For the sake of discussion, let’s just put Tiz The Law to the side for a moment. Otherwise there will be nothing to cushion some power ratings from the list of Kentucky Derby hots and nots.
Newcomers cramming for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes need to know that Tiz The Law (-135 in Circa Sports futures) will be the odds-on favorite for this renewal, which will open the American classics for the first time since it was the only American classic 146 years ago.
Now that everyone is up to speed, the question will be whether to bet against a horse that looks head and withers above the rest of the field — or whether to include him on tickets while fishing for a long shot that will hit the board with him.
Sole Volante (9-2), Dr Post (13-2) and Tap It to Win (13-2) are in the mix to be the second favorite. That probably means all will carry less-than-attractive will-pays in exacta and trifecta betting too.
A stone-cold closer who won the Sam F. Davis Stakes in February, Sole Volante won a top-level 1-mile allowance last week at Gulfstream Park. Trainer Patrick Biancone was dead set on getting some meaningful activity into a gelding who had not raced since a runner-up finish as the 3-2 favorite more than three months ago in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Even though the Belmont has been trimmed by the New York Racing Association this year from 1½ miles around two turns to 1⅛ around one, Sole Volante has never raced that far. But his come-from-behind style means he will probably appreciate longer distances.
“In a normal year I would have been delighted to run a mile and a half instead of a mile and an eighth,” Biancone said. “But coming off a layoff, I think it was a good move by NYRA. The mile and an eighth is perfect. I think the mile and a half is too challenging for everybody.”
Dr Post won his last two races at Gulfstream Park and was favored in all three starts for Todd Pletcher, who will also saddle deep-closing maiden winner Farmington Road (18-1) from his home barn just 700 yards from the finish line.
A troubled trip did not prevent Dr Post from winning an ungraded stakes over 8½ furlongs April 25 at Gulfstream Park. Only the third race for the Quality Road colt, it convinced Pletcher to take a shot in the Belmont.
“While he lacks a little bit of experience in terms of number of races run, he got a lot of education,” Pletcher said. “He was kind of boxed in through a good portion of the race, and he ate a lot of dirt. For a lightly raced horse, we were happy that not only was he able to win but overcome some adversity and get some education.”
In a race that lacks obvious early speed, Tap It to Win might be the pacesetter. The ridgling by Tapit got a lot of wise-guy buzz when he won by five lengths only two weeks ago in a one-turn, 8½-furlong allowance at Belmont Park. That made him 2-for-2 rebounding from a sesamoid operation late last year.
“When he came back, he came back with a vengeance,” said trainer Mark Casse, trying to repeat in the Belmont after scoring last year with Sir Winston. “Not only that, he came back with a much better attitude.”
Casse said Tap It to Win was difficult to handle going two turns and finishing last in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity in October at Keeneland. Three weeks later he got hurt hitting the Churchill Downs gate at the start of a last-place finish in the Street Sense Stakes.
Tap It to Win set a brisk pace in his win this month, establishing fractions of 22.65, 45.64 and 1:09.39 on the way to earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 97. He also gained the experience of racing out of the same chute at Belmont Park that will be used Saturday.
But can he maintain that pace adding 110 yards and the company of a heavy favorite that figures to be the most accomplished rival he has yet seen? This does not necessarily mean an eyeball-to-eyeball showdown. Jockey Manny Franco kept Tiz The Law out of suicidal speed duels in winning last year’s Grade 1 Champagne Stakes and this winter’s Grade 3 Holy Bull.
Conversely, Franco raced Tiz The Law within a half-length of a slow pace in the Florida Derby, and he found the Constitution colt to be just as cooperative as he was in his earlier victories. “All the time when I called on him,” he said, “he was there for me.”
It is hard to avoid the reality that Tiz The Law must be included in any Belmont bet. Presuming Tap It to Win wilts, it will be incumbent to find a horse that will be making a viable run at the lead turning into the homestretch, which is less than 400 yards from the wire.
