The field is taking shape for the 1 1/8-mile Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 20, which for the first time will kick off this country’s Triple Crown series.
The 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby then will be held at Churchill Downs on Sept. 5. It will be followed by the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Oct. 3.
The way I see it, among the 12 horses listed by Belmont Park as probable or possible for the Belmont Stakes, there are four main contenders: Nadal, Charlatan, Tiz the Law and Maxfield.
In terms of my early odds for the Belmont, I currently give a slight nod to favoritism to Nadal. But I also would not be at all surprised if Tiz the Law or Charlatan were sent off as the favorite if they do start.
In alphabetical order, listed as probable for the Belmont are Basin (trained by Steve Asmussen), Charlatan (Bob Baffert), Farmington Road (Todd Pletcher), Gouverneur Morris (Pletcher), Max Player (Linda Rice), Modernist (Bill Mott), Nadal (Baffert), Sole Volante (Patrick Biancone) and Tiz the Law (Barclay Tagg).
Those listed as possible are Maxfield (Brendan Walsh), Ny Traffic (Saffie Joseph Jr.) and Shivaree (Ralph Nicks).
Joseph said in a Daily Racing Form story Monday written by Marty McGee that while the Belmont “has not been ruled out” for Ny Traffic, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on July 11 or the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 18 are probably better, timing-wise. That statement makes it seem to me that Ny Traffic is more doubtful than possible for the Belmont.
Below are my early Belmont Stakes odds for the nine horses listed by Belmont Park as probable:
5-2 Tiz the Law
10-1 Sole Volante
12-1 Max Player
15-1 Gouverneur Morris
20-1 Farmington Road
Maxfield no doubt would be a strong Belmont contender if he runs. Below are my early odds for a Belmont when adding Maxfield to the nine horses listed as probable:
3-1 Tiz the Law
12-1 Sole Volante
15-1 Max Player
20-1 Gouverneur Morris
30-1 Farmington Road
Meanwhile, here is my Top 10 for the Belmont Stakes:
3. Tiz the Law
5. Sole Volante
7. Max Player
9. Gouverneur Morris
10. Farmington Road
Will Maxfield, who races for the powerful Godolphin operation, run in the Belmont? It’s a big question right now.
From a timing standpoint, the four weeks between the May 23 Matt Winn and the June 20 Belmont would seem to give Maxfield sufficient time between races.
I think that Maxfield, if at all possible, should run in the Belmont. Why? If he wre to win the Belmont, then he would be the only horse with a chance for a Triple Crown sweep. And winning the 2020 Triple Crown would be a tremendous achievement, even if there are those who would -- mistakenly, I believe -- insist an asterisk should accompany such a sweep.
As I noted last week in terms of whether or not a Triple Crown asterisk is merited this year, the format for the eight Triple Crown winners from Sir Barton in 1919 to Citation in 1948 was not the same as it was for the five such winners from Secretariat in 1973 to Justify in 2018. Is there an asterisk attached for any of the eight Triple Crown winners from Sir Barton to Citation? No. And that’s largely why I believe there also should be no asterisk for a 2020 Triple Crown winner if a horse sweeps the three races.
As I see it at this time, any one of the Big Four -- Nadal, Charlatan, Tiz the Law or Maxfield -- appear talented enough to take a serious run at a Triple Crown sweep, particularly with a Belmont run at 1 1/8 miles (as it has been twice in its history) instead of 1 1/2 miles.
I especially feel that way about Nadal, who is undefeated in four lifetime starts. I think he has all the tools to be a superstar.
Nadal is a large, strong individual, but he’s also athletic. He is anything but a big, lumbering sort. He is quick enough on his feet to display blazing early zip, but he’s not headstrong. He seems perfectly amenable to doing whatever the rider desires. He also has demonstrated that he has heart when he’s been involved in serious equine combat.
All in all, it appears to me that Nadal is the total package.
On the one hand, Nadal has demonstrated that even when he gets into a heated early battle, he still can get the job done. He did so when victorious in both Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 9 and Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 14. The winning margin each time was three-quarters of a length.
