Keys to the Belmont Stakes

The field has been drawn for this year's version of the Belmont Stakes (G1), and whether you feel it belongs in the classification of classic race or just another mile and an eighth prep for the Kentucky Derby (G1), there is a great deal intrigue to the race, highlighted by the presence of the top-ranked 3-year-old in the country Tiz the Law.

There are several factors regarding the post position draw that need mentioning, even though post positions in a mile and an eighth race at Belmont with that long run down the backstretch should not affect the outcome in any way but could affect the strategy.

The most notable draw was the speedy Tap It to Win breaking from the rail, which should reassure his followers that he will be on the lead, as if they needed reassurance after his dazzling front-running victory last time out. Fore Left, the UAE 2,000 Guineas winner who has excellent speed himself, should get an easy stalking position breaking from post 6, as should Modernist from post 4. If Belmont is favoring speed on this day, which it normally does, then that gives Tap It to Win a huge advantage because speed horses at Belmont, especially talented ones like Tap It to Win, have a tendency to just keep going. In that case, watch for Tiz the Law, Modernist, and Fore Left to be tracking right behind him. But it must be noted that Fore Left has sprinter's speed and shouldn't let Tapit It to Win get too comfortable, and he did win the Tremont Stakes last year in his only start at Belmont. But most important, he is from a dangerous barn who can strike with anyone and he is coming off two sensational works at Belmont, including a bullet five furlongs in :59 flat. Very sneaky in here.

Tiz the Law, breaking from post 8, will have to be used a little if he's going to take up a stalking position himself, but Manny Franco has to make sure he's no more than three-wide heading into the turn. If Tiz the Law lays right off Tap It to Win's flank he does hold a big class advantage.

The post position that intrigues me the most is Sole Volante from post 2. You would think that with his late running style it doesn't matter where he breaks from. But not at Belmont. This is a tough track for a jockey who has little or no experience over it and is on a come-from- behind horse. Many an inexperienced rider has gone into Belmont's infamous turn of no return racing on the outside. Although they may look strong, that turn seemingly goes on forever, and by the time horses come out of it they have used a great deal of energy, losing a lot of ground, and are unable to sustain their run.

But for horses saving ground the whole way it is a totally different story. When a closer gets a rail trip and the rail opens up, it is not uncommon to see them burst through and even open daylight. And horses on the pace at Belmont do have a tendency to drift out a bit turning for home. If a rider doesn't feel like the rail will open up, then he can ease out and it doesn't matter how wide they go. They have already saved a lot of ground. The key is staying on the rail and either remaining there or looking for a seam nearing the quarter pole. Just do not go wide into the turn.

If Sole Volante can get a good inside trip, he has the turn of foot to come charging through and catch the others a bit flat-footed. Now, that will still be quite a task if Tiz the Law runs his "A" race, but that is still the only shot you have to beat him. Sole Volante would be have been better suited had this been a mile and a quarter, but if he runs the same race he did in the Sam F. Davis when he used his acceleration to get into contention by the 5/16 pole he has a legitimate shot to pull off the upset. This is no plodder. He has a quick stride that can put him into the fray whenever the rider wants.

If you want to see what to do with a closer who who draws inside at Belmont, have Sole Volante's jockey Luca Panici watch the 2013 Jockey Club Gold Cup on You Tube and see how 21-1 shot Ron the Greek, who had no early speed, stays closer up on the rail and shoots through like a bullet and goes on to win by almost seven lengths in 1:59 3/5 for the mile and a quarter. 

The other interesting horse is Pneumatic. In his last race, the two-turn Matt Winn Stakes, he drew the rail, and although he had come from fifth to break his maiden the race before, he had no choice but to go to the front, which took him completely out of his running style. That's not the way he wants to run. Despite that, he hung tough in the stretch and finished a close third behind Maxfield in only his third career start. Now he breaks from post 10 in the Belmont and should have no trouble taking back and settling behind the speed and stalkers. But again, his best hope is that the field gets strung out a little so he doesn't lose too much ground going into the turn. He should get a trip that suits him this time and could be one to watch at a decent price. His maiden win to me stamped him as a horse with a great deal of talent.

Breaking directly inside Pneumatic is the other fascinating horse, Dr Post, who could be problematic for Pneumatic if he keeps him hung wide, as he needs a similar trip. He showed in his last race he is a bruiser who doesn't mind playing rough. He just shrugs it off, as he did in his last start, overcoming heavy traffic and bumping, and still powered his way to victory. He does face much tougher horses this time, but he is another who is improving rapidly and has a bright future..

Although Modernist has been entered, we'll see if Bill Mott runs him. He should like Belmont Park, and he does have good tactical speed. So far he appears to be more of a one-paced type of horse, but those horses generally are suited to Belmont. His best races will be a bit farther down the road, but he definitely fits in here.

Max Player and Farmington Road will need some sort of pace collapse to be able to use their late kick. Max Player has been out of action for more than 4 1/2 months, but he has had a number of strong six- and seven-furlong works, so he should be fit enough.

I have been a huge fan of Sole Volante all year and have ranked him anywhere from No. 2 to No. 5 on Derby Dozen most every week because he does everything right and seems to have no flaws and is a joy to watch in action. Although I don't think this is the best spot for him, it wouldn't surprise me to see him run another huge race if he gets the right trip. If he runs a strong race and finishes in the top three over a speed-favoring track, then expect him to be a very serious horse in the Travers Stakes (G1) and the Kentucky Derby. But if Tiz the Law is going to be beaten, I will still go with the horse who has continued to impress me all year.

I was also excited by Pneumatic's maiden victory and felt he could be any kind, as he ran like polished veteran, and, again, did everything the right way. We'll see what he can do with a better trip. 

With that said, this is Tiz the Law's race to win or lose, as he holds a big class advantage and is the only horse proven in grade 1 company and proven at Belmont Park in a grade 1. We'll just have to see if Sole Volante can get a dream trip and have a shot at him or if Tap It to Win gets loose on the lead and doesn't come back or if there are any stars in the making, like Pneumatic and Dr Post who are ready to burst on the scene and challenge him.

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