WASHINGTON – Last fall, it seemed a good bet Republicans would emerge from the 2020 election with control of the Senate still in their hands.
They had a six-seat advantage, a healthy economy and a Republican president whose chances of reelection were narrow but growing. And they had a decent chance to flip a couple of Democratic seats as well.
Then came the impeachment of President Donald Trump, a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 in the U.S. so far, a cratering economy, and the emergence of Joe Biden as Trump’s opponent, a nominee seen asless likely to drive away the moderate voters Democrats will need to win battleground states.
Now Republicans face a real battle in November, political analysts say. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who’s up for reelection himself this fall, calls it “a challenging environment.”
And that was before the civil unrest that swept the nation after the death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers.
Floyd’s death on May 25 has further divided the nation. Trump has blamed ensuing riots and looting in various cities on far-left extremists and blasted governors whose states have seen unrest for being “weak.” Democrats in turn have accused the president of fanning the flames with his charged rhetoric.
GOP incumbents in states that looked like toss-ups, including Colorado and Arizona, are trending blue. And GOP incumbents in states that seemed favorable for reelection, such as Montana, North Carolina and Maine, look increasingly in peril. Even red seats in Iowa, Georgia and Kansas are potentially in play.
The increasingly blue bedroom communities bracketing large cities that propelled Democrats to control of the House two years ago figure to play a central role in November as well, said Jessica Taylor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
“2018 in the House was the story of the suburbs and this year it’s going to play in the Senate races as well,” she said. “That’s why you see all these Senate races so competitive with the Denver suburbs in Colorado, the Phoenix suburbs in Arizona, the Research Triangle area (around Raleigh-Durham) and Charlotte suburbs in North Carolina.”
The fortunes of GOP senators are now tied to the pandemic and how voters perceive the Trump administration’s handling of it, which – so far – has not been positive overall, said David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University.
“Overnight, people are losing their jobs and a lot of them are losing their health care … So who do you think that advantages?” he said. “It advantages the Democrats who are the party of the Social Security-welfare-safety net-health care (and) it becomes much more clearly a referendum on performance of Donald Trump and the Republicans in general. And that all augurs well for Democrats.”
Biden as presumptive nominee helps Democrats
Republicans occupy 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats. Thirty-five seats are up for election this fall: 12 currently held by Democrats and 23 by Republicans, including both seats in Georgia.
Democrats would gain control if they keep all their seats andflip three GOP seats and capture the White House because the vice president serves as the tie-breaker on 50-50 votes. If they don’t win the White House, Democrats would need to flip four Republican seats and keep all of their seats.
The task won’t be easy.
Political handicappers predict Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., likely will lose in November, adding to the Democrats’ task of winning back the Senate. And though there are nearly twice as many GOP-held seats up for election in 2020 than seats held by Democrats, most of those Republican seats are in states generally favorable to the party.
In 2016, Trump won 20 of the 22 of those states where GOP seats are up for election this fall, except for Colorado and Maine. And the very real prospect earlier this year that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist Democrat, would win the party’s presidential nomination had Republicans itching to run against a platform of socialism.
Montana GOP Sen. Steve Daines, for example, ran a Facebook ad in early March that railed against “radical plans like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and open borders” and featured Sanders and New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a liberal firebrand.
But Biden’s defeat of Sanders for the nomination has made it tougher to sell swing voters on that argument, analysts said. Daines is not running that ad currently.
“We would not see a state like North Carolina become more difficult (for Democrats) if you had Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket,” said Taylor. “Georgia too.”
Developments in specific races have hurt Republicans
It’s not just about Trump or the coronavirus.
Since last summer, GOP incumbents drew top-tier Democrats in two key races.
Both former Gov. John Hickenlooper in Colorado and Gov. Steve Bullock in Montana decided to run for the Senate after scrapping their unsuccessful presidential bids. Both are household names in the states where they’re running.
