In the scheme of things, the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets being run in June at Belmont Park doesn’t seem that out of the normal. However, in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic the fact the race comes before the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and Preakness Stakes and will be run at the distance of 1 1/8 miles instead of 1 ½ miles really makes a point that things are out of whack this year. Just the same, a strong field of 10 lines up for the race which earns the top four finishers significant points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Tiz the Law leads the field in career earnings ($945,300) and accomplishments, having won four of five career races including the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby easily by 4 ¼ lengths when last seen. Sole Volante also has won four races, including the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes in February, before posting a runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and then a strong win 10 days ago at Gulfstream Park which was the ticket to ship from Florida to New York for this race. Another horse proven in the top races for 3-year-olds early this year is Modernist, winner of one of the two divisions of the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford in February. However, he had no excuse when third in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby in his most recent start. Likewise, Max Player won the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at the distance of this year’s Belmont, but hasn’t been seen in the 4 ½ months since then. Fore Left shipped halfway across the world for his 3-year-old debut and came away with a strong win on the lead throughout in the Group 3 UAE Two Thousand Guineas Sponsored by Masdar at Meydan Racecourse in February. Dr Post punched his ticket into the race with a victory in the Unbridled Stakes in late April. He’s trained by Todd Pletcher, who also saddles Farmington Road, the runner-up in the Oaklawn Stakes in April and then a non-threatening fourth in a division of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in May. Tap It to Win scored impressively at Belmont just 16 days ago and appears to have a lot of talent. Trainer Steve Asmussen, who recently became the all-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs, saddles a pair of Belmont contenders. One of those is Pneumatic, who contested the pace for most of the race before tiring a bit and ending up third in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes last month. The other is Jungle Runner, who won the one-turn Clever Trevor Stakes in November 2019 but who has been beaten by a total of 77 ¼ lengths in four starts since then.
Although Tiz the Law is the one to beat on paper, I’m going to take a shot with Fore Left to post the upset in the Belmont Stakes. The colt won the first two starts of his career last May and June, both sprints including the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park, then after two months off he wasn’t disgraced a bit when ending up third, a neck behind the runner-up in the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar. Following a poor effort in his two-turn debut in the American Pharoah Stakes last September, the colt returned to sprinting and won a minor stakes before trying an all-weather track and trying turf, finishing third then 10th in those races. Rested two months and put back on the dirt while shipping to Dubai for the UAE Two Thousand Guineas, Fore Left led from the start in a 16-horse field and held off all challengers early while drawing off late with some authority. That effort showed he had matured nicely over the winter as he earned a career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure. The third-place finisher in that race returned to win a stakes the following month, which flattered the form of Fore Left somewhat. Rested since then, Fore Left resumed training in April and shipped to Belmont the first week of June. Since then, he’s put in two very strong morning drills over a track he already proved a liking for when winning last spring. Although Tap It to Win earned his last victory at Belmont leading from start to finish, I believe Fore Left will be sent for the lead by jockey Jose Ortiz and if allowed to get into a high cruising speed as he did in the Two Thousand Guineas, he could post the upset win against this field. He still has to beat Tiz the Law, who earned 117 and 112 figures in his last two starts, but considering this will be only his second start as a 3-year-old, Fore Left may be able to do just that.
There’s little question Tiz the Law is the horse to beat based on his body of work, and particularly his two races this year. Rested two months after a poor third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall, Tiz the Law was a powerful winner of the Holy Bull Stakes with a career-best and field-high 117 Figure which remains the highest stakes-winning figure by any 3-year-old in North America even four months later. Although he earned a lower 112 figure winning the Florida Derby, Tiz the Law did not need to run any faster after he opened up by a length in the stretch and jockey Manuel Franco noted there were no challengers coming. When a horse has earned two consecutive figures that are both higher than any other horse in the field, it’s known as a “double advantage,” and these horses win a high percentage of the time. Considering how well Tiz the Law ran off a similar layoff in the Holy Bull, and the fact that he has excellent tactical speed which is likely to have him in third or fourth position early and in range of the leaders at the critical stage of the race, Tiz the Law is a legitimate favorite and the most probable winner. The only proviso is how strong a horse like Fore Left may be if allowed an easy lead from the start, as horses can get very courageous when allowed to run that way.
Sole Volante was my top choice in the Sam F. Davis Stakes on this page in February off his third-place effort in his first dirt start prior to that. Not only had trainer Patrick Biancone already proved prescient with the move as his Ete Indien had run very well a couple of weeks earlier after making the same transition, but Sole Volante had tremendous dam-side breeding for running well in stakes on dirt. The other foal from his dam, Explode, won or placed in stakes at distances from 1 1/8 to 1 ¼ miles. Sole Volante rewarded those who bet him in the Sam F. Davis with a win at 5.80-1 odds and earned a career-best dirt figure of 108. One month later in the Tampa Bay Derby, Sole Volante rallied from 11th of 12 early but couldn’t catch the winner and ended up second. Taking three months off, Sole Volante was very impressive with a big burst of speed in the stretch to win 10 days ago in a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park. Even though that was not a stakes race, his 107 figure was stakes quality. Sole Volante is likely to be near the back of the pack early but if there is any sort of pace battle early or if the early fractions are faster than average, Sole Volante could be passing the field late for his second graded stakes win of the year.
Honorable mention goes to Tap It to Win and Dr Post as both are on the verge of breakthrough performances. Tap It to Win won a sprint in May in his 3-year-old debut with a 99 figure, then improved to a 108 figure effort 16 days ago. That win came in a one-turn route at Belmont not much different from the Belmont Stakes. Because of the level of the race, there’s no way to know the class of the horses he beat, but as a son of Tapit and with the ground-saving rail draw, Tap It to Win may take the needed step forward to compete with these. Dr Post shows a similar pattern as he stretched out to 1 1/16 miles off a sprint in his most recent start and won well. He improved from a 92 figure to 101 so he appears to be a bit behind Tap It to Win but 3-year-olds still have potential to take a big leap forward from race to race, particularly lightly-raced ones like Dr Post.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is: Farmington Road (100), Jungle Runner (85), Max Player (103), Modernist (94) and Pneumatic (98).
Tiz the Law