of Course, is listed at 30-1 with Junior Alvarado set to ride from post 5.
South Bend, the runner-up to Dean Martini in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby last out on June 27 at Thistledown, will make his first start for his new connections. Owners Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable, Peter Deutsch and Pantofel Stable acquired South Bend and transferred him to the care of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
South Bend, an Algorithms colt, will go for his first graded stakes win, drawing post 8 with Jose Ortiz. He is listed at 15-1.
First Line will make his first stakes appearance in his fifth career start for trainer Orlando Noda, who also co-owns the First Samurai gelding with his brother Jonathan as part of Noda Brothers, LLC.
First Line broke his maiden at fourth asking on July 29 at the Spa and will return off a quick turnaround looking to give the 31-year-old Noda his first career stakes winner. David Cohen will ride from post 1 at 30-1.
“I think we got a perfect post,” Noda said. “He’s going to come out running when the gates open and he might just fight the whole mile and a quarter. It is a quick turnaround, but I’ve hyped this horse up from before he even debuted. These are my points for the Derby. He’s a longshot for a reason but he’s going to outrun his odds and, God willing, we will win this race.”
Photo Credit: NYRA