Hickenlooper makes Republican incumbent Cory Gardner’s already uphill chances that much more difficult. A May 6 poll shows the former governor up by 18 points.
Bullock’s entry turned a race that was considered a likely re-election bid into a toss-up. A Western States poll conducted last month has Bullock up by 7 points, just within the margin of error.
North Carolina Republican incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis also wasn’t helped when fellow Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., gave up his chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee after the FBI opened an investigation into stock sales Burr made ahead of the coronavirus market crash.
Burr has denied any wrongdoing. But Taylor, the Cook Political Report analyst, said it’s not great optics for Tillis.
“Ultimately it is his own race,” she said. “But having your seat mate in your state under investigation is not a helpful thing and it’s not good for the Republican brand in North Carolina as well.”
Democrats also caught a break in Kansas when Secretary of State (and former Sunflower State congressman) Mike Pompeo decided not to enter the Senate race.
Pompeo was expected to be the heavy favorite to win had he entered. The splintered GOP field includes immigration hard-liner Kris Kobach who lost the governor’s race in 2018. If he wins the Senate primary, analysts say Democrats have a real chance to flip the state in November.
Democrats are outraising Republicans
Republicans should have the money advantage since most of the Senate seats on the ballot this year feature GOP incumbents and it’s usually easier for a sitting senator to raise money than it is for a challenger.
But in the first three months of the year, Democratic challengers significantly outraised the incumbent in the four states – Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina – that the party probably needs to sweep in order to take control of the Senate. Democrats also collected more funds in six other, less-competitive races.
Republicans acknowledge their candidates need to step it up, particularly with small dollar donors that have helped fill Democratic coffers. In the meantime, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have reserved about $97 million in television air time to shore up incumbents. That includes nearly $11 million in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, where Democrat Amy McGrath outraised McConnell in the first quarter by more than $5 million.
McConnell is not expected to lose a state that Trump should easily carry. But any money Republicans have to spend on races like his means less help for struggling incumbents.
“It shows us they have enthusiasm and money on their side,” Taylor said of Democrats.
Shifting national dynamics
Though Trump in 2016 carried the vast majority of states with GOP Senate seats up for election this fall, the erosion of Trump’s support among suburban voters evident in the midterm election continues and polls are also showing a weakening among seniors since the pandemic began.
That could be particularly problematic in states like Arizona, North Carolina and even Georgia, where Democrats are trying to take advantage of the state’s changing demographics to mount a challenge to both Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, a freshman defending her appointed seat in a special election.
In Arizona, for example, two recent polls showed Sen. Martha McSally trailing Democrat Mark Kelly badly in Maricopa County. That Republican stronghold includes substantial numbers of both suburban and senior voters in the greater Phoenix area.
Trump, who who won Arizona by 3.5 percentage points in 2016, also is behind in Maricopa County, according to a May poll from HighGround Public Affairs, a Republican consulting firm.
Trump’s struggles in states he carried before also means Republicans are having a harder time gaining traction in Michigan, one of their few chances to go on offense in a state with a Democrat-held seat up for election. Recent polls show Biden leading Trump in the Wolverine State.
“We think the presidential and Senate races there are probably going to be tied pretty closely together,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Deep red Alabama is the only state where handicappers think Republicans have the upper hand in trying to capture a Democratic-held seat.
Rising and falling with Trump
Republicans like Gardner of Colorado and Tillis of North Carolina who may have tried to distance themselves from Trump early on are back in the fold. Breaking with Trump is unlikely to win over independent voters but will cost them with the GOP base.
Instead, they’re hoping to create their own brand. For example, in Tillis’ introductory ad, which launched this month, he describes a hardscrabble upbringing.
“We moved seven times before I was 16, living paycheck to paycheck,” Tillis said in the ad titled “Humble.” “We will build this economy back and I’ll remember who needs it the most.”