On the other hand, Nadal also has shown that he can dominate his opponents and win by daylight. He first did that when he won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race by 3 3/4 lengths at Santa Anita in his career debut on Feb. 16. He did it again when he asserted his superiority to prevail by three lengths in his division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles on May 2.
It took nothing less than an outstanding racehorse to do what Nadal did to win the Grade II Rebel in spite of what was asked of him early on. He never, ever got a breather that day. The Kentucky-bred son of Blame had to run hard for every single step of the entire 1 1/16-mile contest.
Nadal vied for the early advantage with No Parole heading to the first turn. And then, on the first turn, a fresh American Theorem, who was making his 2020 debut, rushed up to engage Nadal and No Parole for the lead. The preliminary fractions were :22.89 and :46.00.
After being involved in such a hot early pace, both American Theorem and No Parole retreated badly in the final quarter of a mile. American Theorem lost by 27 1/4 lengths. No Parole got beat by 49 lengths. But Nadal resolutely kept to his task and managed to prevail, though not before also having to withstand bids from Three Technique and Silver Prospector near the top of the lane, then from Excession in deep stretch.
After the finish, Nadal stayed in front while galloping out, which also was impressive considering how hard he had run during the entire race.
Nadal’s Rebel victory was all the more praiseworthy considering it was his first race around two turns, his first race on a wet track and his first race away from Santa Anita.
After the Rebel, when Nadal won his division of the Arkansas Derby, it was important that he proved that he is able to rate off the pace and win. He posted a final time of 1:48.34. Charlatan took the other division in 1:48.49.
Just how good is Charlatan? We still don’t know. He has won all three of his races by a combined 22 lengths. The Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt took his division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby by six lengths. Charlatan’s victory in the Arkansas Derby was all the more commendable because he was running in a stakes race for the first time, it was his first race going that far, plus it was his first start outside California.
As for Tiz the Law, nobody has been able to beat him yet on a track that isn’t wet. His only defeat came on a sloppy track in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last Nov. 30. He also had a troubled trip in that 1 1/16-mile ffair.
Tiz the Law is two for two this year. He won Gulfstream Park’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths on Feb. 1. The New York-bred Constitution colt then won Gulfstream’s Grade I Florida Derby with authority by 4 1/4 lengths at 1 1/8 miles on March 28.
By the way, with respect to Charlatan, there is news concerning his win in the Arkansas Derby.
In a story posted online Tuesday, Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman wrote: “Charlatan, winner of the first division of the Arkansas Derby in his stakes debut May 2, had an initial test sample come back positive for an undisclosed medication, multiple sources told Daily Racing Form. If confirmed by a second test, it could result in his disqualification.”
A disqualification would result in Charlatan having to forfeit the 100 Kentucky Derby points he earned for his Arkansas Derby win. That would put him back at zero points.
Baffert issued the following statement Tuesday: “The rules of the Arkansas Racing Commission mandate confidentially concerning any investigation into an alleged rule violation until there is a written decision by the stewards. I am extremely disappointed that, in this instance, the Commission has not followed its own rules for confidentiality. I am hoping for an expedited investigation and look forward to being able to speak soon about any written decision of the stewards, if and when it becomes necessary and I am allowed to under the Commission’s confidentiality rules.”
Privman reported that “co-owner George Bolton said Tuesday that Nadal’s Arkansas Derby test came back clean.”
MUCH TO LIKE ABOUT MAXFIELD’S MATT WINN
Despite not having started in a long time, Maxfield did win the Winn.
Sent off as the 6-5 favorite, Maxfield prevailed in last Saturday’s Grade III Matt Winn Stakes by one length at Churchill Downs to remain undefeated in three career starts.
“The most impressive thing about this horse is how he handles everything so well mentally,” Walsh was quoted as saying in a Churchill Downs news release issued the day after the Matt Winn. “He’s such a cool horse and nothing really bothers him. Along with his athletic ability, his mental state is a really strong one-two punch.”
