Belmont 2020 Still a Classic Despite the Different Look
Ten To Contest The First Leg Of The Triple Crown
By Margaret Ransom
Saturday marks the 152nd running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes (GI) at Belmont Park, which thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and the suspension of all three Triple Crown races, will for the first time serve as first leg of the series for the first time in history. Additionally, the race will be conducted this year at 1 1/8 miles, shorter by three furlongs than its customary 1 ½-mile distance.
And in keeping with the state of New York’s coronavirus safety protocols, the Belmont Stakes and the entire supporting card will be conducted spectator-free and with extra safety protocols, such as social distancing by participants and face masks for everyone. This year, the Kentucky Derby will now be held as the second leg on September 5 at Churchill Downs and the Preakness Stakes will be the anchor leg, taking place at Pimlico Race Course on October 3.
In addition to the Belmont Stakes, Saturday’s 12-race card will feature five other graded stakes and three other grade 1s, including the $250,000 Woody Stephens Stakes presented by Claiborne Farm, the $300,000 Longines Acorn Stakes and the $250,000 Jaipur, presented by America’s Best Racing and a a “Win & You’re In” qualifier to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GIT). The Belmont Stakes is also a Road to the Kentucky Derby race and for the first time offers points on a scale of 150-60-30-15 to the top-four finishers to make the starting gate on September 5 under the Twin Spires.
Sackatoga Stables’ Florida Derby (GI) winner Tiz the Law is the 6-5 morning-line favorite and drew post position eight. The son of Constitution will bid to become just the fourth-ever New York-bred Belmont winner and first since the 19th century, his connections hoping he adds his name to the list of Ruthless (1867, Fenian (1869) and Forester (1882).
Tiz The Law is trained by Barclay Tagg, who also conditioned Sackatoga’s dual classic winner Funny Cide. The white-faced colt won last year’s Champagne Stakes (GI) in his second career start before ending his juvenile campaign with a third-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GIII) at Churchill Downs at the end of November. In addition to the Florida Derby, he also won the Holy Bull Stakes (GII) back on February 1.
“It means a lot (to train Tiz The Law), you don’t get top contenders all the time,” Tagg said. “He’s a nice horse. Hopefully he’s as good we think. You work every day seven days a week, you just hope nothing happens and nothing goes wrong. But so far, so good. We’re pleased with the way he’s been doing and we’re ready for the race.
“Nothing seems to faze him in any way. I’d have rather been a little closer (post position-wise), but I don’t think it makes much of a difference. He’s coming in good; I can’t be happier with him.”
Tiz The Law’s regular jockey, Manny Franco, will ride in the Belmont Stakes for the first time. He has been NYRA’s leading jockey overall for the past two years.
“We love Manny,” Tagg said. “He’s been good for us. He’s a very good rider.”
Andie Biancone and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s Sam F. Davis Stakes (GII) winner Sole Volante, which is Italian for “Flying Sun”, returned off a three-month layoff to win an allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park on June 10. The three-quarter-length win at a mile over the main track gave trainer Patrick Biancone the final push he needed to decide to run him in the Belmont Stakes. The Kentucky-bred son of Karakontie, who cost Biancone just $20,000 as an Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company 2-year-old in training 14 months ago, was also second to King Guillermo in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) in March.
Sole Volante drew post position two and was given 9-2 morning line odds. Regular jockey Luca Panici, who only missed the mount in the Tampa Bay Derby due to injury, will ride.
“He arrived last night and ate everything this morning,” Biancone said Wednesday after the draw. “So far, so good. He’s very talented. He’s been very good for us and trains his best all the time. We’ll see how good he is Saturday. No question, Tiz the Law is the horse to beat, but (Sole Volante) totally (deserves) this opportunity.”
George E. Hall’s Max Player makes his first start since capturing the Withers Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct back in February. The son of Honor Code is trained by Linda Rice, who is one of 10 female trainers to have already started a runner in the Belmont Stakes throughout history and is seeking to become the first female conditioner to actually win a classic race.
“It would be great to win a Belmont or any Triple Crown race,” Rice said. “(The Withers) was on February 1 so we’re looking at 4 1/2 months. He has improved dramatically in his training the past 60 days. I’m excited about running him this week.
“He was never very tactical before. We had to work him in company with another horse to get him to perform and get enough out of his workouts. At this point, he’s seasoned, he no longer needs any company and he relaxes early in his workouts. When we ask him to respond, he responds, so we’ve been very happy with him.
“I would prefer to be little further to the outside with a horse that doesn’t like kickback but we are where we are.”
Max Player 15-1 on the morning line, drew the three hole and will have Joel Rosario, looking for back-to-back Belmont victories after guiding Sir Winston to the win a year ago, in the irons.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has saddled three previous Belmont Stakes winners, will send out St. Elias Stable’s Dr Post and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Chrysalis Stables’ and Robert LaPenta’s Farmington Road.
