by Jon White
June 25, 2020
As a result of Tiz the Law’s emphatic triumph in last Saturday’s 152nd running of the Grade I Belmont Stakes, he solidified his position atop this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll. It was nearly unanimous. I think it should have been unanimous.
Tiz the Law received 28 first-place votes last week, while Honor A.P. garnered nine.
I was one of the nine to put Honor A.P. at No. 1 last week. But I cast my first-place vote for Tiz the Law this week.
There were 39 voters in the NTRA Top Three-Year-old Poll and NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week The Top 10 in each poll is listed at the end of this column/blog.
Tiz the Law received 38 first-place votes in this week’s Top Three-Year-Old poll. There was a lone first-place vote for Honor A.P.
Let’s take a look at the 2020 resumes for Tiz the Law and Honor A.P.
Tiz the Law is three for three in 2020. He’s a two-time Grade I winner this year.
In Tiz the Law’s three 2020 starts, he has been victorious each time by three lengths or more. He won the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths on Feb. 1, Grade I Florida Derby by 4 1/4 lengths on May 28, then last Saturday’s Belmont by 3 3/4 lengths.
Honor A.P. is not undefeated in 2020. He’s a one-time Grade I winner this year.
In Honor A.P.’s 2020 debut, he finished second to Authentic in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 7. Honor A.P. then won the Grade I Santa Anita Derby by 2 3/4 lengths while avenging his San Felipe defeat. Authentic finished second in the Santa Anita Derby.
In terms of what Tiz the Law and Honor A.P. have accomplished so far this year, this week’s single first-place vote for Honor A.P. is extremely difficult -- if not impossible -- to justify.
I also was one of only five to cast my first-place vote for Tiz the Law in the Top Thoroughbred Poll this week.
According to the NTRA, the Top Thoroughbred Poll is a “current Horse of the Year ranking.” The key word is “current.” In other words, if Eclipse Award voting took place right now, who would be elected 2020 Horse of the Year?
Would it be Midnight Bisou, who tops the poll and received 25 first-place votes? Would she really be voted 2020 Horse of the Year right now when she has lost her only 2020 start? And that one start was not even in this country. Midnight Bisou finished second to Maximum Security in the Group I, $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29.
If the voting took place right now, it seems to me that Tiz the Law most likely would be elected Horse of the Year. I believe his 2020 record of two Grade I wins, including one of the jewels in the Triple Crown, plus a Grade III victory would garner more Horse of the Year support at this time than a winless-in-2020 Midnight Bisou.
Yes, Midnight Bisou is quite capable of going on during the rest of 2020 to do enough to get elected Horse of the Year. She resumes her 2020 campaign this Saturday in the Grade II Fleur de Lis Stakes at Churchill Downs.
(Note: Equibase and the Daily Racing Form past performances incorrectly state it is the Fleur de Lis Handicap. This is not a handicap race. The weights for the Fleur de Lis were not assigned by the racing secretary, but rather they were specified in the race’s conditions, starting with a base weight of 124 pounds. This is just as it is for Saturday’s Stephen Foster Stakes, which formerly was the Stephen Foster Handicap.)
Meanwhile, while I did cast my first-place vote for Tiz the Law in both NTRA polls, with this week’s resumption of my Kentucky Derby Top 10, I am putting Honor A.P. at the top of these rankings.
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 is a different animal than the NTRA polls. To reiterate, the NTRA polls are supposed to reflect the “current” rankings of the 3-year-olds and the “current” Horse of the Year rankings. My Kentucky Derby Top 10 is different in that it’s looking ahead. My Top 10 is a ranking of 3-year-olds in terms of who I see at this time as having the best chance to win the Run for the Roses on Sept. 5.
Right now, I believe Honor A.P. has a slightly better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than Tiz the Law.
A key question for me in terms of who to put at No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 is this: Who is better, Authentic or Dr Post?
I believe that, right now, Authentic is better than Dr Post. This is one of the reasons I have decided to put Honor A.P. instead of Tiz the Law at No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10.
If they were to meet in a 1 1/8-mile race, I am confident that Authentic’s odds would be lower than Dr Post’s.
In the NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll, who is ranked higher, Authentic or Dr. Post? It’s Authentic, who is No. 3. Dr. Post is No. 4.
Tiz the Law, appropriately, is the 5-2 favorite in William Hill Sports Book’s odds to win this year’s Kentucky Derby. Honor A.P. is 7-2. Authentic is 5-1. Dr Post is 16-1.
Also appropriately, Tiz the Law is the 7-5 favorite in Marty McGee’s Daily Racing Form odds for this year’s Kentucky Derby. Honor A.P. is 4-1. Authentic is 8-1. Dr Post is 10-1.