Democrats think they can attack Republicans for failing to hold Trump accountable for his handling of the coronavirus, impeachment and other issues. That’s particularly true in Maine and Colorado, the two states Trump lost in 2016 where Republican incumbents are up for re-election.
Despite the centrist, pragmatic image that Sen. Susan Collins built up in Maine over the years, her votes to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial and to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh are among the issues that have put her in peril, analysts say.
“I think those are definitely going to come back against her,” said Amy Fried, head of the University of Maine’s political science department. “Her approval numbers have definitely fallen. It used to be she was one of the most popular senators in the country.”
Although Collins’ ads tout her bipartisan Senate record, she’s lost the endorsement of environmental and pro-choice groups that used to help establish her moderate reputation, Fried said. Plus, after openly opposing Trump’s candidacy in 2016, Collins now won’t say if she’s voting for him this time. That makes her look “wishy-washy,” rather than the independent, straightforward voice Mainers value, Fried said.
In addition to sticking with Trump, Republicans are trying to turn the coronavirus focus to China while going after Democratic challengers.
“China is to blame for this pandemic,” McSally says in one of her ads, which echo presidential campaign messaging.
Trump’s vulnerability on the coronavirus is complicated by the fact that a good portion of the electorate doesn’t know who to blame, according to Paul Bentz, senior vice president at HighGround Public Affairs.
“Democrats must be mindful that the messaging surrounding China is working and gaining moment,” Bentz wrote about the results of his firm’s Arizona poll that showed 29% blamed Trump, 20% blamed China and 25% didn’t blame anyone. Parker, the Montana State University political science professor, said the China argument from Republicans has gained traction with Big Sky voters.
Republicans also argue that their incumbents can tout what their doing to help constituents get through the pandemic, such as voting for the popular legislation that sent direct payments to households and boosted small businesses.
“It just may be the case that being a serious-minded, conscientious, accessible, hard-working United States senator during this pandemic will be helpful to our incumbents politically,” Indiana Sen. Todd Young, who heads the campaign arm of Senate Republicans, told reporters earlier this month.
The other part of their strategy is attacking Democratic challengers as untested and ethically-challenged. Expect attack ads to be unleashed over the next two months.
Kondik, the independent analyst, questions whether personal attacks can break through in an environment when so much else is going on with coronavirus and the economy, and when the election is expected to be a referendum on Trump.
“That’s the hand I think Republicans have to play,” he said. “I just think it’s a hard road.”
Democrats are sticking with the top issue that helped them win control of the House in 2018: health care. They’re betting that the pandemic only heightens voters’ interest in the issue.
“McSally repeatedly voted to let big insurance companies deny health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, the same people most vulnerable to coronavirus,” says the narrator in an Arizona ad paid for by the Democratic group Majority Forward.
Even though the Democratic presidential candidates who embraced Medicare for All weren’t successful, Republicans say the controversial proposal was given new prominence that they can use to their advantage.
But Democrats think they have a much more potent weapon in the pending legal challenge that Trump supports to overturn the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Kondik at the University of Virginia’s Center on Politics said Democrats reclaimed the momentum on health care in 2018.
“And,” he said, “I don’t think they’ve really given it back.”
Trump’s Tulsa rally: Lighter-than-expected crowds and other takeaways
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump held his first campaign rally since March in Tulsa, Oklahoma Saturday following days of speculation about the impact the event would have on spreading the coronavirus and how large the crowd would be.
The president used the opportunity to brag about his coronavirus response while downplaying its current threat, slam the media and some of his Democratic rivals, as well as to defend confederate statues.
Here are some of the takeaways from Trump’s rally:
Smaller crowd in attendance, majority did not wear mask
Trump’s rally to revive his campaign during the coronavirus pandemic boasted a smaller crowd than his usual campaign events, with much of the upper sections of the 19,000-seat BOK Center stadium remaining empty.
An overcrowd event outside was cancelled and broken down by Secret Service before the president started speaking inside, due to low attendance.
