Tiz the Law richly lived up to his favorite's billing, sweeping to victory in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday to launch a topsy-turvy Triple Crown year.
Trained by 82-year-old Barclay Tagg and ridden by Manny Franco, Tiz the Law became the first New York-bred horse to win the Belmont since Forester in 1882.
There was no roar to greet him as he surged across the finish line since the cavernous grandstand at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, -- where the race can draw more than 100,000, stood empty amid ongoing coronvirus restrictions.
It was the COVID-19 pandemic that saw the Belmont, usually the final race in US flat racing's flagship treble after the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, run first for the first time in history.
The race, long dubbed the Test of the Champion, was also shortened from its usual 1 1/2-mile distance to 1 1/8 -- a nod to the difficulty of getting the 3-year-old contenders in proper condition for the longer distance in the pandemic-disrupted year.
Tiz the Law broke smartly from the eighth post in a field of 10 and settled into third place behind pace-setter Tap It to Win down the backstretch of the sweeping Belmont track known as "Big Sandy."
Franco made his move in the lone turn, surging ahead on the outside and powering home ahead of the Todd Pletcher-trained Dr Post with Irad Ortiz aboard. Max Player, trained by Linda Rice and ridden by Joel Rosario, was third.
"Well, that's what I've watched him do each time," Tagg said of the bay colt that was the only Grade 1 winner in the field off his March 28 victory at the Florida Derby and a triumph last October at Belmont in the Champagne Stakes. "I was delighted to see it."
Franco, who notched his first Triple Crown race win on his third Triple Crown mount, was just as delighted -- but not surprised.
He felt a few butterflies in the starting gate, "but at the same time I was confident because I know what I have under me," Franco said.
The Triple Crown will continue with the Kentucky Derby, usually held on the first Saturday in May, now rescheduled for September 5 at Churchill Downs.
- 'Really good' -
The Preakness at Pimlico, usually the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, is scheduled for October 3.
Franco was looking ahead to September with confidence.
"I've got the horse for the race," he said. "I'm very happy with the opportunity the owner has given me, and the trainer, Barclay, I'm in good hands.
"They know what they're doing and the horse is really good."
Tiz the Law is the second horse Tagg has saddled in the Belmont for the Sackatoga Stable outfit headed by Jack Knowlton.
"I'm just glad I lived long enough that I got another horse like this," Tagg said.
Knowlton and a group of high school buddies teamed up to run Funny Cide back in 2003 and saw him stunningly win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before finishing third behind Empire Maker on a rain-soaked track in his bid to complete the coveted Triple Crown.
This year, with even owners banned from the track where fewer than 100 essential workers were on hand, Knowlton watched with friends from a restaurant in upstate Saratoga Springs.
The "riders up" call was made long-distance by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who only on June 1 gave the go-ahead for racing to resume in a state hard-hit by coronavirus.