At the rate horses are dropping out of next Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, anyone cashing a bet on Tiz The Law might actually owe money to the bookmaker who sold the ticket.
To be sure it has been a rough 15 days for a million-dollar race that once looked like it might max out at 16 starters. First came Nadal’s injury and retirement. Then Charlatan was sidelined with ankle trouble. Maxfield, like Nadal, suffered a condylar fracture. Wells Bayou has a bone bruise. Gouverneur Morris and Shivaree were re-aimed next month for the Blue Grass Stakes and Ny Traffic for the Haskell.
Now there appear to be only six certain starters. Two more are somewhere between possible and probable. And who knows how many out there that might yet be space fillers for the opener to what is left of the 2020 Triple Crown?
One thing is as certain as anything right now. If he is able to get to the gate on at least three legs, futures favorite Tiz The Law (–135 at Circa Sports) will be the odds-on, post-time favorite.
Trained by 82-year-old Barclay Tagg and ridden by Manny Franco, the Constitution colt’s Florida Derby victory March 28 was the only Grade 1 win this year among the horses considered to be likely starters. His first-place finish three months ago in the Grade 3 Holy Bull earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 100, the best for any horse in this conversation.
So how flimsy is the field that is left to challenge Tiz The Law in this makeshift, one-turn, nine-furlong classic?
Grade 3-winning gelding Sole Volante ( 425) would figure to be the second choice coming off his impressive victory in a top-level allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Wednesday. But that is just the point. It was Wednesday, only 10 days before the Belmont.
“My owner (Dean Reeves) is very keen on running in the Belmont,” Sole Volante’s trainer Patrick Biancone said right after the race. “We’ll have to wait for the horse to decide. If he really comes up, we may go. If not, we’ll wait for the Blue Grass (July 11).”
Tap It To Win (9-1) ran his record this year to 2-for-2 with an impressive, five-length victory last week in an 8½-furlong allowance on Long Island. But like Sole Volante, it would be a quick turnaround – 16 days – to get back in the gate for the Belmont.
“I’ve always said run them when they’re good,” trainer Mark Casse said last week. “We won the Breeders’ Cup with Shamrock Rose (on 14 days’ rest), and last year we spun Got Stormy back off a week’s rest to beat colts in a Grade 1. Sixteen days will be enough time.”
But if he does not make it, Tap It To Win would join Nadal, Charlatan and Wells Bayou as sidelined pacesetters. If Quirin Speed Points are any indication, there is no “E” horse – meaning obvious early speed – that is left among those being considered for next weekend.
Well-backed Todd Pletcher colt Dr Post ( 560), graded-stakes victors Modernist (10-1), Max Player (20-1) and Basin (20-1) and maiden winner Farmington Road (15-1) seem to be certain entries. But don’t breathe.
There is still the likelihood that the Belmont will attract horses yet to be talked about. Although their identities may not be known until the draw next week, how good could they possibly be if they were afterthoughts only days ago?
For now betting against Tiz The Law looks like a foolhardy strategy. Trying to stitch together horizontal and vertical wagers that include him may be the only way to extract any money from Belmont Park next Saturday. If 2-for-2 Bob Baffert filly Gamine, Las Virgenes winner Venetian Harbor and two-time graded-stakes victor Tonalist’s Shape all show up to chase Kentucky Oaks points in the $300,000 Grade 1 Acorn, the tote board might yet display some heft.
This may turn out to be one of those years when the Belmont Stakes is best watched rather than wagered upon. Most other times that has been the case, a Triple Crown has been there for the taking. Too bad. While there is no substitute for a dose of that excitement, what may be on offer instead next week may have all the impact of a placebo.
Racing notes and opinions
Maxfield was 6-1 in the Kentucky Derby futures at both Circa Sports and William Hill Nevada on Wednesday when the fracture in his right front cannon bone was revealed by his owner. “We look forward to seeing him return to the races next year,” Godolphin president Jimmy Bell said. Already ruled out of the Belmont, his absence from the entire Triple Crown reduced the already short Derby odds for Tiz The Law. Circa moved him from 4-1 to 13-4 ( 325). He went from 4-1 at William Hill to 7-2, a co-favorite with Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A. P.
Here comes another unraced horse from the Baffert barn that might end up on the Derby trail. With Mike Smith riding, Uncle Chuck (9-5) is the morning-line favorite among five 3-year-olds in Friday’s second race at Santa Anita. It is a two-turn maiden mile for 3-year-olds and up on the main track at 4:37 p.m. EDT. The $250,000 colt by Uncle Mo out of an Unbridled’s Song mare was one of 22 late nominees last week for the Triple Crown. Circa added him to its Derby futures, taking him from a 45-1 opener to 40-1. One bettor used Twitter to request a price for Uncle Chuck. But when he found out that Circa has a $200 limit for new customers playing the Derby futures, he said it was not worth it for him to fly to Las Vegas – presumably from Indiana, based on his Twitter profile – just to make the wager. No word on whether he reached out to William Hill.
California shipper Ollie’s Candy (8-5) leads a small field of graded-stakes winners into Saturday’s $300,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park, this weekend’s only Grade 1 race in North America. The 8½-furlong race on the main track is for older fillies and mares, the same conditions under which she won last summer’s Grade 1 Clement Hirsch at Del Mar. Trained by John Sadler and ridden by Joel Rosario, the 5-year-old mare by Candy Ride will not have to deal with Ce Ce, the 4-year-old filly that left her in third place in the Beholder Mile and a close second two months ago in the Apple Blossom Handicap. Point Of Honor (2-1) was third in the Apple Blossom and is the likely second choice in this race. Twice a Grade 3 winner in the past year, Golden Award (7-2) was second in the slop of a Gulfstream Park Grade 3 in her last race three months ago. Rail-starting closer Pink Sands (6-1) comes in with back-to-back wins in graded stakes at Gulfstream, but she has been idle for the four months since. She’s A Julie (8-1) won last year’s Grade 1 LaTroienne on Kentucky Derby day but has not had a victory since. She will be on the early lead with Blamed (10-1), a likely rabbit for her Bill Mott stable mate and my pick in this race – Golden Award. Because of the home-track advantage I will box Pink Sands in an exacta.
Wesley Ward has won 10 times in 11 previous trips to Royal Ascot, but he was shut out last year. He has sent seven horses there for next week’s renewal that will be behind closed gates in England. From the “what else is new” file, early bettors appear highest on a pair of Ward’s 2-year-old fillies. Flying Aletha is 6-1 to win next Friday’s Group 3 Albany Stakes, a six-furlong sprint, and Campanelle is also 6-1 for next Saturday’s Group 2 Campanelle, a five-furlong dash. The week is likely to be highlighted by John Gosden trainee Stradivarius’s bid to win a third consecutive Group 1 Gold Cup, the 2½-mile stayers race Thursday. The five consecutive days of the royal meeting start Tuesday with the first post each weekday at 8:15 a.m. EDT and next Saturday at 7:40 a.m. EDT. TVG will televised all five days. NBCSN will separately show the first four days with NBC getting the telecast a week from Saturday.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning – more frequently for big races – at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. On the current episode OptixEQ’s Emily Gullikson applies analytics to the ever-changing field for the Belmont Stakes, Racing Post’s Lee Mottershead previews next week’s races at Royal Ascot, Gaughan Gaming’s Vinny Magliulo handicaps weekend races, and there is a commentary on the skimpy menu of racetracks available to Nevada horseplayers. 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.