On Track With Johnny D: Belmont Stakes and Pick 4 Selection

On any date, at any distance, we’re fortunate to have the Belmont Stakes this year. By the time the race is over, we may count ourselves fortunate in another aspect: We may get to see an eventual Triple Crown winner in action. We know, we know, it’s early, and if we do see a sweep there forever will be an asterisk alongside Tiz the Law’s name.

That’s okay. His connections will take it. In a world where there’s much upheaval, Tiz the Law’s universe is progressing swimmingly. While many of his top foes have been sent to the sidelines or breeding shed, Tiz the Law’s emerged from winter as fresh as a daisy, poised for a postponed Triple Crown run. No doubt, trainer Bob Baffert will have a late developer or two ready to challenge Tiz the Law in the Derby and Preakness, and John Shirreffs could have Honor A. P. on ‘tilt’ then, too.

First things first. Tiz the Law seems best in the Belmont Stakes. Below is one man’s horse-by-horse Belmont field analysis.

1. Tap It to Win M. Casse/J. Velazquez 6-1
This son of Tapit approaches the Belmont in great shape. He’s sharp, off a five-length first level allowance win at Belmont just 16 days ago. That was his second consecutive win, following a six-furlong state-bred allowance triumph at Gulfstream in May. He broke maiden at Saratoga in his second start and then turned in a pair of clunkers in stakes at Keeneland and Churchill. They were almost too bad to be believed. Rested from October to May, he returned for the Gulfstream win. He probably will use his speed from the rail to gain an early advantage. There also doesn’t seem to be an abundance of other speed in the race. How good is this guy? Don’t really know, but he’s sharp and could have enough of a pace advantage to hang around for a while at the finish.

2. Sole Volante Biancone/Panici 9/2
This son of Karakonite returns in the Belmont Stakes just 10 days after impressively winning an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. That’s a rapid turnaround for the modern quality racehorse, but such moves often produce good results. Makes sense. He’s fit, sharp and on his game. Why shouldn’t he not run well? Sole Volante’s resume isn’t too shabby either. He’s won four of six starts, with a second and a third. He won his first two starts on turf, then moved to dirt and since has a win, a second and a third in stakes company. He comes from off the pace and would appreciate an early meltdown up front. On paper, we don’t see that happening. Still, he’s sharp, honest and the only runner in the field with as many wins as heavy favorite Tiz the Law. Sole Volante is an exotics must use.

3. Max Player Rice/Rosario 15-1
A mere half-length from being unbeaten in three starts, Max Player has been on the bench since winning the Withers at Aqueduct in February. At that time, his connections had no idea the racing schedule would be upended and that a shortened Belmont Stakes would be the first leg of the Triple Crown. They had planned to give him a rest and then prep for the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. Now, he’s had lots of rest and, according to connections, that’s done him a world of good. They say he’s grown mentally and physically. If that’s the case, he could have something to say about the outcome of this race. He’s a mid-pack early type of runner with a solid kick. No telling how much he might improve in here and worth using in exotics at a big price.

4. Modernist Mott/J. Alvarado 15-1
Running, not running. A :59 1/5 bullet workout June 14 finally sealed the deal: Modernist was entered in the Belmont Stakes. This son of Uncle Mo won the Gr. 2 Risen Star in February and was third in the Gr. 2 Louisiana Derby in March. He also has an Aqueduct maiden tally to his credit. In fact, he parlayed that January maiden score into the surprise Risen Star victory at 12.80-to-1. He’ll need to step up his game a bit to act with these, but Hall of Fame trainer Mott’s horses generally improve. Still, he’s a longshot in here.

5. Farmington Road Pletcher/J. Castellano 15-1
This is one of two Todd Pletcher runners in the Belmont and, like stablemate Dr. Post, he’s by Quality Road. However, there are significant differences between the two colts. This guy has raced six times with just one win—a maiden victory at Tampa Bay Downs going a mile and seventy yards. He closed stoutly to just miss by a half-length in the Oaklawn Stakes to Mr. Big News over a sloppy track. The biggest challenge for Farmington Road is that there’s not much speed in this race and he needs a hot pace to do his best. Connections have considered him a ‘Belmont horse’ for a while, but they had no idea the race would be at one mile and one-eighth instead of a mile and one-half. He deserves respect as a late threat, but the bottom of exotics is the best we see from here.

6. Fore Left O’Neill/J. Ortiz 30-1
He’s won four of nine races, including his last out—the one-mile UAE 2000 Guineas at Meydan in Dubai. Other scores include the restricted Sunny Slope sprint at Santa Anita and the Tremont for 2-year-olds at Belmont, also a sprint. He should add a bit of early pace to the race. He’s been training well at Santa Anita, so connections decided to take a shot at this shortened Belmont Stakes that boasts a strong favorite, but an otherwise wide-open field. He will need to do much better than he has in the past to threaten here.