Prior to the event, the Trump campaign had boasted one million tickets were requested, and Trump predicted there would not be an empty seat.
Trump’s campaign blamed the low turnout for the rally, as well as the scratched event, on “radical protesters” as well as members of the media, who they claimed “attempted to frighten off the President’s supporters.”
Journalists on the ground have refuted seeing large numbers of individuals turned away because of rowdy protesters.
Trump, who often kicks off his campaign rallies by crowing about the size of the crowd, was forced to use his high stakes rally to explain why turnout was less than expected.
Echoing a line from his campaign manager, Trump blamed the smaller than expected crowds on media coverage leading up to the event, and blamed protesters for his decision to not deliver expected remarks at the scheduled outdoor overflow event.
“You are warriors,” Trump told the crowd, suggesting that they had turned out despite the coverage leading up to the rally. “I’ve been watching the fake news for weeks now. And everything is negative. Today it was like, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Additionally, the majority of attenders did not wear masks despite the campaign handing them out. However, they were not enforced. Several U.S. lawmakers in attendance did not wear masks, as well.
‘I did a phenomenal job’
Trump shrugged off the looming threat from the coronavirus, despite several states reporting record-high numbers of cases and hospitalizations in the past few days, including Oklahoma.
Local health officials had called for the rally to be postponed out of concern about the spread of the virus.
He continued to boast of his administration’s response to the pandemic, and again blamed China for spreading the virus.
“We – I – did a phenomenal job with it,” Trump declared.
Trump said he told his administration, “slow the testing down, please” reiterating his argument that higher test numbers led to higher case counts.
He imitated a doctor talking about a 10-year-old with “sniffles” who would conclude “that’s a case!”
The president said the governor of New Jersey told him only one person under the age of 18 died, which the president said shows that young people have a “great immune system”
“Let’s open the schools please!” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the president’s coronaivrus task force, said earlier this week while more testing does result in more cases, the recent surge in some states “cannot be explained by increased testing.”
The president at one point also called COVID-19 the “kung flu” and the “Chinese virus.”
“It’s a disease without question,” Trump told the audience. “I can name 19 different versions of names. Many call it a virus, which it is. Many call it a flu. What’s the difference?”
Public health officials have discouraged terms that associate a pandemic with a place. Trump frequently used “Chinese virus” in the early weeks of the pandemic but stopped using it as frequently.
One of his own advisers, Kellyanne Conway, in March called reports of a White House official referring to the coronavirus as the “kung flu” as “highly offensive.”
COVID-19 deaths neared 120,000 Saturday in the U.S.
‘Demolish our heritage’: Trump defends Confederate statues
Trump’s rally, just a day after Juneteenth and located in a city with the site of one of the worst race massacres in US history, defended confederate monuments around the country.
Trump claimed the left and protesters only desired “to demolish our heritage” as demonstrators have been tearing down confederate statues following weeks of protests over racial injustice.
Protesters continue to target historical symbols of the Confederacy. Late Friday, protesters in Washington, D.C., and in Raleigh, North Carolina, toppled statues.
The protests were sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man whose neck was pinned under the knee of a white police officer for nearly nine minutes in May.
Trump barely spoke about race, and did not mention Floyd.
Trump targets Democratic politicians and critics
Trump used his rally to hit back at some of his Democratic critics, including DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.
The president swiped at Bowser for the Black lives Matter demonstrations in Washington, D.C, and Ocasio-Cortez for her environmental views.
Bowser responded, tweeting that there’s “a lot of empty room” in Trump’s head, “just like tonight’s half empty Tulsa arena.”
Trump called Omar a “hate-filled America-bashing socialist” whose goal is to make America “just like the country from which she came, Somalia. No government, no police, no safety, no nothing.”
Omar, a representative from Minnesota, fled Somalia as a refugee and has been a citizen since she was 17. Her father died from COVID-19 a few days ago.
