Over the course of the last few days, as I’ve watched replays, analyzed pace and speed figures, and attempted to project how the Belmont Stakes would unfold at this abbreviated distance, I have landed on no fewer than five horses as my top pick. So you know my ultimate pick is hardly a play of real conviction. But I’ve finally settled on a horse that I think lots of people have the wrong idea about. Although if the early wagering is an indication of how the final odds will look, it’s clear I am not alone in my assessment. Let’s take a look at the field, with current odds as of 10:30am Saturday…
#1 Tap It To Win (4/1)– By all indications, this one is going to be the early pace setter. And it’s not hard at all to envision him opening up three lengths turning for home and just gliding home without a care in the world to give Mark Casse his second consecutive Belmont win. His win over this track just 16 days ago at a distance a mere 100 yards shorter than he’ll cover today won him many supporters. He’s a major threat. In fact, I singled him in the two-day Belmont Pick 5 wager, and I’m still alive in that bet. So yesterday afternoon, he was my pick in this race. But after I made that bet, I learned that Casse was initially considering the Woody Stephens at 7 furlongs for Tap It To Win, but then shifted gears and landed here. That is at least slightly concerning. If they believed this horse was going to be better sprinting today, how much conviction can you have playing him against this field going 1 1/8 miles?
#2 Sole Volante (9/1)- While the horse to his inside is coming back on 16 days rest, Sole Volante is back just 10 days after gutting out a win at Gulfstream over Jesus’ Team, a horse who was available for a $25k tag in his prior start. Sole Volante has done nothing wrong this year, and he can win today. I just think a few others are more likely to get the job done.
#3 Max Player (11/1)– With a little over 1/4 mile to go in his February 1st win in the Withers, it looked like Max Player was headed for last place. Then he got untracked and started to advance outside the field on his way to the win. A review of the replay may gave the appearance that he was rallying impressively, but in reality he was just not slowing down quite as dramatically as the rest of his foes. His final 1/8th was measured in :13.53. Both of his preceding 1/4 mile splits were slower than 25 seconds. Yes, that was almost five months ago, and yes, he has every right to improve at this age over that period of time. I think he’ll need to in the Belmont. Like most of this field, I can see a scenario where he wins, and he’ll be a decent price.
#4 Modernist (19/1)- This entire field combined only has four wins at this 9 furlong distance, and Modernist has two of them. Granted both of his wins (as well as the other two by the rest of the field) were around two turns, and today’s one-turn 1 1/8 miles is really a completely different game. But still, we know he can get the distance. And I really liked his effort in defeat in the Louisiana Derby, and the Belmont represents a turn back in distance off that race. There are things to like. My gut just tells me he’s just a notch below some of the others in here. That said, I would not talk anyone out of playing him at this price.
#5 Farmington Road (11/1)- The word on this horse is that he has no early speed and needs more distance than he’ll get today, combined with a total pace collapse. I wonder if maybe that’s not the right recipe for him. I hate playing deep closers at longer distances. It never seems to work out for them. Instead, I think a horse like Farmington Road is most dangerous closing into a quick pace at distances like 1 1/16th miles. And I think todays one-turn 1 1/18th miles plays a lot like a shorter distance. So if Tap It To Win and others perhaps gun it early, then maybe the race will set up for someone to come running late. He made a nice move in the middle of the Arkansas Derby into a pretty fast part of the race. So it’s not surprising he flattened out late. Still, it was a nice effort, as was his loss to Mr Big News before that. His win at Tampa was at a mile and 40 yards.
#6 Fore Left (17/1)- Really seems like a complete unknown. Has just one start this year, that one in Dubai. If you say that any horse can make a big leap from age 2 to 3, then I guess you can dismiss his form last year and call him a total wild card. We’ve seen Doug O’Neill win big races with sneaky horses before. This would be one of his more impressive tricks.
#7 Jungle Runner (21/1)– Simply put, this horse has never run a race that gives any indication that he is good enough to compete with these. He’s owned by Calumet Farm and they like seeing their horses in big races. It would be a shock if this horse ran in the top 2.
#8 Tiz The Law (6/5)- Obviously, the most likely winner. It’s hard to find a weakness in his game, as even in his lone loss, he ran huge with tons of traffic trouble. I guess if you protect a scorching early pace and you project that Tiz The Law will be too close to it, you can make a case that he could be vulnerable in his first race in nearly 90 days. Along with Tap It To Win, it’s not hard to see him winning.
#9 Dr Post (8/1)- It seems like in every Triple Crown race over the last couple of decades, at least from my perspective, there is one horse that I simply have no idea what to expect from. Dr Post is that horse in the Belmont. I realize he had traffic trouble in the stakes win at Gulfstream, but it’s worth noting that o the Beyer scale, he regressed 10 points in his first route attempt. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a sprinter, but I don’t have much conviction either way so I am going to hope he just isn’t this good.
#10 Pneumatic (17/1)– Friday morning, before I warmed up to Tap It To Win, this was my pick. Then I watched his Matt Winn Stakes replay a few more tines, and as bright a future as I think he has, I’ve cooled off on him. He should have been able to fight off Ny Traffic for 2nd that day, and I didn’t get the sense that he is one to just stalk the early leaders, pounce, and draw off. With the outside draw in here, I see him being up there with Tap It To Win and maybe Fore Left early. And from there, he’d have to be good enough to survive what I am hoping would be a quick early pace and then have something left to fight off Tiz The Law and then whomever comes next. Yeah, it’s possible. But I’m betting against.
Top Pick: Farmington Road
Exacta Box: Farmington Road, Tiz The Law, Max Player