Field Taking Shape for 2020 Belmont Stakes

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The horses leave the starting gate for the 2017 Belmont Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

As the connections of Maxfield weigh their options, a field of at least nine is taking shape for the $1 million Belmont Stakes, which will open the delayed 2020 Triple Crown season June 20 at Belmont Park.

Godolphin’s undefeated grade 1 winner Maxfield returned from a 7 1/2-month layoff to capture the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes May 23 at Churchill Downs, putting the son of Street Sense squarely in the Triple Crown mix. Trainer Brendan Walsh said Monday that a decision on the 3-year-old’s Belmont Stakes status was not imminent.

“It looks like he came out of the race good but we don’t know yet about the Belmont Stakes. We’ll have to see once he gets back to training. To be honest, I haven’t spoken to [the Godolphin team] yet. I think, like me, they want to give it a few days or a week to see how he is before they come up with a plan. Nothing’s on or off yet.”

The Matt Winn marked Maxfield’s first start since Oct. 5 when he captured the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland by an impressive 5 1/2-length margin. He was entered in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park, but was scratched and underwent surgery to have chips removed from his ankle.

For Walsh, the Matt Winn provided a great sense of relief that the homebred has fully recovered from the surgery and bounced back in top form.

“He was working great for the race, but it’s always a concern in your mind what will happen when he races again,” Walsh said after the Matt Winn. “He showed he’s as good or maybe even better than he was last year. It was the performance we wanted and hopefully we can move forward from here and have a good year, which I am sure he will. He makes us look good.”

With or without Maxfield — and without fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the Belmont Stakes will bring together a stellar collection of the 3-year-old division’s biggest stars.

According to the New York Racing Association press office, there are nine probable starters for the 1 1/8-mile Belmont Stakes, including four Grade 1 winners.

That foursome of Grade 1 winners features Nadal and Charlatan, an undefeated duo from trainer Bob Baffert’s barn who captured the two divisions of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, along with Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby winner Tiz the Law and Grade 1 Runhappy Hopeful Stakes victor Basin.

The other probable starters are Farmington Road, who finished fourth behind Nadal in his division of the Arkansas Derby; Gouverneur Morris, second in the Breeders’ Futurity and fourth in the Florida Derby; Grade 3 Withers Stakes winner Max Player; Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford victor Modernist, who was third last time out in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby; and Sole Volante, the runner-up in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby who is seventh in the NTRA poll.

Besides Maxfield, Ny Traffic and Shivaree are possibilities for the Grade 1 classic.

New York-bred Ny Traffic was a length behind Maxfield as the runner-up in the Matt Winn, giving a solid effort that followed a second in the Louisiana Derby and a third in the Risen Star. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said Monday the final decision will be made by the colt’s ownership group of John Fanelli, Cash Is King, LC Racing, and Paul Braverman, but he listed the odds of running in the Belmont Stakes as a 30% possibility.

“The owners do not want to rule out the Belmont Stakes, so we’ll see. I’d say it’s 30-70 we’ll run,” Joseph said.

If Ny Traffic does not run in the Belmont Stakes, Joseph said either the July 11 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland or the Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park would be the most likely choices for the son of Cross Traffic’s next start.

Jacks or Better Farm’s Shivaree was second by 4 1/4 lengths to Tiz the Law in the Florida Derby at 80-1 odds after a second-place finish in the six-furlong Hutcheson Stakes in his prior start.

Trainer Ralph Nicks called the Belmont Stakes “a possibility” for his Florida-bred son of Awesome of Course.

“Nothing has been ruled in or out. The horse is doing fine. We’re looking for the best spot to gain points [for the Kentucky Derby] and be the most competitive in a field. If the Belmont comes up and we’re 15-1, we might look elsewhere,” Nicks said about the winner of three of 10 starts with three seconds. “He’s a big, resilient, tough horse. Since he got it together last year, he’s showed up every time and run hard.”

Nicks also mentioned the Blue Grass and Haskell as possibilities for Shivaree.

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