It only seems that everything in racing goes through Barn 5 at Santa Anita. That is headquarters for Bob Baffert, whose Mays and Junes have been as good at least twice in recent memory as they’ve been bad this year.
The ripple effect of Nadal being retired with a condylar crack and Charlatan being sidelined with an ankle injury meant the Belmont Stakes lost one prominent contender and then another. Both came from the stable of the Hall of Famer who trained two Triple Crown winners in the last five Mays and Junes.
Without Baffert’s horses, futures betting for this year’s first jewel of the Triple Crown was turned on its ear.
But then just to show it is not all about the gray-haired guy with sunglasses, Maxfield and Ny Traffic — the top two horses from the May 23 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs — were removed from Belmont consideration Monday. With both being aimed for the Kentucky Derby, Maxfield is on course first for the July 11 Blue Grass Stakes and Ny Traffic for the July 18 Haskell Invitational.
That leaves Florida Derby winner Tiz The Law and little else to represent the chalk a week from Saturday at Belmont Park.
After commanding 5-2 odds in foreign betting, Circa Sports here in Las Vegas opened Tiz The Law at odds of nearly 2-1 (+ 195) on Friday when it posted its first-ever Belmont futures. When Charlatan got hurt, Tiz The Law shortened to 3-2.
Then came Monday’s news. Now Tiz The Law is 4-5 (–125).
In the eyes of futures bettors, the 9-furlong, one-turn Belmont has become a one-horse race. Most of the rest of the potential field would still qualify to start against non-winners of more than two. To reuse my worn-out old joke, the Test of the Champion has become the Test of the N2X.
So where is the value in a race that could be perceived as a paid workout for Tiz The Law? At odds on, it might yet be with him. This price portends an even bigger underlay on race day. Other than those runnings that offered hope of a Triple Crown celebration, Tiz The Law could be the first odds-on post-time favorite for the Belmont since Bold Forbes was a 9-10 winner in 1976.
Second choice Sole Volante (+ 450) is no bargain at Circa. For one thing, he is 16-1 in foreign markets. For another, he was entered at Gulfstream Park in a Wednesday allowance that also included Belmont possibilities Shivaree and stable mate Ete Indien. And without a true pacesetter in the Belmont, his closing style might not hold the appeal it once did. The same goes for two-time Belmont-winning trainer Todd Pletcher’s stakes winner Dr Post (+ 565), a Quality Road colt coming off a two-month break.
Tap It To Win (+ 750) brings wise-guy buzz, not to mention some steam. On the strength of a five-length allowance victory Thursday at Belmont Park over three other last-time-out winners, the Tapit colt trained by new Hall of Famer Mark Casse opened at 10-1 at Circa. Barely 48 hours later, he was the fourth betting choice for a race that will come after only a 16-day break.
Bill Mott, another Hall of Famer, trains Modernist (+ 950), an Uncle Mo colt who has never finished out of the money when going at least a mile. The winner of what was regarded as the weaker division of the Risen Star Stakes four months ago, he has not raced since finishing third March 21 to Wells Bayou and Ny Traffic in the 9½-furlong Louisiana Derby. That day he was unable to overcome Post 14. The way things are going with the Belmont, a field that big will not be a problem.
There is still the chance of an unexpected entry, maybe even a would-be aspirant that calls New York home.
Trainer Christophe Clement, who lost 10 horses to a weekend van fire on the New Jersey Turnpike, had talked last month about putting 2-for-2 allowance winner Casino Grande on the Derby trail. The original plan was to send him into the 8½-furlong Easy Goer Stakes on June 25.
Might Clement look at the sudden attrition from the Belmont and give Casino Grande an early chance at a race that is still technically a classic? The mere asking of the question without a firm answer will not help a horseplayer who is tempted to look in that direction — unless he or she is prepared to make a limit bet at, say, 30-1.
Even though the purse in this pandemic year was cut from $1.5 million to its pre-2014 $1 million, the Belmont still pays as much as $535,000 to the winner and as little as $20,000 for eighth place. It also offers a record number of qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, enough to make an invitation to Churchill Downs a certainty for the winner and a probability for the runner-up.
In short, it is hard to make a case for a futures wager on the Belmont. Bettors who do not typically play horizontal and vertical tickets might have been attracted by Tiz The Law, but that was before he plunged to 4-5. Confidence now in a long shot comes with the risk that the price will not be better on race day.
Being a wallflower for this dance, then, is perfectly understandable.
Derby futures: Who’s hot?
Honor A. P. (6-1 Circa, 4-1 William Hill). Unlike early this year, he is fully fit. The ever-lengthening races are in his wheelhouse. And he got revenge for his March loss to Authentic by winning Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. At William Hill, the colt trained by John Shirreffs is the Kentucky Derby co-favorite with Tiz The Law. Shirreffs has not said for sure which race is next, but the Shared Belief Stakes on Aug. 1 at Del Mar looks logical. He might be too short a price three months before he would start at Churchill Downs, but he showed last weekend that he deserves his place on the shortest list of true Derby contenders.
Cezanne (15-1, 20-1). He looked professional in his debut victory Saturday. But he was not dazzling. With Charlatan hurt, Nadal retired and Authentic looking vulnerable at longer distances, this colt that Coolmore bought for $3.65 million may be Baffert’s best chance to win a sixth Kentucky Derby. A major points prep like the Haskell or the Blue Grass next month figures to be next for Cezanne.
Tap It To Win (30-1, 50-1). This could be seen as a question about the faith that bettors have in Casse’s handling of a colt who will have raced three times in six weeks. While his 97 Beyer Speed Figure on Thursday lured smart money to the Belmont futures, it is important to remember that he finished last in his only two stakes starts, both as a green 2-year-old. He looks like a different horse now, but the most expensive race he has won was a $90,000 maiden sprint last summer at Saratoga. For a horse with so few credentials, 50-1 feels like an underlay.
Derby futures: Who’s not?
Authentic (6-1, 6-1). If Charlatan and Nadal were Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, Authentic was the “other guy.” (I know it is Jose Carreras, but writing that would ruin the “Seinfeld” reference.) Knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten by Honor A. P., how much of the spin after the Santa Anita Derby was an overreaction? Remember that Haskell-Blue Grass choice that Baffert has? Whichever one Cezanne is not in could be the destination for this “other guy.”
Country Grammer (110-1, 90-1). This was one of the horses who lost Thursday to Tap It To Win. Despite a wide draw, Javier Castellano had him well positioned turning into the stretch, but he was outrun and left 6½ lengths up the track in third. That means he has lost by a combined 15½ lengths in his two races this year, including a fifth-place finish to Ete Indien in the Fountain of Youth. This colt by Tonalist is simply going the wrong way for trainer Chad Brown.
Garth (275-1, 175-1). This is more of a symbolic mention than a quotidian decline. Unraced all year but back on the work tab this spring for Baffert, the 0-for-4 colt by Into Mischief started this whole futures story in August. That was when Bet365 in England posted him at 50-1, making the Godolphin home-bred the first horse to be booked for a legal bet on the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Garth is now 66-1 at Bet365 and at two other British shops. Anyone really wanting to bet him will get a better deal here in America. Party on.