While most other sports continue to try and figure out how to re-start amidst the coronavirus pandemic, thoroughbred racing keeps motoring along. That’s not to say that racing hasn’t been affected. The 2020 Triple Crown season kicks off on Saturday with the . . . Belmont Stakes. Yes, in this nightmare of a year, the last shall be first.
In addition to being the first leg of the series and running two weeks later than its normal spot on the calendar, the Belmont will be 3 furlongs short of its usual mile and a half distance. With a lack of sufficient prep races and the postponement of the first two classics until later in the year, NYRA officials felt a shorter distance for this year’s race gave it a better chance at drawing a sizable field. However, a rash of injuries to many of the top horses in this three-year old crop over the last several weeks has decimated the overall quality of the field.
Both impressive winners of split divisions of the Arkansas Derby, the Bob Baffert-trained Nadal (condylar fracture) and Charlatan (filling in an ankle), are out. Nadal has been retired, and Charlatan will be unable to race again until the fall. Maxfield, sensational winner of last season’s Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and more recently the Matt Winn last month at Churchill, is also out with a condylar fracture. He should be able to return to racing next year. As if losing those 3 wasn’t enough, Louisiana Derby winner Wells Bayou also recently hit the sidelines with bone bruising. What remains of this crop for the opening stage of a Triple Crown that will undoubtedly be marked with an asterisk is one headline star and a watered down supporting cast.
Tiz the Law will be a deserving, heavy favorite in the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes. He is the only grade 1 winner in the field, having captured both the one mile Champagne over the local strip last fall and the Florida Derby at today’s distance of a mile and an eighth, though run around two turns at Gulfstream, back in March. The only blemish on his otherwise perfect record came over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs last fall when he did not have the greatest of trips and still managed to run 3rd, beaten just 3/4 of a length for all the money in the grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. The son of Constitution is drawn well toward the outside with a long run into the turn, and his stalking style should allow Manny Franco to negotiate a cozy trip. In terms of accomplishments he stands head and shoulders above this field, and the connections are confident he is ready to show his class this afternoon.
While the rest of the field may be short on the accomplishments typically seen in a 3yo classic, there are several who certainly do not lack potential. Sole Volante took the grade 3 Sam Davis at Tampa in February and backed that up with a solid runner-up finish behind the talented King Guillermo in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Given a brief respite due to the postponement of the Triple Crown, the son of Karakontie resurfaced in a Gulfstream allowance just ten days ago. Used as a sharpener for this, the Patrick Biancone trainee closed resolutely from the back of the field in his usual style to capture the one-turn mile event by a relatively comfortable 3/4 length margin. The biggest question for him is whether he is too pace dependent in a race that lacks much early speed.
Drawn on the rail, Tap It to Win will likely be the provider of any early pace. He took a Belmont allowance field gate to wire 16 days ago. Johnny V returns to the saddle and will look to play catch me if you can against a more talented field over an extended half furlong.
Dr. Post earned a nice Beyer figure in his maiden breaking victory going 7 panels at Gulfstream at the end of March. He returned a month later and showed a good deal of professionalism and determination in finding the wire ahead of 5 others in the Unbridled Stakes.
The Quality Road colt has been given ample time to recover from that effort and is certainly eligible to improve in just his fourth lifetime start.
Pneumatic ran bravely to finish 3rd, less than two lengths behind Maxfield in the Matt Winn four weeks back. The :59 and 4 bullet he fired at Churchill the morning of June 8th is something not often seen by inhabitants of the Asmussen barn.
By Uncle Mo out of a Tapit mare, the one-turn mile and an eighth should be right in his wheelhouse. He rates as the likeliest of upsetters.
Best of luck and enjoy the kickoff of, hopefully, the one and only Covid Crown.
You can follow me on Twitter @chadlashbrook