7. Jungle Runner Asmussen/R. Gutierrez 50-1
A late addition to the field, he’s got to step up his game to be a threat in here. Owner Calumet Farm often enters overmatched runners in stakes and sometimes pulls off upsets. A Jungle Runner triumph would be a real surprise.

8. Tiz the Law Tagg/M. Franco 6/5
In the annual game of musical chairs that is the 3-year-old road to the Kentucky Derby, Tiz the Law remains as one of a few of top-ranked players still with a seat when the music stops. According to the official May 23 list of Kentucky Derby point earners, out of the top five horses only Tiz the Law remains currently active. Santa Anita Derby one-two finishers Honor A.P. and In the most recent update, Authentic and Honor A. P. joined Tiz the Law among current top-five ranked runners, however, Nadal, Wells Bayou, Charlatan and King Guillermo are currently out. Tiz the Law made three starts at two, winning two of them and just missing in the Gr. 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. Connections opted to skip the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and aim for a Feb. 1 start in the Holy Bull, which he won impressively. Management continued a conservative path and passed on a return in Gulfstream’s Fountain of Youth to train directly up to the Florida Derby for another powerful victory. All systems were on ‘go’ for the main event on the first Saturday in May. Unfortunately, the big race that day turned out to be the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn instead of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill. Tiz the Law remained on the bench, waiting for the right opportunity. And, finally, here it is in the form of a revised Belmont Stakes—first leg of a unique Triple Crown. He’s trained superbly for the race and is supposed to win. One quirk of his is that he, apparently, prefers to be outside of other horses. Keep an eye on that during the race. It might be the only thing that can beat him.

9. Dr. Post Pletcher/I. Ortiz, Jr. 5-1
He’s a lightly raced son of Quality Road with two consecutive wins out of three lifetime starts. Both victories came at Gulfstream Park in a seven-furlong maiden race and in the one mile and one-sixteenth Unbridled Stakes. He’s attracted serious wagering support as favorite in all three races--$.50, $1.00 and $1.00-to-1. That kind of backing suggests that he’s always been highly regarded. Clearly, this is the deepest field he’s ever faced, but his trainer has won three Belmonts and knows where and when to place his horses. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. helps his cause, too. Look for him somewhere in the middle of the pack in the early going. He’s got a chance to be part of the exotics at a square price.

10. Pneumatic Asmussen/R. Santana, Jr. 8-1
This son of Uncle Mo has two wins in three starts, including a mile allowance/optional claiming race triumph at Oaklawn Park. His Beyer Speed figures have improved with each start for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and the barn’s ‘go-to’ jock is aboard. Last out, Pneumatic was a fighting third to top-rated Maxfield and Ny Traffic in Churchill’s Gr. 3 Matt Winn Stakes. He’s an example of an improving 3-year-old that could wake up in here. He drew an outside post and might lose ground early, adding to his challenge.

Bottom Line:
8. Tiz the Law is strictly the one to beat in here. He’s coming off a long layoff and history says that’s the time to go against heavy favorites. However, he’s just plain better than this group on paper and should get the kind of trip he needs to win. It will be interesting to watch opposing jockeys attempt to keep him trapped inside where he doesn’t want to be. He’s got enough talent and quickness to overcome some of that gamesmanship, though.

There are a couple of ways to go underneath the favorite. #2 Sole Volante returns just 10 days following a Gulfstream prep race and he’s the most accomplished of the second tier in here. He comes from off the pace, but he’s got to be considered in exotics.

#3 Max Player is an interesting option. He really hasn’t proven that he’s not a good horse. With just three starts (just one of those at three), he’s got room to improve and trainer Linda Rice is solid with runners off a layoff. He shouldn’t be too far behind whatever early pace develops.

#1 Tap It to Win has speed and will use it from this rail draw. He’s sharp, fast early and a winner at Belmont. Those factors add up to a positive expectation for him. If he’s pressured early, he may not have the fortitude to hang around, but he should be in front early and that’s usually a great place to be.

Here’s a look at the late Pick 4 on Saturday at Belmont:

Race 9
#1 Kanthaka starts as a first-time gelding for trainer Graham Motion, switched from Jerry Hollendorfer. The 5-year-old gelding is a Grade 2 & 3 winner on dirt and has made just one career turf start. He’s been gone from the races for over a year.

