The 152nd running of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes is unconventional, to say the least. It’s been shortened from 1 ½ miles to 1 ⅛ miles, is being contested two weeks after it was intended to be run, and now rather than being the final leg of the Triple Crown it’s the first Classic on the calendar. These strange circumstances haven’t impacted the quality of the race, however, as it still boasts an intriguing lineup led by presumptive favorite Tiz the Law. The big question is whether a race that has historically skewed toward longshots will produce yet another big price, or will the change in configuration be friendlier to the favorite. Here’s a breakdown of every horse in post position order:
#1 Tap It to Win (6-1): This horse was a revelation last summer at Saratoga when he overcame a dead rail to steamroll a maiden field going six furlongs on dirt. The promise he showed that day quickly evaporated in his next start, however, when he finished up the track in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, and was then completely extinguished in his 2-year-old finale with another dismal effort in the Street Sense at Churchill Downs. Though just when all hope seemed lost, he returned to the races in style in 2020, handily beating a group of Florida-breds at Gulfstream, and then took another step forward in his most recent start when he ran a quality allowance field off their feet at Belmont. His last race was super impressive and makes him an obvious contender in the Belmont, the only worry is that he may face pace pressure from Fore Left. Still, he has a world of talent and should be taken very seriously. I believe he’s the main danger to Tiz the Law.
#2 Sole Volante (9-2): All this horse does is show up and run good races. He began his career on turf and looked like a budding superstar, and then had no problem transitioning to the main track when his connections wanted to see if they had a Derby horse on their hands. He’s remained on dirt ever since and has run consistently well in some big spots. This will be the ultimate test for him, though, as he’ll have to ship across the country and prove he can beat top class horses on just 10 days’ rest. I have immense respect for him, it just feels like that’s too big an ask at this juncture.
#3 Max Player (15-1): Given his running style, I’m sure his connections would’ve preferred the Belmont remain at 1 ½ miles. Max Player isn’t the fleetest of foot, but he has a grinding style that wears down his opponents at greater distances. His win in the G3 Withers was more workmanlike than brilliant, and he’d need to take a big step forward off it to be a legitimate contender. I just don’t see that happening right now, however he could be a threat underneath in the exotics if the pace really heats up.
#4 Modernist (15-1): He’s a fine horse and has given an honest account in each of his five career starts, the trouble with him though is that he’s not yet proven he’s fast enough to take down a race of this stature. His third-place finish in the G2 Louisiana Derby received a bit of a boost when runner-up Ny Traffic came back to run a strong second in the G3 Matt Winn at Churchill Downs, but it still feels like a rather weak prep overall. I’m expecting him to run his race on Saturday, but that would likely leave him well short of victory and probably out of the exotics, too.
#5 Farmington Road (15-1): Think of him as a lesser version of Max Player. He’s a true plodding type that got a terrific setup when he finished second in the Oaklawn Stakes two starts back, then wasn’t so fortunate in the G1 Arkansas Derby when he was simply outclassed. He’s probably even more pace dependent than Max Player, and is only usable in the deepest of exotics.
#6 Fore Left (30-1): This horse should be considered nothing more than a potential foil to Tap It to Win. He did win the G3 UAE 2000 Guineas at a mile this year, but prior to that he was mainly a sprinter in the U.S., and not even a particularly good one. It will be interesting to see how he’s ridden and if he does in fact sabotage the chances of Tap It to Win, but regardless he shouldn’t be used in any serious wager.
#7 Jungle Runner (50-1): If you thought Fore Left was an outlandish entry for the Belmont, meet this guy. I suppose stranger things have happened in this race, but that’s due primarily to its usual distance of 1 ½ miles, which is considerably farther than most horses go in their entire careers, let alone early in their 3-year-old season. If you’re betting Jungle Runner, it’s because you like his name, the jockey’s silks, or 7 is your lucky number.
#8 Tiz the Law (6-5): Emerging from the disorienting miasma of two hopeless long-shots, we arrive at Tiz the Law, the undisputed favorite for this race and easily the most likely winner. This horse has been a star since Day 1 on the track, and though he has one minor blemish showing in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club to close out his 2-year-old campaign, he’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was a fluke. I thought his race in the G1 Florida Derby last out was sensational and far better than it appears on paper as the track at Gulfstream Park that day was heavily favoring inside runners. Tiz the Law went wide around both turns and still dusted his competition with ease. He’s already shown an affinity for Belmont via his win in the G1 Champagne last year and is ideally drawn toward the outside. It may not be a sexy pick, but he’s probably going to win this race.
#9 Dr Post (5-1): This horse has been on an interesting trajectory in his career. He debuted nearly a year ago at Belmont and ran reasonably well in a live maiden race before hitting the shelf for a long time and resurfacing with a win at Gulfstream on March 29, for which he earned an eye-catching 96 Beyer Speed Figure. I felt strongly that number was too high, and that seems to be corroborated by him regressing by 10 points in his next start. The figs don’t tell the whole story, however, as his most recent start was his first around two turns and he didn’t get a comfortable trip. I think the truth lies somewhere in between those numbers, and he did prove last time that he can handle a route of ground. I’m a bit ambivalent about him, but if he ends up near his 5-1 morning line I’m inclined to pass.
#10 Pneumatic (8-1): I was a big fan of Pneumatic heading into the G3 Matt Winn and all in all I thought he ran a fine race to be third. He’s probably not a legitimate win candidate in this spot as Tiz the Law and maybe even Tap It to Win are superior horses to the ones he just faced, but he seems like a solid bet to be in the mix and still has plenty of upside. He was also forced into a pace-pressing role in the Matt Winn and there’s a possibility he’s better coming from off the speed.