Miami Dolphins great Jim Kiick dies at 73
Jim Kiick, one-third of what NFL Network called “The Perfect Backfield” and one-half of the Dolphins’ legendary “Butch and Sundance” tandem with Larry Csonka, died Saturday.
He was 73.
The Dolphins on Saturday evening announced the death of Kiick, who in recent years battled memory issues and resided in an assisted living facility.
His daughter, Allie, an accomplished tennis player, on Thursday wrote a post on social media saying she’d been informed that her father was “declining rapidly.” For months, she was not permitted to visit his room because of the coronavirus pandemic, although it’s unclear if Kiick was tested for the disease.
“I miss my dad,” she wrote. “Every time I see him, he says, ‘I miss you.’ It’s pretty hard when you’re sitting on the outside of the glass and you can’t do anything to cheer him up. He’s lost the spark in his eyes as would anyone in his situation.”
Although Kiick was overshadowed by his best friend, Csonka, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Mercury Morris, a dynamic 1,000-yard rusher, he will forever be ingrained in Dolphins history, both for his skill on the field and escapades off it.
Without him, the 1972 perfect season and 17-0 record might never have happened. Kiick scored the winning touchdown in all three of that team’s postseason victories.
The Dolphins were trailing 14-13 with five minutes remaining in their first playoff game, against the visiting Cleveland Browns. After driving to the Cleveland 8-yard line, the Dolphins would have been expected to turn to Csonka or Morris but instead ran a trap up the middle that Kiick converted into a touchdown and a 20-14 victory.
It was a moment of pride for the three members of the backfield, who contended that the celebration of the TD, with Morris running off the bench to Kiick, personified the selflessness of the entire team. Before that season, coach Don Shula had made a calculated gamble by giving more playing time to Morris despite knowing how close (and effective) the Csonka-Kiick tandem had been.
“He’s the first person that jumped on me, congratulated me,” Kiick told the Palm Beach Post in a 2017 interview. “It just showed we were about the team and not about individual statistics or who scored the winning touchdown or who didn’t.”
Kiick also scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run in the 14-7 victory over Washington in Super Bowl VII to complete the 17-0 season.
Kiick scored the winning touchdown on a 3-yard run with 7½ minutes left in the AFC championship game, a 21-17 victory over Pittsburgh.
The Dolphins drafted Kiick in the fifth round in 1968 out of Wyoming. His seven-year rushing total of 997 yards fails to do justice to his value to Shula as a versatile complement to the bullish fullback Csonka. Kiick caught 221 passes for 2,210 yards and totaled 31 touchdowns from scrimmage.
Before Kiick, Csonka and receiver Paul Warfield jumped to the World Football League, signaling the end of the Dolphins’ dynasty after the 1974 season, Kiick and Csonka literally rode the streets of South Florida as celebrities. A legendary clip in Dolphins history shows Kiick and Csonka riding horseback along South Beach, playing to their “Butch and Sundance” personas.
“Somebody came up with the idea at Sports Illustrated,” Kiick said. “They put a deal together, we rode horses down Collins Avenue in Miami and it just blew up from there. Butch and Sundance was a big deal.”
Adding to the legend: Kiick and Csonka were often glib on the obvious question of which one was Butch Cassidy and which was the Sundance Kid.
“Same answer I tell everybody,” Kiick said. “I was the better-looking guy. Whether it’s Butch or Sundance, which was Paul Newman and Robert Redford, either way, you couldn’t lose.”
Although defensive tackle Manny Fernandez caught a small alligator during a trip to the Everglades one day, Kiick took the heat after the creature ended up in Shula’s shower, another legendary piece of Dolphins lore.
“I didn’t get an alligator. I didn’t do anything,” Kiick said. “But I was Shula’s goat and whatever he could do, he could blame me. I said, ‘Listen, I’m from New Jersey. I don’t fish and I had nothing to do with it.’ ”
Csonka once explained: “It seemed like Kiick was always the easiest one to catch up to. Me and Merc were kind of quick to be out of Shula’s way and be out of earshot.”