In this week’s Pool Five of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, Tiz the Law is the 7-2 morning-line favorite. Honor A.P. is 5-1. Authentic is 8-1. Dr Post is 15-1
It means more to me that Honor A.P. defeated Authentic by nearly three lengths in the Santa Anita Derby than that Tiz the Law outran Dr Post by almost four lengths in the Belmont.
In terms of deciding who to put at No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week, I also took Beyer Speed Figures into consideration.
Honor A.P. recorded a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure in the Santa Anita Derby. His improving Beyer pattern suggests we might well have not seen his best yet. After being credited with a 77 Beyer at first asking, Honor A.P. has recorded figures of 91, then 95, then 102.
Tiz the Law received a 100 Beyer for his Belmont victory. It matched his previous top Beyer that had been achieved in the Holy Bull.
I hit the pause button earlier this year with respect to my Kentucky Derby Top 10 after that 1 1/4-mile race was moved to the first Saturday in September. I switched to a Belmont Stakes Top 10 after it was announced that race was being shifted to June 20 and shortened to 1 1/8 miles from 1 1/2 miles. This year’s Belmont, for the first time in history, kicked off this country’s Triple Crown series. The final event in this year’s radically different Triple Crown will be the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Oct. 3.
Even though Collusion Illusion is four for five overall and two for two this year after a sparkling victory in Santa Anita’s Grade III Lazaro Barrera Stakes last Saturday, the Kentucky Derby seems unlikely for him.
Nevertheless, track announcer Frank Mirahmadi put it perfectly when he said “Collusion Illusion’s a serious racehorse” while the Florida-bred Twirling Candy colt was in the process of turning a two-length deficit at the eighth pole into a 3 1/4-length win in the Barrera.
Mark Glatt trains Collusion Illusion. The plan, according to Glatt, who seemingly is exercising good judgement by avoiding “Derby fever,” is to run Collusion Illusion next in Saratoga’s Grade I H. Allen Jerkins Memorial at seven furlongs on Aug. 1.
A possible wild card in this year’s Kentucky Derby is Japan-based, American-bred Cafe Pharoah. A colt by 2015 American Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Cafe Pharoah is three for three after a five-length win in the Group III Unicorn Stakes last Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse.
Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported that Churchill Downs officials have received “encouraging feedback” from Cafe Pharoah’s connections regarding a potential start in the Kentucky Derby.
Cafe Pharoah was a $475,000 purchase at public auction in Florida last year.
Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
1. Honor A.P.
2. Tiz the Law
4. Dr Post
5. Uncle Chuck
7. Max Player
8. Art Director
9. Cafe Pharoah
VENERABLE TAGG MAKES HISTORY
Congratulations to Barclay Tagg, who had Tiz the Law splendidly prepared to prove a punctual odds-on favorite in the Belmont. Tagg, 82, became the oldest trainer to ever win the Belmont Stakes, a race that was first run in 1867.
Winning a Belmont meant a lot to Tagg. It had been a longtime goal of his. But did he scream and shout that his goal had finally been achieved? No, with a rather calm demeanor, he said the following to Britney Eurton during the NBC telecast: “Yeah, I wanted to have a Belmont victory before I gave it up or died or something like that.”
Tiz the Law’s Belmont victory also was extra special for both Tagg and owner Sackatoga Stable. That’s because for Tagg and Sackatoga, this completed a Triple Crown of their own by adding a Belmont victory to their Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins with Funny Cide in 2003. Funny Cide was thwarted in his bid for an actual Triple Crown sweep when he finished third behind Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted in the Belmont.
Meanwhile, what in the heck is the deal with ending these streaks since 1882?
Tiz the Law became the first New York-bred to win the Belmont Stakes since Forester in 1882. When Justify captured the 2018 Kentucky Derby while on his way to a Triple Crown sweep, he became the first horse to win that race without having started as a 2-year-old since Apollo in -- yep -- 1882.
Just to give you an idea of how long ago 1882 was, way back then a quart of milk cost 6 cents. A pound of coffee cost 29 cents. A dozen eggs cost 40 cents.
In 1882, there were only 38 states in the Union. Those that had not yet been admitted were North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii.
Tiz the Law is just the fourth New York-bred to have won the Belmont. The others were Ruthless in 1867, Fenian in 1869 and the aforementioned Forester.
When Funny Cide was unable to complete a Triple Crown sweep in the 2003 Belmont Stakes, the attendance at Belmont Park that day was 101,864.
More recently, the attendance at Belmont Park in 2018 was 90,327 when Justify did complete a Triple Crown sweep by taking the Belmont Stakes.
When Sir Winston won the 2019 Belmont Stakes, the attendance at Belmont Park was 56,217.
And the attendance figure for the 2020 Belmont Stakes, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, was 0.
