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As the horses walked to the track, Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" playing, it was almost surprising to witness so few people in attendance for first leg of the Triple Crown.

An unfamiliar date for the Belmont Stakes, but proof was the pandemic is raging and no one is more aware of that than New York's government and people.

The last time I was there was 2004 and Smarty Jones -- the adopted thoroughbred of Arkansas after winning the Arkansas Derby -- came up a little short.

In my despair, my ticket was thrown away, including the Pick Six that had five of five going into the Belmont.

Yep, five of six paid north of $200 that day and the ticket was found on top of the trash bin.

Without the roar of the fans, the atmosphere of the race was lost, and it seemed odd, but comforting, that the jockeys were wearing masks.

Still, NBC pumped it as much as it could and as the 10 hopefuls strolled onto the track, it was another small step forward to a new normal.

And the fairy tale added its second chapter for Sackatoga Stable, a New York group that buys New York-bred horses, as Tiz the Law, the odds- on favorite, blew away the field.

Jockey Manuel Franco let Tap It to Win set the pace, settling Tiz the Law in a stalker's position four lengths back. But in that sweeping turn to the long stretch, Franco let his mount go.

By the head of the stretch, Tiz the Law had served notice he was going to live up to his pre-race hype and he put the field away.

He was far and away the best, and right there was his trainer Barclay Tagg, who has come a long way since he first saddled a horse at Belmont Park in 1974.

The 82-year-old trainer and Sackatoga Stables teamed up to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown with Funny Cide in 2003 but came up short in the Belmont.

Still, they were the toast of thoroughbred racing for a couple of years.

Now they are back and planning to again rent school buses to transport their legions of fans to the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5

Without fans but with much fanfare, Tiz the Law socially and professionally distanced himself from the 3-year-old racing community, at least for a while.

In a crazy year, the world got the feel-good story it needed as a veteran New York trainer with a New York rider and New York owners won the biggest race in New York.

There was much pre-race talk about a permanent change to the dates of the Triple Crown, spreading it out more so that the Triple Crown isn't run over five weeks, which makes sense as would permanently changing the distance of the Belmont Stakes from 11/2 miles to 11/8.

The so-called Test of Champions is too grueling for 3-year-olds who are still developing and growing.

The combination of both -- the races being within five weeks and the distance of the Belmont -- is why so many trainers who don't win the Kentucky Derby, skip the Preakness and go into the final leg with five weeks' rest instead of three.

One thing seems certain, if there is a shake-up of Triple Crown dates, the call will be make by the folks at Churchill Downs because the Kentucky Derby is the premier race in the world.

No matter the date, it is the race every horseman dreams of winning.

This year's schedule may have been shook up by the pandemic, but on Sept. 5, The Race -- the Kentucky Derby -- will still attract worldwide attention even as the second jewel in racing's crown, which probably will never happen again and Tiz the Law should be there.


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