By Sid Fernando
Barclay Tagg is a straightforward, no-nonsense type of guy who’s been training horses for close to 50 years. During his career, he had a stint as an assistant to legendary hard-boot trainer Frank Whiteley, Jr., and before that, he was a steeplechase jockey. He’s in his early eighties and has spent most of his adult life around Thoroughbreds, including some greats, like Ruffian. He’s won some big races, too, like the Gl Kentucky Derby and that’s a big package of experience he brings to the table as the man behind Tiz the Law (Constitution), who will start as the favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Glll Holy Bull S. at Gulfstream Saturday on his path to the Kentucky Derby.
Tagg doesn’t look his age. He carries his lithe, fit frame upright, with no slouch or limp despite plenty of falls as a jock; dresses like a country gentleman; and has a stern countenance that belies an easy laugh once you get to know him. He’s frequently in the company of his longtime assistant and significant other, Robin Smullen, with whom he shares a home in Boynton Beach near Palm Meadows in the winter and a place behind Belmont Park the rest of the year. Whenever he doesn’t know or recall the answer to a question, he’ll turn to her and she’ll provide it without missing a beat. It’s Smullen who gets the call when there’s a tough horse to ride in the mornings or when there’s a special one, like Tiz the Law. Between the two of them, they have the bases covered on their team like the experienced double-play partners that they are, Tagg the field general at shortstop and Smullen sure-handed and deft on the pivot at second base. It’s the type of defense you want when you send a young but talented pitcher to the mound or a thrice-raced colt on the Kentucky Derby trail.
They won the Kentucky Derby and the Gl Preakness 17 years ago with Sackatoga Stables’s Funny Cide (Distorted Humor). Sackatoga, a partnership whose principal is Jack Knowlton, is also the owner of Tiz the Law, who, like Funny Cide, was foaled in New York and is sired by a first-crop WinStar stallion. Smullen galloped Funny Cide too, but the obvious similarities end there. For one, most of the partners in Sackatoga are not the same as they were in Funny Cide, and the latter was a 16.2-hand gelding compared to the 15.2 and a half-hand colt that is Tiz the Law. “They are just two completely different types,” Tagg said. “Funny Cide was a big and strong horse, a tough horse to gallop, with a real long stride to him, a lovely big horse. He looked like he could go any distance to me, by the way he looked and trained. I could not see any reason why he couldn’t, but I got a hemorrhage from the press on it and a hammering from other people, and everybody told me I was crazy and had Derby fever and the horse would never go a mile and a quarter. Tiz the Law, I thought he was a sprinter/miler when I bought him–he was smaller and a stocky type–and that’s what he looks like. He doesn’t have the long stride on him that Funny Cide did, but nothing bothers him and so far he’s trained like distance isn’t a problem. He hasn’t shown me one thing that would make me think that he couldn’t do it. He’s just got a great, great mind to him.”
Tiz the Law was bred by Steve Davison and Randy Gullatt’s Twin Creeks, which was recently profiled in TDN. They sold him to Tagg and Knowlton for $110,000 at the Fasig-Tipton New York-Bred Yearling sale at Saratoga. Twin Creeks, in partnership with WinStar, had purchased and raced Constitution.
Constitution (Tapit – Baffled, by Distorted Humor) finished second to American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) on the leading freshman sires list last year and is an up-and-coming stallion who flashed serious potential with his first 2-year-olds, despite not racing at two himself. It’s logical, therefore, to assume that Constitution’s progeny will be even better at three and four, when he won the Gl Florida Derby and the Gl Donn H., respectively, at Gulfstream–the site of the Holy Bull.
Tiz the Law’s dam, Tizfiz (Tiznow – Gin Running, by Go for Gin), won the Gll San Gorgonio H. at Santa Anita at nine furlongs on turf at five and was also unraced at two, as was her sire, who won the 10-furlong Gl Breeders’ Cup Classic at three when he was Horse of the Year and again at four when he was the champion older horse. Her dam, Gin Running (Go For Gin), sired by a Kentucky Derby winner, was also unraced at two. She also produced Tizfiz’s full brother Fury Kapcori, a graded winner at four in the Glll Precisionist S. at a mile and a sixteenth on dirt at Santa Anita. Fury Kapcori, unlike his sister, was a winner at two, and he’d placed second to Violence (Medaglia d’Oro) in the Gl CashCall Futurity on all-weather at Hollywood Park.
On the surface of things, then, Tiz the Law, who won the Gl Champagne S. last year and two of three starts altogether, has a lot of late-maturing blood close up in his pedigree, including some horses and sires that have won at the Derby distance or have sired winners that got the trip. There’s also enough early maturity and speed further back in his family to explain his own development at two, and this combination appears to give him a great balance of speed and early maturity with some promise of stamina and continued development. This is what Tagg sees in the colt and the way he trains, which are positives for Tiz the Law’s Derby aspirations.