#2 Oleksandra is two-for-two on Belmont turf, two-for-five at the distance and six-for-14 overall. He’s a 6-year-old Grade 3 winner trying Grade 1 company for the first time. Jockey Joel Rosario knows this guy very well and has his closing kick timed perfectly—They’re four-for-six together.

#3 Texas Wedge hails from the always dangerous Peter Miller stable. The 5-year-old gelding is six-for-15 lifetime, including two-for-three this year. He’s a Grade 2 winner who’s travelled the country to find turf sprint stakes opportunities. This is his first Grade 1 attempt. He usually his late kick from about mid-pack.

#4 Pure Sensation makes his first start as a nine-year-old in here. He’s 13-for-27 on turf and was last seen in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November as a troubled fifth. Top jock Irad Ortiz, Jr. takes over today for the first time aboard this speedster. Two years ago, this gelding finished third in this race, beaten just one length. He’s one tough customer, but probably is best at five furlongs instead of the six furlongs he’ll need to get in here.

#5 Stubbins finished just in front of #4 Pure Sensation in the BC Turf Sprint and has had a race this year in the Gr. 3 Daytona at Santa Anita where he just missed by a half-length. The late-running 4-year-old is a Grade 2 winner and could get overlooked in this field at a decent price.

#7 White Flag makes his first start of 2020 for trainer Christophe Clement. This 6-year-old horse has won five-of-16 overall and four-of-seven on Belmont turf. That alone deserves some respect. He’s three-for-eight at the distance, so he can handle the trip. He won a stakes race back in 2017 and comes from off the pace. He’s a reach.

Race 10
#8 Tiz the Law—See Above

Race 11
#1 Talk or Listen is a wild card making his first US start for the sharp Arnaud Delacour stable. This 4-year-old colt is coupled with #1A Surprise Twist. #Talk or Listen faced Group 2 & 3 foes in France before going on the shelf in August. This distance may be a bit too short for him. Move his chances up if it rains, he loves soft ground.

#2 Breaking the Rules returns off a year layoff for trainer Shug McGaughey. The 5-year-old once had promise and won four of eight starts in 2018. If he’s back to his best he could be a threat. However, it’s probably best to see one first.

#3 Largent, from the powerful Todd Pletcher stable, figures to make the early lead and take this field as far as possible, utilizing a great rail trip. He’s a solid 4-year-old who’s never been worse than second in five starts, with three wins.

#4 Red Right Hand is a 5-year-old gelding that got hot last summer and fall, and it wasn’t just because of the humidity. He won three races in a row for trainer Tom Morley and has a win over the Belmont turf course.

If #3 Largent can’t go all the way on the lead, Pletcher’s got #6 Pillar Mountain to close from behind. Gone since October, he faced stakes horses in his last three tries, including Grade 1 and Grade 3 company. The distance is a question for him, as he’s been racing over longer trips—two wins at a mile and three-eighths. He does have an artificial surface win at a mile in Ireland.

#9 Digital Age hails from the potent Chad Brown stable and is ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. Brown/Ortiz combo hits at 23% with 82 attempts. This 4-year-old has been away since November for a trainer who’s great with layoff runners—29% with 142 off at least 180 days. Seven of this colt’s eight lifetime races have been against stakes foes, including two Grade 1 and two Grade 2 appearances. This field is a lot easier than any he’s faced in the past. Plus, if it’s Belmont, Chad, Irad and turf, you gotta use ‘em.

Race 12
#1 Veterans Beach makes first start for Christophe Clement, switched from Jerry Hollendorfer. The 4-year-old has been away since August and has been gelded during that time. Hot jock Irad Ortiz, Jr. rides and that’s a potent jockey/trainer combo. This one fits from off the pace.

#2 Crack Shot has speed but gets a bit late in the final stages of races. He must be respected off a strong jockey/trainer combo of Saez/J. Englehart. He had trouble in his last race back in November.

#7 Qian B C has been gone since October, but trainer Baker Charlton is 26% off long layoffs. Jockey Rosario, who won with this this gelding two back, returns in the saddle and clicks at 22% with Charlton. This 4-year-old took a long time to break maiden but came back solidly in his first against winners. He should be running late.

#10 Power Up Paynter has speed and an outside post position. He’s been gelded since his last start in March and he’s been second at this level in his last two races, including one against open company. He’s a 3-year-old making his first start against older, but the jock and trainer combine successfully often.

$1.00 Pick 4 Ticket ($48)
Race 9
2, 3, 4, 5

Race 10
8

Race 11
3, 6, 9

Race 12
1, 2, 7, 10

Take care of each other! Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Belmont Stakes and Pick 4 Selection

On Track with Johnny D |