These are a number of reasons Maxfield’s performance last Saturday was much more impressive than his one-length margin of victory would suggest, such as:
--He had not raced in 33 weeks. In that regard, he was at a disadvantage vs. all nine of his Matt Winn rivals.
--He did not have a tardy start this time, unlike both of his two races last year. His start in the Matt Winn was encouraging in that it indicates he is not the sort who is always going to leave the gate slowly.
--His trip certainly was not ideal. As Walsh noted in a BloodHorse story written by Bob Ehalt, Maxfield “got a great education today.” In heavy traffic entering and rounding the first turn, Maxfield was shuffled back to eighth before reaching the backstretch.
--He sustained his rally from about the five-sixteenths pole all the way to the finish. Similarly, in the Breeders’ Futurity last fall, he commenced his rally with about three furlongs to run and likewise sustained it all the way to the finish. His ability to make an effective rally of such long duration is a component as to why he is a special colt.
--He came home strongly to get the victory despite the early pace being far from sizzling. The rather soft early fractions (:23.98, :48.21, 1:12.44) most likely helped two of the participants who were prominent early -- Ny Traffic and Pneumatic -- to still be in the mix late. Ny Traffic finished second. Pneumatic ended up third, three-quarters of a length behind Ny Traffic.
--This certainly was not a soft race. He defeated a couple of tough foes in Ny Traffic and Pneumatic. Walsh put it well after the race when he said “this was not an easy spot” for Maxfield. Ny Traffic had finished second earlier this year in the Grade II Louisiana Derby on March 21. Pneumatic, a highly regarded Uncle Mo colt trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, was two for two going into the Matt Winn and acquitted himself well last Saturday in his stakes debut.
--He still has upside in that he has only three races under his belt. Even though he’s undefeated and already a Grade I winner, it looks like there is still plenty of room for improvement.
--His rider, Jose Ortiz, seemed to ride with confidence late in the race. What Ortiz did in the final few yards was particularly interesting. Once Maxfield had surged into the lead in the last sixteenth, Ortiz took his foot off the gas pedal while first looking over to his left, then to his right. Ortiz was “measuring the competition” in the closing yards. Back in the day, Eddie Delahoussaye excelled at doing this. It’s likely that Maxfield did not gallop out quite as strongly after the finish as he otherwise might have because he was coming off such a long layoff and because Ortiz literally was not pushing him near the end of the race.
In Ehalt’s story, Joseph acknowledged that Ny Traffic lost the Matt Winn to “an exceptional horse” in Maxfield.
Of Ny Traffic, Joseph said that he was “super proud” of his effort.
This [finishing second] was crucial,” Saphie added, “because I think we secured a Derby spot,” meaning the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in September.
The first four finishers in the Matt Winn were rewarded with 50-20-10-5 points toward getting into the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
These are the 20 who currently have the most Kentucky Derby points:
122 Tiz the Law
104 Wells Bayou
90 King Guillermo
74 Ete Indien
70 Ny Traffic
50 Mischevious Alex
34 Gouverneur Morris
32 Storm the Court
30 Sole Volante
30 Major Fed
25 Thousand Words
25 Finnick the Fierce
The above list ranks the horses in order of their Kentucky Derby eligibility. If two or more horses have the same number of points, the first tiebreaker is earnings in non-restricted stakes races.
PROGRESS IN THE BEYER DEPARTMENT
Maxfield was credited with a career-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure last Saturday. He recorded a 67 Beyer in his maiden win, then an 87 in the Breeders’ Futurity, then a 95 in the Matt Winn. If he continues this improving pattern in his next race, be it in the Belmont or some other race, he is going to be one extremely tough customer.