As for Kiick?
“He just didn’t care about getting out of the way.”
Opinion: Will Louisiana wake up now that COVID-19 has hit LSU football?
BATON ROUGE — It ain’t over, until it’s over.
The late Yankee catcher great Yogi Berra was not talking about COVID-19 when he said that in the summer of 1973. He was talking baseball as the manager of the New York Mets, who proved him prophetic as they rallied from 12.5 games out of first in the National League East in July to win the division and later advance to the World Series.
Too bad Berra is not around for a public service message where he could repeat perhaps the most famous of his multitude of Yogi-isms.
Someone needs to get that message across concerning the coronavirus pandemic that, yes, it’s still a pandemic.
“People keep talking about a second wave,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the preeminent authority on COVID-19, told the Wall Street Journal last week.
“We’re still in a first wave,” said Fauci, who has served every United States president since Ronald Reagan in 1984 and helped create President George W. Bush’s successful emergency plan for AIDS relief in 2003.
Maybe another bit of news on Saturday will get Louisianans — and everyone hopefully — to wake up and put on their masks and stop pretending it’s over, or acting out over some sense of rebellion that is more juvenile than courageous.
At least 30 LSU football players have recently been quarantined because they have tested positive for COVID-19 or have had contact with someone who did.
They are all young and in great shape, so they likely will be done with the virus in a couple of days if they have not already gotten over it. But maybe the fact that COVID-19 has now hit home in Louisiana at that most sacred part of the house — LSU Football — people will get it that it is not over.
“The reality is every Louisianan needs to do a gut check on whether he or she has been slacking off on taking proper precautions,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Thursday as the first wave rolled onward in Louisiana.
There were another 870 new cases and 20 deaths reported in the state on Saturday.
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said on ESPN’s Paul Finebaum Show on Friday that people going to LSU football games at Tiger Stadium this fall may be required to wear a mask.
“This isn’t a political statement,” said Woodward, who worked with Democrat political strategist James Carville under Baton Rouge mayor Pat Screen in the 1980s. His comments echoed that of Fauci, who said this about his job:
“You stay completely apolitical and non-ideological. I’m a scientist, and I’m a physician. And that’s it.”
When Woodward wears a mask, he thinks of his elders.
“This is a health statement,” he said. “We’re trying to save lives here. I think about my parents. I think about elderly folks and people with immune systems that are compromised. We have to do these things to curtail this pandemic.”
In an interview last week with USA TODAY-Louisiana, LSU associate athletic director for health and wellness Shelly Mullenix said she expected to see several LSU football players test positive for COVID-19.
“Sure, there will be some, maybe many. It’s a pandemic,” she said as players were being tested. “We’re prepared for every scenario. We want to keep our community healthy, not just us.”
They may not have expected 30, but they were ready and swiftly quarantined everyone involved, which is sort of like applying one large mask over the football facility. The players will be fine, but they do not need to be out and about where they could infect others.
Meanwhile, the Tigerland bar circuit near campus should be off limits to all LSU football players and other student-athletes. In fact, for the time being it is not a good idea for anyone to go there.
State health officials on Friday said there was a cluster of COVID-19 outbreaks stemming from patrons at bars in and near the Tigerland area, which is where some of the LSU football players had been frequenting after just returning to campus June 9.
The first wave continues, perhaps because Phase One of the prevention plan was discontinued early this month in Louisiana. Suddenly, it was TGIPT — Thank God It’s Phase Two — throughout the state.
I saw more unmasked people than I see masked people at Mardi Gras. They were everywhere. They were in large groups in backyards. They were not social distancing. They thought it was over — or close to it.
Not a good strategy. Former LSU pass game coordinator Joe Brady would have kept his mask on and kept passing disinfectant.
It ain’t over, until it’s over. True. But forget that. We’re not even at halftime yet.
