MIAMI -- If there is a Kentucky Derby this year, Tiz the Law will have a shot to be there. And if he runs the way he did in the Florida Derby, he could very easily be a contender.
Tiz the Law ran away in the stretch Saturday to easily win the Florida Derby, wrapping up a spot in the Kentucky Derby field based on the points standings that are used to determine who qualifies for the Run for the Roses. Tiz the Law's victory at Gulfstream Park was worth 100 points, far more than what will be needed for a chance to run at Churchill Downs if the rescheduled Kentucky Derby goes off as planned in early September.
It's a feel-good story for a sport in need of one: Tiz the Law is owned by Sackatoga Stable, the upstate New York-based group that took the sport by storm when Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in 2003.
"Man, I hope they're really happy," winning jockey Manny Franco said about the Sackatoga group led by Jack Knowlton, who was watching the race from a condo in Hallandale Beach, Florida, about a mile from the track. "Their horse did a great job."
Franco said he got instructions before the race over the phone from winning trainer Barclay Tagg, but said he didn't have to do much work once the gate opened.
"I give all the credit to the horse," Franco said.
Shivaree, an 80-1 long shot, was second and picked up 50 points to likely clinch a spot in the field. Fountain of Youth winner Ete Indien was third in a most unusual race at Gulfstream, where fans were not allowed and even owners were told to stay away from the track because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tiz the Law covered nine furlongs in 1 minute, 50 seconds and returned $4.80, $3.60 and $2.80. Shivaree paid $42 and $13, and Ete Indien paid $3.40 to show.
Ordinarily, Tiz the Law would now be immediately targeted to the Kentucky Derby because it had been set to be run five weeks from Saturday. But the pandemic has changed everything, and now it's unclear when or where any of the top Derby contenders -- Tiz the Law now foremost among them -- will run again.
There isn't another major Kentucky Derby prep scheduled, for now, until May 2 when the Arkansas Derby is set to be run. Other major preps -- such as the Santa Anita Derby, the Wood Memorial and the Blue Grass -- are all on hold.
"Maybe we can do a Travers-Derby double," Knowlton said. "Right now it's a blank slate. Nobody knows what's going to happen where or when with all that's going on in the country. ... All we know is that we've got a horse that's very special, and it's pretty exciting for us."
Many tracks are not running right now because of the pandemic; Santa Anita in California shut down indefinitely on Friday and Aqueduct, one of the New York Racing Association's three tracks, canceled the rest of its winter and spring meets on Saturday. State officials announced that Aqueduct would become a temporary hospital site to help some of the many affected in the New York City area.
"Aqueduct Racetrack will serve as a safe haven for those recovering from this virus," NYRA CEO and president Dave O'Rourke said. "We recognize that we all must work together as a community to meet this challenge and emerge stronger for it."
Aqueduct's winter meet was to end Sunday and its spring meet was to run from April 2-19. NYRA's next meet is the 51-day schedule at Belmont Park, which is still scheduled to open on April 24.
Gulfstream's championship meet is scheduled to end Sunday. Its spring-summer meet is scheduled to begin Friday, with racing typically four days a week through the end of September.
Florida eclipsed 4,000 COVID-19 cases Saturday, with roughly half of those coming from in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, meaning Gulfstream Park is squarely within the state's pandemic hotspot. Gulfstream is in Hallandale Beach, in Broward County, just over the border from Miami-Dade to the south.
Gulfstream announced March 12 that it would continue with live racing, but without fans present. It tightened protocols at least twice since, first by closing its on-site casino March 16 and then going to a "no guests, no exceptions" policy March 19 that barred media and even owners from going to see races.
Remaining open has even drawn the ire of some local politicians who insisted the track should not be allowed to run with the area basically on lockdown. But bettors have continued pumping money in via online and simulcast opportunities.
"I think it's critical to the economy of racing that, if we can, we continue racing," trainer Todd Pletcher said, adding that his stance is predicated on safety being assured for everyone involved.
The lack of on-track handle and casino revenue forced Gulfstream to trim the Florida Derby purse from $1 million to $750,000. The track also slightly dropped the purse for several other stakes races Saturday.