Below are the Beyers for the Matt Winn winners going back to the first running of the race in 1998 (the figures prior to 2020 are listed in the American Racing Manual, which is now digital only):
2020 Maxfield (95)
2019 Mr. Money (99)
2018 King Zachary (98)
2017 McCraken (93)
2016 Gun Runner (99)
2015 Island Town (88)
2014 Tapiture (92)
2013 Code West (92)
2012 Neck ’n Neck (102)
2011 Scotus (92)
2010 Colizeo (96)
2009 Successful Dan (99)
2008 Pyro (101)
2007 Chelokee (100)
2006 High Cotton (93)
2005 Don’t Get Mad (96)
2004 Suave (103)
2003 Champali (104)
2002 Danthebluegrassman (104)
2001 Compendium (104)
2000 Exchange Rate (103)
1999 Forestry (97)
1998 Shot of Gold (106)
ROBERTS, KASMERSKI PASS AWAY
Clint Roberts and Len Kasmerski, two highly successful trainers in the Pacific Northwest, recent passed away. I knew them both and always enjoy it whenever I had the opportunity to talk with them.
Roberts died on May 6. He was 90.
During his long career, Roberts won three training titles at Longacres near Seattle (1980, 1983 and 1988), two titles at the Emerald meet at Yakima Meadows (1993 and 1994) and another title at the 1995 Yakima Meadows meet.
Roberts also trained horses at numerous other tracks, such as Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Fields, Emerald Downs and Playfair.
I can attest that Roberts was absolutely terrific at playing “equine poker,” aka the claiming game.
Roberts’ son, Tom Roberts, became a very successful trainer in his own right. According to the Clint Roberts’ obituary in news disseminated via email by the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Association, Tom Roberts has training titles at Bay Meadows, Longacres, Playfair and Yakima Meadows to his credit.
Kasmerski died on May 12. He was 79.
Loto Canada, inducted in the Washington Racing Hall of Fame four years ago, was Kasmerski’s pride and joy.
Loto Canada, who raced for Patti and Lee Brauer, is one of the great stories in Washington racing lore. The Brauers acquired Loto Canada by using a small portion of the $1 million they won in the Canadian lottery in the spring of 1978.
The Brauers, who lived on a small apple farm in Central Washington, did not spend any of their lottery winnings right away. According to Emily Shields in a story on Loto Canada that appeared in the spring 2017 issue of the Washington Thoroughbred magazine, “the Brauers sat on the money for six months before ‘splurging’ on a new truck and fixing the farm tractor. They also bought a yearling by Saltville out of the T.V. Lark mare T.V. Actress off a friend that had managed Jerre Paxton’s Kwick Lok Corporation.”
That yearling was Loto Canada.
Loto Canada won four stakes races as a 2-year-old, highlighted by a nine-length tour de force in the Gottstein Futurity at Longacres, the most important 2-year-old race in Washington. He earned the title of Washington-bred 2-year-old champion colt or gelding of 1979.
Early in 1980, Loto Canada finished third behind Jaklin Klugman and The Carpenter in an allowance race at Santa Anita in February. Jaklin Klugman finished third in the Kentucky Derby that year and was 1980 California-bred Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old. The Carpenter was the California-bred 2-year-old champion of 1979.
Later that spring in 1980, Loto Canada won an allowance race in convincing fashion at Oaklawn Park by 4 3/4 lengths. He defeated Temperence Hill, who would go on to be voted a 1980 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male after winning such events as the Grade I Arkansas Derby, Grade I Belmont Stakes, Grade I Travers Stakes, Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup (defeating the great John Henry) and inaugural $500,000 Super Derby.
After Loto Canada finished seventh in the Arkansas Derby, he returned to the Pacific Northwest. He was sent off as an odds-on favorite in Longacres’ William E. Boeing Stakes on May 17. I called the chart of that race for the Daily Racing Form. That race also was the focus of my column that appeared in the May 17 Northwest edition of the DRF.
(By the way, on the front page of that 1980 DRF is a photo of Clint Roberts. Underneath the photo, it says: “CLINT ROBERTS -- Longacres’ leading conditioner will put the saddle of Pilot Dutch for Saturday’s featured event at the Renton oval.”)
“Lee and Patti Brauer’s odds-on Loto Canada was so much the best in last Sunday’s William E. Boeing Stakes that he might have been able to win even with Orson Wells in the saddle,” I wrote in my column.
“Waltzing to a 10-length victory, Loto Canada transported 126 pounds and was timed in 1:02 2/5 to equal the track record for 5 1/2 furlongs. This was something to make veteran clocker Joe Wittman shake his watch.
