Special thoroughbred edition
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
2020 is the year of the asterisk and had Tiz the Law won the Kentucky Derby and come to Baltimore with a chance to win horse racing’s Triple Crown, the pundits and scribes would have their asterisks ready.
Well, they can save those asterisks for something else. On the first Saturday in September, the sport of horse racing once again proved that it will dictate the terms as to who gets the glory….and who doesn’t.
While it’s been weird to watch horse racing with no fans and no noise, one thing is indisputable and that is that the racing has been great. We saw Tiz the Law run a scintillating Belmont, a blazing Travers and in Friday, Shedaresthedevil ran the fastest Kentucky Oaks of all-time.
Thankfully, through HD TV, ADWs (Advance Deposit Wagering) and the internet, we Americans have been able to watch and follow the sport, in fact, access to horse racing has never been easier. On Friday, Saratoga handled over $18 million—with nary a fan on the grounds.
That’s the good news because for the next year, two, three, four or even five, TV will rule the world when it comes to watching sports. Given what we’ve been dealt with this year, is it fair to assume that the May 2021 Kentucky Derby will have 150,000 fans in attendance?
We are seeing kids go back to college and within a week, the number of Covid cases goes from 0 to 150. And, while these kids won’t die or require treatment, it does give pause as to how soon concerts, sports, fairs and carnivals can be attended and attended safely.
And, even if a vaccine comes out, 67 percent of Americans say they will wait before getting a shot. What does that tell us?
Sports are weird, seeing people at Churchill Downs wearing masks is odd, and to be honest unsettling. Some are wearing them, but not wearing them properly. The trainer of Tiz the Law (Barclay Tagg) was wearing a mask that covered his mouth, but not his nose. Is that okay? I don’t even know anymore.
The NFL starts this week; some teams will allow some fans, some won’t as each state has different guidelines. We haven’t even thought about the Super Bowl yet. Could the NFL’s big money maker be played with 50 percent (or less) capacity?
The good thing remains the TV. The games have been on, the horse racing has been on and last month, the Indy 500 was on. When you watch on TV, you can block the fans out and enjoy the event and though it took some time, many have become accepting with fake crowd noise and no fans present. Baseball is still the weirdest to watch, but come playoff time, fans will be ready.
It’s easy to put an asterisk after every major sporting event this year. The NHL and NBA champs will likely have an asterisk attached as a designation, not a degradation. Here is how it might read:
2018-2019: St. Louis Blues
2019-2020: New York Islanders*
*the 2020 playoffs were played after a four month break and all games were played in a bubble.
That won’t happen in horse racing now that Authentic held off Tiz the Law in the Kentucky Derby. If you watched the race, you didn’t think that would happen. Tiz the Law got a good trip and right before the three-quarter mark, he went to the outside, which he likes to do. There, he hooked Authentic and for a brief second, took the lead.
Authentic, like he did in the Haskell, would not yield. He dug in gamely and thwarted Tiz the Law’s shot at Triple Crown glory. The final time, 2:00.61 was the fastest since 2001 when Monarchos toured Churchill Downs in 1:59.97. So for those looking to make excuses for Tiz the Law, please don’t. Authentic’s win was legitimate and the winning time only adds to the legitimacy.
All the headlines sound the same, they all reference that Authentic pulled the upset over Tiz the Law in the Kentucky Derby, and while that’s technically true, let’s look at what Authentic has done in 2020.
He’s made five starts this year and now has four wins. He won the Sham Stakes in January, the San Felipe in March and then finished second to Honor A.P. in the Santa Anita Derby. After racing resumed, he went to Jersey and held off Ny Traffic by a nose in the Haskell. It was that race that showed us that this horse doesn’t like to give up the lead and in the Derby that played out.
As for Tiz the Law, his four race winning streak—Holy Bull, Florida Derby, Belmont, Travers—is over and it is now decision time. The colt is owned by the delightful group called Sackatoga Stables. The managing partner is Jack Knowlton, an old-school, let’s see them race type of guy. The trainer is Barclay Tagg. He’s old, too, age 82, but not old-school. Knowlton wants to see the colt run in the Oct. 3 Preakness at Pimlico because the race is an American classic and winning the Preakness is prestigious.
Tagg prefers to skip the race and train the colt for the Breeder’s Cup, which takes place on Nov. 7 at Keeneland. Had Tiz won the Derby, there would be no discussion; the colt would be headed to Baltimore and Barn 40 for a shot at the Triple Crown and that asterisk.
Conventional wisdom says that you can get the colt ready for one more big effort, but not two. Tiz the Law has been running all year. He began his 3-year old campaign in February and yesterday’s showing might be an indication that he’s at the end of his rope for 2020.
If you skip the Preakness, you should be fresh and ready for one more big effort in the Breeder’s Cup Classic. Tagg prefers to do that, but he’s not the owner, Knowlton and Sackatoga are and if they want to race in the Preakness, that’s going to happen.
Like many owners, Knowlton is greedy and I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. You have the horse of a lifetime, he’s at the top of his game, why not keep entering these classic races and try to win as many as you can?
The problem is that horses aren’t robots. Tagg and Knowlton will have to sit down and it will have to be Tagg who tries to convince Knowlton that the horse has one, but not two, races in him for 2020. If the horse goes to Baltimore and wins on Oct. 3, my gut tells me he gets beat badly in the Breeder’s Cup Classic. If he skips the Preakness, I think he could run a big one in the BC Classic.
In truth, I like the Preakness better than the BC Classic, but that’s because the Preakness has been around longer and has more tradition, but if I owned the colt, I’d skip the Preakness. I’ve won the Belmont, I’ve won the Travers and I’ve won the Florida Derby and finished a no shame second in the Kentucky Derby. I’ve already proved myself against the 3-year olds, so for that reason, I’ll take the break and look to show everybody how great I am in Lexington on Nov. 7.
And, if Tiz the Law wins there, no asterisk will be needed.