If he is entered by on-the-fence trainer Bill Mott, that horse could be Modernist (16-1). A 59.2-second work over 5 furlongs Monday at Belmont Park earned him a bullet in his first breeze since he shipped north from Florida.
Horseplayers might have dismissed Modernist after his last start resulted in a third-place finish at 12-1 odds three months ago in the Louisiana Derby. But the Uncle Mo colt out of a Bernardini mare was stuck in Post 14, and he still finished in the money despite being hung out wide. That effort showed that his 12-1 win in the weaker division a month earlier in the Risen Star was no fluke.
Mott won last year’s first race of the Triple Crown when 65-1 long shot Country House was promoted to replace the disqualified Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby. Not one to capriciously put a horse in a race, Mott’s proof of faith this time around with Modernist would come at entry time.
“He’s a late-developing horse,” said Junior Alvarado, Modernist’s morning and afternoon jockey. “He’s learning and learning. He’s a versatile horse. He always will be there to put me in the spot that I want.”
Kentucky Derby futures: Who’s hot?
Art Collector (65-1 Circa, 75-1 William Hill). This might be the epitome of a late bloomer. A 6½-length victory Saturday in an 8½-furlong allowance at Churchill Downs got bettors’ attention. So did the 100 Beyer Speed Figure that came with it. With two consecutive wins, this front-running Bernardini colt carries odds that were cut from 130-1 at Circa and 125-1 at William Hill. Now trainer Tommy Drury is thinking about going to next week’s Ohio Derby or racing next month in the Indiana Derby or the Blue Grass.
Uncle Chuck (22-1, 30-1). Another week, another Bob Baffert debutant has burst into Kentucky Derby consciousness. The Uncle Mo colt out of an Unbridled’s Song mare was an even-money favorite Friday against a stablemate and three other overmatched maidens. He led at every call and drew off to a seven-length victory over a mile on the main track at Santa Anita, earning a 95 Beyer. Before the race he opened at 45-1 at Circa and was quickly shortened. William Hill added him to its futures Saturday. If Baffert intends to send him to the Derby, Uncle Chuck might be seen in a prep next month.
Mystic Guide (50-1, 65-1). He is still just a maiden winner, and he lost his last time out. But this Godolphin homebred sired by Ghostzapper is riding the coattails of Tap It to Win. Translation? Futures bettors think there was no shame in losing to him by five lengths this month. The contrarian view is that he was an 8-5 favorite but was defeated by a horse that was hopelessly out of contention in its only two stakes. Maybe the slight shortening of his odds was a reflection of the faith Godolphin showed when it made Mystic Guide a late Triple Crown nominee.
Derby futures: Who’s not?
Untitled (65-1, unlisted). He was as short as 25-1 after a mile allowance win in late April at Gulfstream Park. But then came last month’s fifth-place disappointment as an 11-10 favorite in another mile allowance at the same level. Then he was an odds-on loser by 5½ lengths Saturday in a listed sprint at Woodbine. Granted, the distance might not have suited him, and it was the first time the Khozan colt had raced on a synthetic track. But a Derby campaign seems a poor fit now.
Chestertown (150-1, 100-1). This $2 million Tapit colt has been given every chance by trainer Steve Asmussen. He had tried two turns in his first three starts of 2020 before finishing a distant second as the 6-5 favorite in a top-level 8½-furlong allowance Thursday at Belmont Park. He is still just a one-time winner, and that victory was last fall in a maiden race at Aqueduct. He had a bumpy eighth-place run in the Louisiana Derby. That was then. Now Chestertown is out of excuses.
Shivaree (150-1, 150-1). Trainer Ralph Nicks took him out of consideration for the Belmont after he finished third to Sole Volante last week in that loaded Gulfstream allowance. Maybe this Awesome of Course colt was punching above his pedigree weight when he carried a three-race winning streak into February — and when he finished second at 80-1 in the Florida Derby. Nicks might be looking at the Blue Grass as a last chance to get to Louisville.