GAMINE A SUPERSTAR, JUST AS BAFFERT HAD SAID
Trainer Bob Baffert, even before Belmont Park’s Grade I Acorn Stakes at one mile around one turn last Saturday, had called Gamine a superstar.
There is no doubt that Baffert was right (as he so often is) after Gamine’s Acorn victory, which deserved a 10 on a “wow scale” of 1 to 10.
Beginning from the inside post (as so many Baffert runners seem to do), Gamine seized the lead quicker than you could say her name. She established a lively pace while carving out fractions of :22.48, :45.28 and 1:09.33. Then she ran up the score down the lane and won in isolated splendor by an official 18 3/4 lengths.
Heavily favored Gamine returned $3.40 for each $2 win ticket.
Andrew Beyer, father of the Beyer Speed Figures, did not hesitate to call Gamine’s performance “great.” I have no problem with that.
But some went so far as to compare Gamine to Secretariat. I do have a problem with that.
To put Gamine’s Acorn performance into some perspective vis-a-vis Secretariat, Gamine was credited with a 110 Beyer Speed Figure. Secretariat’s sensational 31-length tour de force in the 1973 Belmont Stakes occurred long before the publication of Beyer Speed Figures. However, Beyer once calculated Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes figure to be 139.
But while Gamine’s 110 Beyer pales in comparison to Secretariat’s 139, the 110 recorded last Saturday by the 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Into Mischief filly is tied for the second-best Beyer of the year to date. Vekoma likewise put a 110 Beyer on the board when he won the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on June 6. The top Beyer so far in 2020 is Volatile’s 112 when he won the Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs, also on June 6.
Gamine’s Acorn clocking of 1:32 and change does bring to mind one of the finest races I have ever witnessed by a 3-year-old filly, Melair’s wire-to-wire victory against males in Hollywood Park’s Grade II Silver Screen Handicap in 1986.
I called the official 1986 Silver Screen chart for the Daily Racing Form. Off at odds of 9-5, Melair won by 6 1/2 lengths while completing one mile around one turn in a marvelous 1:32.80. It was at the time the fastest mile that had ever been run by a filly or mare.
Southern Halo finished second in the field of 12. Snow Chief ended up third as the 3-5 favorite, 11 lengths behind Melair.
The day after Gamine won the Acorn in New York, the Melair Stakes was run and won by Warren’s Showtime in California on Santa Anita’s closing-day card.
The Silver Screen Handicap is now the Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita. Affirmed appears in Gamine’s pedigree. Her paternal grandsire, Harlan’s Holiday, is a grandson of 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed.
Gamine’s 18 3/4 lengths is the biggest margin of victory in the history of the Acorn, which was first run in 1931. Her final time of 1:32.55 was a stakes record and just .31 of a second off the 17-year-old track record owned by Najran.
The stakes record for the Acorn once was held by Ruffian. She won the 1975 renewal of the Acorn by 8 1/2 lengths in 1:34.40.
In my opinion, Ruffian is the greatest female Thoroughbred of all time. Her only loss in 11 career starts came when she tragically broke down in her 1975 match race against Foolish Pleasure.
In Ruffian’s 10 victories, she tied or broke a stakes or track record in all but one of them. That is greatness.
Ruffian ranks No. 11 on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America. No female Thoroughbred ranks higher. The 10 racehorses ranked higher than Ruffian are: 1. Man o’ War, 2. Secretariat, 3. Citation, 4. Kelso, 5. Spectacular Bid, 6. Native Dancer, 7. Dr. Fager, 8. Seattle Slew, 9. Count Fleet, 10. Affirmed.
“While Gamine has a long way to go before being mentioned in the same breath as Ruffian and other greats, she does share a blood link with that champion as she is inbred to her speedy half-brother Icecapade,” wrote Daily Racing Form’s Nicole Russo.
“Gamine, who sold for a sales-record $3.8 million at the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-olds in training sale, is by leading sire Into Mischief, who is out of blue hen Leslie’s Lady. Leslie’s Lady’s sire, Tricky Creek, is by Icecapade’s son Clever Trick. Meanwhile, Gamine is out of the Kafwain mare Peggy Jane, who is out of the Chief Seattle mare Seattle Splash. Chief Seattle is out of the Icecapade mare Skatingonthinice.
“Icecapade, foaled in 1969, was by Nearctic and out of the stakes-placed Native Dancer mare Shenanigans, the dam of Ruffian.”
Following Gamine’s annihilation of her Acorn opponents, the thought naturally occurred to many observers, including yours truly, if the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby might be in the cards for her. But the trainer poured cold water on that notion by saying the Sept. 4 Kentucky Oaks is on Gamine’s itinerary, with one start before then.
What about the Oct. 3 Preakness for Gamine after the Kentucky Oaks? Baffert has said that is a possibility for the exciting filly.
