The newly minted Triple Crown season will finally kick off on Saturday at Belmont Park, with the $1 million dollar Belmont Stakes. It’s time for the old-schoolers to set aside the discussion about the new distance and the altered sequence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and start handicapping.
For the first time in history, the Belmont Stakes kicks off the Triple Crown series, and it also serves as an official Kentucky Derby Prep-Race with the most qualifying points (150-60-30-15) awarded to the first four finishers.
Here then is a closer look at Saturday’s field of ten:
TAP IT TO WIN [ML 6-1] Trainer: Mark Casse. Jockey: John Velazquez. This guy recently overwhelmed an Allowance field going a mile and a sixteenth in New York. He took the race on the front end with a lead of more than seven lengths at the stretch call and was geared down late to Win by five at the wire. The race was fast and earned the Winner a 97 Beyer Speed Figure. He comes back after just 16 days in a race that is just 110 yards longer and stays in the one-turn configuration.
SOLE VOLANTE [ML 9-2] Trainer: Patrick Biancone. Jockey: Luca Panici. Instead of another typical morning workout, his trainer opted to run him in an Allowance race at Gulfstream Park for his final preparation for the big race at Belmont. He rallied from last almost nine lengths behind to Win the one-turn mile by nearly a length. Note that he Won the Sam F. Davis (G3) and was 2nd in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
MAX PLAYER [ML 15-1] Trainer: Linda Rice. Jockey: Joel Rosario. Since his off the pace Victory in the Withers Stakes (G3) in March, his connections changed plans a couple of times. The Wood Memorial got cancelled and when the date was announced for the Belmont Stakes, they decided to skip the Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill Downs and stay home. That means he will try the first leg of the Triple Crown coming off a more than three-month layoff. On the positive side, he has been training well.
MODERNIST [ML 15-1] Trainer: Bill Mott. Jockey: Junior Alvarado. Following his Maiden breaker at Aqueduct in January, he made a splash on the original Derby Trail down at Fair Grounds. He pressed the pace and Won the Risen Star (G2) and then was 3rd in the Louisiana Derby (G2). The level of competition of those New Orleans prep races is often called into question and he will have trouble staying with the early runners from this field.
FARMINGTON ROAD [ML 15-1] Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Jockey: Javier Castellano. One of two runners for trainer Pletcher. This one was last seen finishing 4th in the Arkansas Derby. The late running colt might prefer the big sweeping turn at Belmont Park because he can start his closing move early and may be able to sustain it given the right pace set-up. Bottom line is he only has a Maiden Victory to his credit.
FORE LEFT [ML 30-1] Trainer: Doug O’Neill. Jockey: Jose Ortiz. As a 2-year-old, he Won his first two starts including the Tremont at Belmont Park. In California, he could not compete with the top juveniles in two Grade 1 races. He had been expected to run in the Woody Stephens (G1) on the Belmont Day under-card. He could be a factor on the front end, though he is unlikely to remain in contention in the end.
JUNGLE RUNNER [ML 50-1] Trainer: Steve Asmussen. Jockey: Reylu Gutierrez. Connections are always willing to take a shot in the biggest races around the country. This guy’s best form goes back to last year at Remington Park where he broke his Maiden and then followed it with a Stakes Victory. As a 3-year-old, he has not been able to duplicate those results. Two starts on the Derby Trail at Oaklawn Park– the Smarty Jones and the Arkansas Derby (G1) both produced 8th place finishes.
TIZ THE LAW [ML 6-5] Trainer: Barclay Tagg. Jockey: Manny Franco. He has been on top of most of the Kentucky Derby contender lists since he won the Holy Bull (G3) and the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park by a combined 7 ¼ lengths. He enters the Belmont after a layoff of almost three months. He Won his only start at Belmont last year in the Champagne Stakes (G1). He is the only Grade 1 Winner in the field, and as such he figures to be the odds-on favorite.
DR POST [ML 5-1] Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr. He is one of the horses that has benefited from the delay of the Triple Crown series. Lightly raced with just three career starts, he returned to the races in March and Won both of his starts impressively at Gulfstream Park. He had to overcome a tough trip in his April Victory in the Unbridled Stakes going a mile and a sixteenth. This kind of horse has the potential to make big improvement from race to race.
PNEUMATIC [ML 8-1] Trainer: Steve Asmussen. Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr. This is a colt who prefers to be part of the early pace. He moved from an Allowance Victory at Oaklawn to a 3rd place finish in the Matt Winn Stakes and as a result his connections made him a late nominee to the Triple Crown series.
#2 SOLE VOLANTE is a dangerous closer. He needs a hot pace to give him the best chance for an upset Victory. The late addition of #6 FORE LEFT to the field should help his cause in that regard.
The lightly raced #1 TAP IT TO RUN and #10 PNEUMATIC are similar in that their last starts pointed them out as serious contenders with the potential to make another step forward in here.
The Play: #8 is a must use in all multi-race wagers (Pick 4, 5, 6), possibly a single, stand alone choice in those bets. But in the Belmont Stakes itself the Daily Racing Blog is going to try and beat TIZ THE LAW with #1, #2, and #10.
So our play will be a Trifecta Key Box using the #1, #2, and #10 on top of the #8, and #9. So the ticket will read: 1-2-10 with 1-2-8-9-10 with 1-2-8-9-10.
Best of luck no matter how you play it.