It's been 17 years since Jack Knowlton and his Sackatoga Stable pals rode yellow school buses to the Belmont Stakes. It was a rollicking party on wheels for the group that came to watch their colt Funny Cide try to sweep the Triple Crown.
It didn't happen that day.
Now, the ownership group that buys just one or two New York-bred colts a year is back to try again with Tiz the Law. He's the star of a 10-horse field for the Belmont on Saturday, this year the first of the Triple Crown series impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
"I still wake up and kind of pinch myself and say it looks like lightning really has struck twice," Knowlton said.
Tiz the Law is the 6-5 favorite for the Belmont, which kicks off what Knowlton calls a "backwards Triple Crown." Instead of completing the series of three races over five weeks, the Belmont is getting things started for the first time. The Kentucky Derby follows on Sept. 5, then the Preakness on Oct. 3.
Tiz the Law will try to buck history as the first New York-bred in 138 years to win the $1 million race. His 82-year-old trainer, Barclay Tagg, is chasing a win that eluded him in 2003 after Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness only to lose his Triple Crown bid in the Belmont.
This Belmont, rescheduled from June 6, will be run at 1⅛ miles, the first time since 1925 it won't be its usual grueling 1½ miles.
The date and distance aren't the only things different about this Belmont. Adhering to new rules caused by COVID-19 means no owners or fans are allowed at the sprawling track that usually caps attendance at 90,000.
Knowlton hasn't seen Tiz the Law race in person since Feb. 3 in Florida because of the pandemic. Undeterred, he and his group plan to watch on a restaurant patio in upstate Saratoga Springs.
"There is always a Sackatoga party in some way, shape or form," Knowlton said.
Well-qualified horses Charlatan, Honor A. P., Maxfield and Nadal are not in the field because of injuries. That leaves out Bob Baffert, the white-haired trainer of undefeated Charlatan and Nadal.
"In many ways I felt the Belmont was going to be the Kentucky Derby, the first time the best horses in training were going to be meeting each other," Knowlton said. "Clearly, with Bob's two horses and Maxfield out, there isn't quite the star power we all expected."
With all the changes for horses and humans, Tiz the Law remains calm.
"He seems to be the kind of horse that takes everything in stride," Knowlton said.