ELMONT, N.Y. – The starting gate was in the backstretch chute, rather than in front of the grandstand. And the sound of hooves impacting the Belmont Park track replaced the deafening roar of the crowd.
But while so much was different about the 152nd Belmont Stakes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what’s timeless is a victory in a Triple Crown race and an emotional outcome.
And as Tiz the Law came roaring down the stretch, the New York-bred achieved both, scripting a storybook victory in the state that's been hit harder than any other by the caronavirus, while giving himself a chance to make history after a win in what served as this year’s first leg of the series, rather than the last.
It was only fitting that Tiz the Law became the first New York-bred to win the Belmont Stakes in 138 years, going postward as the 4-5 favorite and proving himself to be the class of the field. He sat just off the pace before accelerating around the turn and drawing off for a comfortable victory in the $1 million event.
"It’s tremendous," said Jack Knowlton, who heads Sackatoga Stable, which purchased Tiz the Law for $110,000. "We just buy New York-breds. That’s our game."
Tiz the Law, ridden by Manuel Franco, completed the 1⅛-mile test, shortened from the traditional 1½-mile distance, in 1:46.53 in front of an empty grandstand due to restrictions related to the coronavirus.
The winning margin was four lengths. Tiz the Law paid $3.60, 2.90 and 2.60. Runnerup Dr. Post paid $5.80 and 4.20. Max Player — from the stable of Rumson, New Jersey, native George Hall — paid $5.20. The exacta paid $19.60 for $2 wagers.
Unlike the traditional three races in five weeks, Tiz the Law must now bridge an 11-week gap to the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5. And the Triple Crown concludes on Oct. 3 with the Preakness, even though the 13 previous Triple Crown winners have been crowned in the Belmont Stakes. Tiz the Law would be the third horse since 2015 to complete the Triple Crown, joining Bob Baffert trainees American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
And with Tiz the Law emerging as such a compelling New York story, the plan is to take him to Saratoga to run in the Travers Stakes on Aug. 8 as a stepping-stone to the Kentucky Derby.
It’s the first Belmont Stakes win for the team of trainer Barclay Tagg and owner Sackatoga Stable. They finished third with Funny Cide in 2003 after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
From the moment Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" echoed through the grandstand as the horses made their way onto the track, Tiz the Law was all business. And then in a stirring performance he showed why he’s a threat to win the Triple Crown.
The son of Constitution has gate speed and he broke cleanly, joining the leaders immediately, then settled to sit comfortably just off the pace set by Tap It to Win on the inside, with Pneumatic in second between horses. And as he surged to the front rounding the turn before quickly opening up several lengths on the field, he showed he’s capable of going the distance.
BELMONT STAKES: All-time winners from 1867-2020
And unlike the previous Triple Crown winners, Tiz the Law will never have to prove himself at 1½-miles. But he appeared capable of handling the 1¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance.
"It looked to me like everything just worked like clockwork," Tagg said. "That’s the way the horse likes to run, that’s the position he likes to be in. Manny knows the horse very well. We discussed it very quickly before I put him up on the horse and I felt very confident Manny would ride him that way.
"I thought it looked pretty solid when he got halfway down the lane. It’s a good feeling."
It was the first victory for Franco in a Triple Crown race.
"I was really confident when we got the 7/8th poll. He was so comfortable," Franco said.
It marked the third win in as many starts for Tiz the Law and fifth victory in six career starts. His wins in the Florida Derby and Champagne Stakes were the only two Grade 1 victories among the 10 starters entering the race.
"We’ve been with Barclay Tagg for 25 years," Knowlton said, "and I keep telling everybody, Barclay doesn’t get a lot of big horses, big opportunities. But when he gets them he knows what to do."
Stephen Edelson is a USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey sports columnist and horse racing writer. Contact him at: @SteveEdelsonAPP; firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Belmont Stakes: Tiz the Law wins historic first leg of Triple Crown