Tiz the Law’s third dam, stakes-placed Crafty and Evil (Crafty Prospector), was sired by a stallion noted for speed. Crafty and Evil won her debut in April of her 2-year-old season in a 4 1/2-furlong dash at Keeneland and was placed in the seven-furlong Indian Summer S. at the same track in October after giving way late in the race. Altogether she won two races, but none after the age two, and she was challenged at distances above sprints.
Crafty and Evil’s half-brother was champion Favorite Trick (Phone Trick), an outstanding 2-year-old of 1997. He, too, won his debut in April at Keeneland but kept going, winning all eight of his starts that year, including the Gl Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and was named the first Horse of the Year at two since Secretariat in 1972. However, he wasn’t the same colt at three and was eighth in the Kentucky Derby.
Likewise, there are others in Tiz the Law’s immediate family that were limited by distance and/or were specialists at two or in sprints. They include Gll Smile Sprint S. winner and millionaire Favorite Tale (Tale of the Cat); Moonshine Memories (Malibu Moon), a two time Grade l winner at two who didn’t train on at the same level at three; and Indian Evening (Indian Charlie), who only raced at two and won the seven-furlong Swynford S. at Woodbine and two of three starts altogether.
However, this family has shown that when bred to stamina horses, it can deliver stamina. The mare Legs Lawlor, a half-sister to Favorite Trick by Derby winner Unbridled, produced the Listed 12-furlong turf stakes winner Clarinet, a daughter of Giant’s Causeway.
Tiz the Law’s sire’s performance with his 3-year-olds this year will shed more light on his contributions to the pedigree, but Constitution’s sire has three Gl Belmont S. winners to his credit, and his broodmare sire, aside from getting Derby winner Funny Cide, has reliably and surprisingly sired an array of staying horses, including Belmont S. and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer, GI Travers winner Flower Alley and GI Man o’ War winner Boisterous.
At the time Tagg was preparing Funny Cide for the Derby, all that was known about Distorted Humor was that he was a sprinter who didn’t stay past a mile, which is why Tagg caught some flak for believing that his gelding could win at the Derby trip. History has frequently shown, however, that a horse’s own race record doesn’t necessarily define him as a stallion. With Constitution, there’s probably more to recommend Classic ability on paper than there was with Distorted Humor, but none of that mattered to Tagg then or now, because he goes by what he sees in front of him.
“For his size, he’s got a very efficient stride on him,” Tagg said Thursday, describing Tiz the Law’s way of going. “He doesn’t waste any motion, and, yeah, he pulls a bit, but he doesn’t take anything extra out of himself.”
Smullen had galloped the colt a mile and three-eighths Thursday at Palm Meadows. A day earlier, after a mile-and-a-half gallop at the training center, Tagg had shipped the colt to Gulfstream to school in the paddock before the first race.
“He’s doing great,” Tagg said. “We weighed him over there, and he’s 1,084 pounds.”
The colt’s last serious piece of work for the Holy Bull was completed Sunday at Palm Meadows, a half-mile in a bullet :48–fastest of 41 works for the distance. The colt had worked in company with the Tagg-trained 7-year-old stakes winner Realm (Haynesfield).
“We broke him off two lengths behind Realm, and he went by him pretty easily,” Tagg said.
A few works earlier, Tagg’s pocket rocket had easily handled an older graded stakes-winning sprinter in similar style.
After the Holy Bull, the Gll Louisiana Derby Mar. 21 at Fair Grounds is next for Tiz the Law, Tagg said. The $1-million race will be contested at a mile and three-sixteenths and is the longest Derby-points prep (40) in the U.S.
“I like to give him about six weeks between races, and that falls perfectly,” the conditioner said. “If you’re going for a mile-and-a-quarter race, you can’t be afraid of a mile and three-sixteenths.”
Aside from winning the Derby with Funny Cide in 2003, Tagg was sixth in the race with Lael Stable’s Grade l winner Showing Up (Strategic Mission) in 2006 and fourth with Charles Fipke’s Grade l winner Tale of Ekati (Tale of the Cat) in 2008, when he’d also saddled Eric Fein’s Glll Tampa Bay Derby winner Big Truck (Hook and Ladder) to an 18th place finish.
In other words, Tagg isn’t one to chase after the Derby unless he thinks he’s got a legitimate chance to win the race, and his actions with Tiz the Law speak louder than the few words he utters. Last fall, he bypassed the Gl Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a chance at the 2-year-old championship to race his colt instead in the Gll Kentucky Jockey Club S. at Churchill Downs.
Over a sloppy track, the colt didn’t have a great trip and finished third in the race, beaten less than a length for it all, but the experience of a run over the track, Tagg knows, was worth the gamble, because his intent all along was to return there this spring.
The Holy Bull begins that journey for Tagg and Tiz the Law, and the veteran trainer couldn’t be more confident in the abilities of his developing colt.
Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.