Belmont Stakes 2020: New York-bred Tiz the Law scripts storybook win amid pandemic
ELMONT, N.Y. – The starting gate was in the backstretch chute, rather than in front of the grandstand. And the sound of hooves impacting the Belmont Park track replaced the deafening roar of the crowd.
But while so much was different about the 152nd Belmont Stakes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what’s timeless is a victory in a Triple Crown race and an emotional outcome.
And as Tiz the Law came roaring down the stretch, the New York-bred achieved both, scripting a storybook victory in the state that’s been hit harder than any other by the caronavirus, while giving himself a chance to make history after a win in what served as this year’s first leg of the series, rather than the last.
It was only fitting that Tiz the Law became the first New York-bred to win the Belmont Stakes in 138 years, going postward as the 4-5 favorite and proving himself to be the class of the field. He sat just off the pace before accelerating around the turn and drawing off for a comfortable victory in the $1 million event.
“It’s tremendous,” said Jack Knowlton, who heads Sackatoga Stable, which purchased Tiz the Law for $110,000. “We just buy New York-breds. That’s our game.”
Tiz the Law, ridden by Manuel Franco, completed the 1⅛-mile test, shortened from the traditional 1½-mile distance, in 1:46.53 in front of an empty grandstand due to restrictions related to the coronavirus.
The winning margin was four lengths. Tiz the Law paid $3.60, 2.90 and 2.60. Runnerup Dr. Post paid $5.80 and 4.20. Max Player — from the stable of Rumson, New Jersey, native George Hall — paid $5.20. The exacta paid $19.60 for $2 wagers.
Unlike the traditional three races in five weeks, Tiz the Law must now bridge an 11-week gap to the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5. And the Triple Crown concludes on Oct. 3 with the Preakness, even though the 13 previous Triple Crown winners have been crowned in the Belmont Stakes. Tiz the Law would be the third horse since 2015 to complete the Triple Crown, joining Bob Baffert trainees American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
And with Tiz the Law emerging as such a compelling New York story, the plan is to take him to Saratoga to run in the Travers Stakes on Aug. 8 as a stepping-stone to the Kentucky Derby.
It’s the first Belmont Stakes win for the team of trainer Barclay Tagg and owner Sackatoga Stable. They finished third with Funny Cide in 2003 after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
From the moment Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” echoed through the grandstand as the horses made their way onto the track, Tiz the Law was all business. And then in a stirring performance he showed why he’s a threat to win the Triple Crown.
The son of Constitution has gate speed and he broke cleanly, joining the leaders immediately, then settled to sit comfortably just off the pace set by Tap It to Win on the inside, with Pneumatic in second between horses. And as he surged to the front rounding the turn before quickly opening up several lengths on the field, he showed he’s capable of going the distance.
BELMONT STAKES:All-time winners from 1867-2020
And unlike the previous Triple Crown winners, Tiz the Law will never have to prove himself at 1½-miles. But he appeared capable of handling the 1¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance.
“It looked to me like everything just worked like clockwork,” Tagg said. “That’s the way the horse likes to run, that’s the position he likes to be in. Manny knows the horse very well. We discussed it very quickly before I put him up on the horse and I felt very confident Manny would ride him that way.
“I thought it looked pretty solid when he got halfway down the lane. It’s a good feeling.”
It was the first victory for Franco in a Triple Crown race.
“I was really confident when we got the 7/8th poll. He was so comfortable,” Franco said.
It marked the third win in as many starts for Tiz the Law and fifth victory in six career starts. His wins in the Florida Derby and Champagne Stakes were the only two Grade 1 victories among the 10 starters entering the race.
“We’ve been with Barclay Tagg for 25 years,” Knowlton said, “and I keep telling everybody, Barclay doesn’t get a lot of big horses, big opportunities. But when he gets them he knows what to do.”
Stephen Edelson is a USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey sports columnist and horse racing writer. Contact him at: @SteveEdelsonAPP; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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