Still riding the wave of Tiz-mania? Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stable, certainly is. In this most nontraditional of racing seasons, during which not a single spectator has set foot in Saratoga Race Course and the Triple Crown series has been mixed up like a shell game, Knowlton’s New York–bred Tiz the Law has been making the COVID-19 crisis a little more manageable for local racing fans. After taking the Belmont Stakes in June, Tiz the Law went on to a commanding victory in the Travers Stakes in early August. And now, on Saturday, September 5, Tiz will be a heavy favorite in the Kentucky Derby.
Knowlton, who has been a Saratoga Springs resident since 1984, first arrived on the national stage in 2003, when he and his partners’ other gutsy New York–bred Funny Cide won the Derby and Preakness Stakes during an Eclipse Award–winning season. Seventeen years later, Sackatoga has another shot at a Triple—no, “Quadruple,” as Knowlton puts it below—Crown. Saratoga Living talked with Knowlton about his prized Thoroughbred’s chances.
You’ve had an amazing run so far with Tiz the Law. Can you put into words what this whole experience with him has meant to you?
It’s absolutely beyond belief that we are in this position. I never could have imagined we’d have another horse on the level of Funny Cide to compete in and win the biggest 3-year-old races. Our biggest disappointments were not winning the Belmont and not being able to run in the Travers with Funny Cide, but we got redemption in both with Tiz the Law. It’s been a spectacular and surreal experience to be back competing at this level. We’re enjoying every second of it.
The Kentucky Derby is up next on September 5. Have you let yourself dream about the Triple Crown, or are you just worrying about the next race?
Well, it’s [trainer Barclay Tagg’s] job to focus on the next race, and the owners get to do the dreaming. We’re actually dreaming of a “Quadruple Crown,” thanks to the Travers win. Tiz has done so much already. No horse has ever won the combination of the Champagne, Florida Derby, Belmont and Travers. This amazing horse has accomplished more than we could ever imagine already, but we are certainly hopeful about what could still be ahead.
In 2003, the Sackatoga partners rode in a school bus to Louisville for the Derby. Will that be the method of transport this time around?
There’s no question about it. Everybody would be really disappointed if we didn’t go to Churchill on the school bus. It may be two buses this year because of social distancing. We’re certainly going to keep with that tradition, and if we are successful, we’ll be riding to Baltimore [for the Preakness] the same way.
Can you tell me what trainer Barclay Tagg and assistant Robin Smullen have meant to your partnership throughout the years?
They mean everything. They’re more than just the people who train and take care of our horses. It’s been a special relationship. They’re also our bloodstock advisors and they handle all the little details so well. They have decades of experience and expertise. They are true horse people, and nothing comes before the care and development of the horses. They are absolutely the most essential part of our operation.
Sackatoga has traditionally been a small partnership that has focused on purchasing just a few New York–breds each year. Have you thought about expanding your reach due to Tiz the Law’s success?
There’s been an incredible amount of interest in Sackatoga Stable because of Tiz’s success. I love bringing new people into the game, and we try to make it affordable. We have seven horses right now and bought three 2-year-olds in training. I don’t see us getting really big. An eight-horse stable is about as big as we want to get, but we’ll see how opportunities develop. We’re enjoying the ride with Tiz right now and hopefully we get to enjoy it for a while longer.