The weirdness that has been the 2020 horse racing season takes another crazy step forward Saturday with the running of the first leg of this years’ Triple Crown – the Belmont Stakes.
That is right – the Belmont Stakes, usually the last leg of horse racings’ crown jewel – opens the festivities on June 20. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the horse racing world was turned upside down along with the rest of society.
The Kentucky Derby has been reset for Saturday, September 5 – Labor Day weekend – moved from its traditional first Saturday in May. The Preakness will follow on October 3 to complete the series.
The Belmont has also been shortened from the traditional 1.5 miles to 1-1/8 miles and is the 10th race on the Belmont card with a scheduled post time of 2:42 p.m. PDT. Now taking place before the Derby, the race has become a prep race and carries the highest prep point totals, awarding 150-60-30-15 to the first four finishers.
The heavy favorite is Tiz the Law (6/5) a runner from the Barclay Tagg barn and the winner of four of five career starts, including an easy four-plus length win in the Florida Derby.
Manuel Franco has been up for the last four starts, including the only stumble – a third-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club in the slop at Churchill Downs in November.
After taking a couple months off, Tiz the Law returned with wins in both the Holy Bull and Florida Derby. His style of stalking the front runners before mowing them down in the lane looks well suited here.
Sole Volante (9/2) is trained by Patrick Biancone and is the second favorite. The horse has Luca Panici up for the second straight start and has won four of six career efforts.
My big concern for Sole Volante is the horse is a deep closer and is stuck in a field that does not seem to have a lot of front-end speed to set the race up for a late runner. The style will fit well in the Derby, but here the horse may have to sit much closer to the lead than usual.
Farmington Road (5/1) comes in as the third choice, as well as having a lot of questions. The Todd Pletcher trained runner has one win in six starts, that coming in his third start – a straight maiden race over Tampa Bay Downs in January. He was fourth in the Risen Star, followed by a second in a stake at Oaklawn and finally a fourth-place finish in one of the divisions of the Arkansas Derby. Javier Castellano has the call.
Tap It to Win (6/1) is trained by Mark Casse and will be ridden by John Velazquez. The horse has won two straight, but neither came in a stake, with one being an optional claimer. His lone win came in a maiden race in October of last year. Breaking from the rail, Tap It to Win has shown speed and will likely be forced to go to the front in this race.
Jungle Runner (7/1) and Dr. Post (9/1) round out the single digit morning line runners. Jungle Runner is trained by Steve Asmussen and will be ridden by Reylu Gutierrez. The horse has not won a race in his last four starts, with the last win coming in a small stake at Remington Park in November.
Dr. Post is another Pletcher runner and draws Irad Ortiz Jr. in the iron. The horse has shown some nice form in winning the last two starts, the most recent of which was the Unbridled at Gulfstream in late April.
Modernist (15/1) and Max Player (15/1) are a pair of longer shots that are worth a look. Modernist won the Risen Star and then was third in the Louisiana Derby. He has been off since March, but the distance should not be a problem. Max Player is a lightly raced winner of two of three starts, including his last, the Withers at Aqueduct in February.
Analysis: It is hard to look past Tiz the Law here. The horse seems the legitimate winner the race sets up. Not a lot of pace will allow Tiz the Law to sit right off what figures to be a moderate pace at best, then have plenty left to put away the field in the lane. Sole Volante is a horse I really like in the Derby but not just in this spot for the reasons mentioned above. Tap It to Win is intriguing to possibly complete the exacta, but this is a big step up in class. If you want some value underneath Tiz the Law, look at Modernist and Max Player as part of straight exacta plays.