Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from Belmont Stakes Day, held without fans on Saturday at Belmont Park. The 152nd edition of the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, the oldest of the Triple Crown races, served as the opening leg of this year’s Triple Crown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was cut back from a mile and a half to a one-turn, mile-and-an-eighth contest.
SWEET RIDE: The moment was not too big for Tiz the Law’s jockey Manny Franco, 25, who was competing in the Belmont Stakes for the first time. Although Franco admitted to feeling nervous in the starting gate, he shook off the butterflies to give Tiz the Law a perfect stalking trip in third before the horse tackled pace-setting Tap It to Win and drew clear in the stretch. “It looked to me like everything just went like clockwork,” said trainer Barclay Tagg. “That’s the way the horse likes to run and that’s the position the horse likes to be in.” Franco, who has Hall of Famer Angel Cordero, Jr., as his agent, has been largely under the radar during the early stages of his career. He has paid his dues, though, riding regularly at Aqueduct’s winter meet to be the New York Racing Association’s leading rider in 2018 and 2019 with 456 victories over those two years.
TALENTED TAGG: Tiz the Law is perfect through three starts this year and was able to overcome a prolonged layoff each time. There could be no greater testament to Tagg and his highly respected assistant, Robin Smullen. They somehow navigated the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic with relative ease. “We had no idea when the next race was going to come up and we just kept him on his routine,” Tagg said. “We worked him once a week, gave him a day off after his work and galloped him the rest of the time. We had to keep him fit because we never knew when they would put something on.” At least now Tagg can be fairly confident of his next target, the Travers Stakes scheduled for Aug. 8 at Saratoga Race Course.
ONE TO WATCH: While Linda Rice came up short in her bid to become the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race, she had to be proud of Max Player’s third-place Belmont Stakes finish in his first start since he captured the Feb. 1 Withers Stakes. It is incredibly difficult to have a 3-year-old sharp with so much time between races, and yet Rice had the son of Honor Code on his game. He was coming on for jockey Joel Rosario at the end despite getting fanned out seven wide. “He hasn’t run in five months,” Rice noted, “so it was a pretty good effort.”
DAZZLING PERFORMANCE: As impressive as Tiz the Law was in securing the opening leg of the Triple Crown, the top performance of the Belmont card belonged to Gamine in the Longines Acorn Stakes. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Gamine broke from the rail and went gate-to-wire to win by 18 ¾ lengths in the stakes-record time of 1:32.55 for the mile. The Into Mischief filly narrowly missed the track record of 1:32.24, set by Najran in May of 2003. Gamine, perfect through three starts, shows every sign of being a superstar in the making and a runner well worth the $1.8 million Michael Lund Petersen paid for her at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale. “She’s very nice and professional. I wish they were all that easy,” jockey John Velazquez said after Gamine earned 50 qualifying points for the Sept. 4 Longines Kentucky Oaks.
MAJOR MILESTONE: Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott became the seventh trainer in history to record 5,000 victories when Moon Over Miami won the third race Saturday at Churchill Downs. Mott, a native of South Dakota, trails only Dale Baird (9,445), Steve Asmussen (8,873), Jerry Hollendorfer (7,651), Jack Van Berg (6,523), King Leatherbury (6,503), and Scott Lake (6,104). Mott, 66, registered an elusive Kentucky Derby victory last year with longshot Country House to go with previous signature triumphs in the Dubai World Cup (Cigar, 1996), Belmont Stakes (Drosselmeyer, 2010), and Breeders’ Cup Classic (Cigar, 1995; Drosselmeyer, 2011).