Dr Post has earned two wins and a fourth from three career starts, the wins coming this year in maiden and stakes company in March and April at Gulfstream Park. His last – a 1 ½-length off-the-pace triumph at 1 1/16 miles was in the Unbridled Stakes and he won despite a fairly significant amount of trouble.
“I think there’s a lot of talent there,” Pletcher said. “I was very impressed by his maiden win. With the amount of adversity he overcame in the Unbridled, it seems like he’s made a lot of progress in a short period of time. He’s a big, strong horse that seems to be improving. This is a big jump up in class and he’s a little light on seasoning, but he seems to have the talent.”
Pletcher said the barn has always had faith in the $400,000 purchase at the 2018 Keeneland Sale.
“Before Saratoga last year, we felt like he was one of our more promising 2-year-olds,” Pletcher remembered. “He had a bit of a setback after his maiden race, but he’s one we’ve always seen a lot of potential from.”
Dr Post, at odds of 5-1, drew post nine and Irad Ortiz, Jr. will be back aboard.
Farmington Road has earned just one win in six starts, but has made his last three starts at the nine-furlong Belmont distance, including a second in the Oaklawn Stakes at Oaklawn Park on April 11. He was most recently fourth in a division of the Arkansas Derby (GI) on May 2.
Pletcher said Farmington Road needs a fast early pace.
“That would definitely help Farmington Road, he’s a one-run horse,” Pletcher said. “He likes to settle and come from off the pace. A true-run race would definitely be to his benefit.
“He’s training great into this race. I thought his breeze over the track was very good. It seems like he’s in good form at the moment.”
Farmington Road is 15-1 on the morning line and will break from post five under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano.
Pam and Marty Wygod’s Modernist won the Risen Star Stakes (GII) at this distance at Fair Grounds back in February before finishing third in the Louisiana Derby (GII) at 1 3/16 miles (the Preakness Stakes distance) back in March. The homebred son of Uncle Mo is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who won the 2010 Belmont with Drosselmeyer, and will be ridden by Junior Alvarado from post position four. He is a morning line longshot at 15-1
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who won the 2016 Belmont with Creator, will send out two in Calumet Farm’s Jungle Runner and Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Pneumatic.
Lightly raced Pneumatic has made just three starts, with two wins in maiden and allowance company, and was most recently third behind the now sidelined Maxfield in the May 23 Matt Winn Stakes (GIII) in his only stakes appearance. Ricardo Santana, Jr. will ride the Uncle Mo colt from post 10.
Jungle Runner actually won the Clever Trevor Stakes at Remington Park as a juvenile and takes a giant step up in class having not hit the board in four subsequent starts – all stakes – since. He enters the Belmont off an eighth-place finish in a division of the Arkansas Derby last out and for these reasons is the 50-1 longest shot on the morning line. Reylu Gutierrez will make his Triple Crown debut aboard the Candy Ride Cold, who drew post position seven.
Trainer Mark Casse, who will be inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame this summer, seeks a second consecutive Belmont Stakes score with Live Oak Plantation’s homebred Tap It To Win after sending out Sir Winston to victory in 2019. The Casse-trained War of Will also won last year’s Preakness Stakes.
The Tapit ridgling, who will lead the field to the gate under Hall of Famer John Velazquez making his 24th appearance in the Belmont Stakes, is on a two-race win streak against allowance company and returns to graded company for the first time since finishing 10th and last behind Maxfield in the October 5 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. Tap It to Win is 6-1 on the morning line.
“We’re the speed in the race so the rail shouldn’t hurt us as much as it might’ve hurt other horses in the race,” Casse assistant Jamie Begg said. “There’s speed outside of us, so it’s not favorable necessarily, but I feel like with his style of running it shouldn’t make as much of a difference.
“He came out of his last race great. Initially the plan was to see if we could get his energy up coming back in two weeks, but the horse hasn’t missed a beat and is probably training better coming out of that race than he was going into it. We’re pretty excited.”
Reddam Racing’s Fore Left was a last-minute entry into the Belmont field and was actually expected race in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens, presented by Claiborne Farm, on the undercard. The son Twirling Candy, who is trained by Doug O’Neill, won the Tremont Stakes on the Friday before last year’s Belmont Stakes and starts for the first time since winning the UAE Two Thousand Guineas (GII) at Meydan back on February 6.
Fore Left, who is 30-1 on the morning line, will carry Jose Ortiz from post position six.
The Belmont Stakes has been carded as Race 10, will have a post time of 5:42 p.m. ET. NBC will have live coverage starting at 2:45 p.m. ET.