SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY — With his 5 1/2-length romp in the Travers Stakes (G1) on Saturday at Saratoga, Tiz the Law ran right smack into Kentucky Derby (G1) favoritism, on this oddest of Triple Crown trails.
Locally, the reaction was unanimous as the bay colt with the impossible-to-miss blaze left his rivals in the dust, adding another 100 points to his Kentucky Derby qualifying total, bringing him to 372, nearly double that of the horse second on the leaderboard, Authentic with 200.
372 points! No horse has done anything like that.
And of course, no horse has done anything like that because there’s never been a prep year like this, one that began on January 1 with the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct and will end nine—NINE!—months later at Churchill Downs.
And while after the Travers there was immediate social media buzz about an asterisk should Tiz the Law go on to win the Triple Crown, he will arguably be among the most accomplished, consistent, hardiest horses to accomplish that feat.
Tiz the Law started down this road last October at Belmont Park, winning the Champagne (G1) by four lengths. He has dodged no one and remained sound (touch wood), encountering not a single hiccup—well, except for a global pandemic–on his steady approach to Louisville.
And much as traditionalists have bemoaned a Belmont-first, Preakness-last, Derby-in-September Triple Crown season, the reinvented-by-necessity series has done what many of racing’s customers and fans have longed for: it’s kept 3-year-olds racing while maintaining, and even adding, national interest to summer racing meets.
I always tell my students that a hypothetical is nearly impossible to argue persuasively, but I’m going to give it a shot, anyway.
Had the Triple Crown season not been disrupted this year and run as usual, the Travers would maintain its position as a target for late-developing 3-year-olds, perhaps with some championship implications, perhaps not. This year, the Travers, with its 170 Derby points, was as important as an early spring prep, and it offered both Caracaro and Max Player, the runner-up and third-place finisher, respectively, the opportunity to confirm their spots in the starting gate on Sept. 5.
For more than a decade, I’ve run a Derby fantasy league to raise money for racing non-profits. In ordinary years, many of our players’ interests in racing drop off after the Kentucky Derby, when our winners are determined. Not this year: even the most casual of fans is attentive to prep races and points, as they try to win a substantial sum to donate to the racing non-profit of their choice.
Even though a number of racetracks were forced to close this spring as COVID-19 ravaged the country, there has not been, this year, that quiet, post-TC season, those weeks between the Belmont Stakes (G1) and the opening of the summer meets. And nor will there be: We will go from Del Mar and Saratoga to the Kentucky Derby to the Preakness (G1) to the Breeders’ Cup.
I am aware that I write this for a platform owned by Churchill Downs, which no doubt, and understandably, has a hard time seeing any kind of silver lining in this year’s events. Still, even amid the devastation that this year has brought, we have been presented with opportunities for innovation (read “innovation” as “necessary survival strategies”) that, one can hope, will create a spirit of agility and creativity that will last long beyond 2020.