“Even trainer Len Kasmerski didn’t really expect his charge to post such a remarkable clocking as a 3-year-old.
“ ‘I didn’t have any idea he could run that fast,’ Kasmerski said when we encountered him in the backstretch cafe the morning after the race. ‘I knew he had a lot of speed, but 1:02 2/5 is ridiculous.’
“Loto Canada came out of the race in excellent shape, we are pleased to report.
“ ‘I was just at the barn,’ said Kasmerski, ‘and the horse is feeling real good. He’s eaten everything up and seems to be just fine. All the race did was to make him hungry.’
“Later in the morning, while a chilly wind was blowing, we stood by shivering as Kasmerski hand walked Loto Canada. Showing absolutely no signs of fatigue, the bay son of Saltville was seen bucking and playing. The race was probably harder on the trainer than the horse.
“ ‘I was a nervous wreck,’ Kasmerski said. ‘It’s a relief that it’s over. There was a lot of pressure, especially when so much had been written about the horse. But he didn’t let us down.’
“According to Kasmerski, the only strategy was to get away from the inside post position in good order.
“ ‘My main concern was just getting away from the gate,’ the trainer said. ‘It looked to me like he was the speed of the race. I didn’t have any doubts about him sprinting after running a mile and an eighth, either. He’s a natural speed horse.’
“Kasmerski had nothing but praise for jockey Robert Howg’s handling of Loto Canada in the Boeing.
“ ‘He deserves credit for his ride,’ Kasmerski said. ‘He’s a very underestimated rider.’
“The 13,520 present in pleasant weather Sunday cheered Loto Canada in appreciation of his overwhelming triumph. The gelding strolled into the charming and crowded winner’s circle proud and erect, like a stately gentleman entering a ballroom with a debutante on his arm. Loto Canada made quite a picture while posing for the photographers. It was a great moment for the horse and everyone connected with him.
“Those who wagered on Loto Canada to win went happily around to the cashiers and collected $3.60 for each $2 ticket. But 4-5 was actually a philanthropic price. He won more like 1-100.”
Loto Canada narrowly lost the Longacres Derby to Pappy later in 1980. Nevertheless, Loto Canada was the Washington-bred champion 3-year-old colt or gelding of 1980. In addition to winning the Boeing, he hit the board in a pair of graded stakes races at Hollywood Park that year. He finished third in both the Grade II Silver Screen Handicap and Grade III El Dorado Handicap.
As a 4-year-old in 1981, Loto Canada won the Seattle Handicap and Washington Championship at Longacres. He also finished third behind Trooper Seven and Reb’s Golden Ale in that region’s most prestigious race, the Longacres Mile.
Loto Canada won 11 of 33 starts during his racing career. At various times, he also was trained by Gary Vickery and Robert Meeking.
After Loto Canada was retired from racing, he lived out the rest of his life at two different farms in Washington.
“Initially retired to live on a farm where former trainer Len and wife Kay Kasmerski, as well as Lee and Patti Brauer, could visit him often, Loto Canada later found another home with Tanja and John Parker,” wrote Shields.
“ ‘We had Loto for the last 11 years of his life,’ John Parker said. ‘The day he arrived at our place, it was an exciting thrill to see him in our pasture.’ ”
Loto Canada died on Jan. 1, 2012. Four years later, he deservedly became a member of the Washington Racing Hall of Fame.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 322 Midnight Bisou (23)
2. 257 Mucho Gusto
3. 235 By My Standards (1)
4. 157 Zulu Alpha (1)
5. 141 Ce Ce
6. 127 Maximum Security (7)
7. 115 Tom’s d’Etat (1)
8. 100 Monomoy Girl
9. 50 Whitmore
10. 46 Raging Bull
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 321 Nadal (19)
2. 302 Tiz the Law (12)
3. 269 Charlatan (2)
4. 228 Maxfield
5. 226 Authentic (1)
6. 140 King Guillermo
7. 114 Honor A.P.
8. 68 Sole Volante
9. 67 Ete Indien
10. 34 Basin