Blame it on the early races at Belmont Park. Or blame it on a late race in preparation for today’s Triple Crown opener.
While Tiz The Law was firming to an odds-on favorite, bettors were fading closer Sole Volante two hours before Saturday’s $1 million Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on Long Island, New York.
The Tampa Bay Derby runner-up drifted to 12-1 in early pari-mutuel betting, making him no better than the fourth choice to win the race that is scheduled to start at 5:42 p.m. EDT. Sole Volante also drifted to 10-1 in the fixed-odds futures pool at William Hill Nevada and more than 8-1 (plus-850) at Circa Sports.
Maybe it was because speed horses and stalkers won the early races on the main track Saturday at Belmont Park. Or maybe it was because Sole Volante finished first only 10 days ago in a top-level allowance race at Gulfstream Park. He was not flown north from Florida to New York until Monday afternoon.
“He just came out of that allowance race so well, and we did an open gallop with him on Monday,” Sole Volante’s co-owner and assistant trainer Andie Biancone said Thursday. “We really waited for him to do the talking. He came out of it so fresh and so happy and so well, we couldn’t not go to this race.”
Bettors clearly are not convinced of that. Nor do they think that a competitive closer will get the job done. Even though he is racing on his home track, Farmington Road (13-1 pari-mutuel, 20-1 Circa, 12-1 William Hill) was mostly on the drift in early betting as well. He, too, is a closer, and that does not appear attractive to the betting public.
“He’s got a patented style,” his trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He’s going to drop back and make one run. We just need a good, solid pace to come back to him a little bit.”
That pace is expected to be established from the rail by Tap It To Win with his jockey John Velázquez and Fore Left with José Ortiz. But it remains to be seen whether they will got out together and establish a pace that could range from dominant to suicidal.
Tap It To Win (9-2, plus-515, 4-1) has become the clear second choice even though he is also being run back after a short break. He won his own 8½-furlong allowance 16 days ago over the same one-turn course that will be used for the Belmont – adding 110 yards on Saturday.
Comparing Tap It To Win to a stable mate – specifically last year’s Belmont winner Sir Winston – trainer Mark Casse’s assistant Jamie Begg said, “This horse is a little more speed-oriented. So the cutback (from 1½ miles to 1⅛ miles) definitely helped his chances of going in there. Johnny, after he rode him, said he handled the mile-and-a-sixteenth like it was nothing. He said he had tons of horse left, and that gave us a lot of confidence going in here.”
A late entry into the race that was originally aimed for the seven-furlong Woody Stephens Stakes on the undercard, Fore Left (18-1, 49-1, 18-1) has not been taken seriously by horseplayers because he looks more like a sprinter than a route horse. Despite his win over a mile in the UAE 2,000 Guineas at Dubai in his last race more than four months ago, he has not won a North American race longer than 6½ furlongs.
“He’s just maturing into a really nice 3-year-old,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “I think that a one-turn mile-and-an-eighth is going to be great for him.”
The only horse in the Belmont field with a Grade 1 victory – he actually has two – Tiz The Law (4-5, 5-6, 5-6) became a consensus odds-on favorite by early afternoon. He is widely regarded as a horse that has proven his ability to overcome any pace obstacles.
“Hopefully,” trainer Barclay Tagg said, “he’s as good as we think.”
The temperature at the track at 4 p.m. EDT was 80 degrees with some overcast that the National Weather Service said would not produce any rain.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted at VSiN.com every day through Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. You may also hear two current episodes of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod. The handicappers pop-up features South Point’s Chris Andrews, DraftKings Sportsbook’s Johnny Avello, Rampart’s Duane Colucci and VSiN’s Vinny Magliulo analyzing every horse in the Belmont. The regular Friday episode includes Tiz The Law’s jockey Manny Franco, Fox Sports and the New York Racing Association’s Maggie Wolfendale Morley and XBTV’s Jeff Siegel. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available via Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts and is sponsored by 1/ST BET.