ANNIVERSARY OF MAN O’ WAR’S BELMONT
It was 100 years ago that the legendary Man o’ War won the Belmont Stakes during his fabulous 3-year-old campaign. He was 11 for 11 at 3 in 1920.
Man o’ War in 1920 tied or broke world, American or track records at seven different distances -- one mile, 1 1/16 miles, 1 1/8 miles, 1 1/4 miles, 1 3/8 miles, 1 1/2 miles and 1 5/8 miles.
When Man o’ War won the Belmont, he should have been completing a Triple Crown sweep. But at that time, the colt’s owner, Samuel D. Riddle, felt that running a 3-year-old at 1 1/4 miles under 126 pounds so early in the year was asking too much. Consequently, Riddle skipped the Kentucky Derby with Man o’ War. (By 1937, Riddle changed his mind regarding the Kentucky Derby and ran War Admiral, a son of Man o’ War, in it. War Admiral did win the Kentucky Derby and sweep the Triple Crown.)
Trained by Lou Feustel, Man o’ War won the Preakness by 1 1/2 lengths on May 18 in his first start as a 3-year-old. Man o’ War then completed one mile in 1:35 2/5 to win the May 29 Withers Stakes at Belmont Park by two lengths. That 1:35 2/5 clocking broke Fairy Wand’s American record by two-fifths of a second.
Man o’ War’s Withers performance combined with his overall record scared everyone to such an extent only one horse dared take him on in the June 12 Belmont Stakes.
In the book “Man o’ War,” Dorothy Ours wrote:
“Even a token opponent, though miles better than a walkover, wouldn’t satisfy the 30,000 people who filled Belmont Park. Few of them were betting on Man o’ War at odds of 1-25, and very few fancied Donnacona at 20-1. Most people chose to wager on a different question: Would Man o’ War break Sir Barton’s record time?”
Those who wanted to bet that Man o’ War would break Sir Barton’s track record for 1 3/8 miles could get even money on that proposition with bookmakers.
“The big doubt was whether Donnacona would be able to keep close enough to the champion to spur him to a record-breaking performance,” Ours quoted one reporter as writing.
“Lou Feustel apparently heard the talk and accepted the challenge,” Ours wrote. “ ‘The crowd wants to see this fellow do something,’ Feustel told [jockey Clarence] Kummer in the paddock, ‘and I don’t want them to see a gallop. Let him race, and we’ll please them and incidentally get a record.’ ”
Man o’ War won the Belmont by 20 lengths. The following was how the New York Times described how Kummer rode Man o’ War in the stretch:
“Instead of taking a pull of his mount, as he had done in his previous race [when Man o’ War set a track record in the Preakness], he let Man o’ War step along all through the stretch, although at no time urging him. He simply let the colt run freely, and then it became evident how much he outclasses the others of his age.”
As just one example of why I have Man o’ War ranked No. 1 on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America, his final Belmont time of 2:14 1/5 broke the track and American record set the year before by Sir Barton by 3 1/5 seconds. Man o’ War also broke the world record set 12 years earlier by Dean Swift in England by 2 3/5 seconds. Man o’ War’s 2:14 1/5 clocking stood as an American record for 71 years! Timely Warning finally broke that record at Aqueduct in 1991.
MOTT JOINS THE 5,000 VICTORY CLUB
Hall of Famer Bill Mott became just the seventh trainer in history to win 5,000 races when Moon Over Miami took last Saturday’s third race by one length at Churchill Downs.
Mott is best known as the trainer of Cigar, who was voted Horse of the Year in 1995 and 1996. Cigar ranks No. 29 on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America.
“It’s a milestone,” Mott told Daily Racing Form, “and I’m proud to be in the club that did it.”
According to Equibase, these are North America’s trainers with 5,000 or more wins through Tuesday:
Rank Wins Trainer
1. 9,445 Dale Baird
2. 8,877 Steve Asmussen
3. 7,651 Jerry Hollendorfer
4. 6,523 Jack Van Berg
5. 6,503 King Leatherbury
6. 6,105 Scott Lake
7. 5,000 Bill Mott
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 361 Midnight Bisou (25)
2. 248 By My Standards (1)
3. 244 Mucho Gusto
4. 205 Code of Honor (4)
5. 148 Tom’s d’Etat
6. 130 Zulu Alpha
7. 121 Vekoma
8. 117 Tiz the Law (5)
9. 91 Improbable
10. 87 McKinzie
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 389 Tiz the Law (38)
2. 348 Honor A.P. (1)
3. 256 Authentic
4. 204 Dr Post
5. 191 King Guillermo
6. 135 Gamine
7. 107 Charlatan
8. 84 Max Player
9. 68 Maxfield
10. 67 Swiss Skydiver