By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
A few short weeks ago, the $1 million Belmont Stakes was shaping
up to be an intriguing battle between Grade 1 winners Tiz the Law, Nadal, and Charlatan,
the three early favorites for the Kentucky Derby. With its shortened 1 1/8-mile
distance and newfound status as the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont
was poised to attract arguably its strongest field in years.
But then Nadal and Charlatan
were struck down by injuries, and other key contenders soon withdrew as well.
Now we're left with just 10 horses to vie for victory in the restructured Belmont
Stakes, and on paper, #8 Tiz the Law
(6-5) has emerged as an overwhelming favorite to prevail.
Tiz the Law's credentials
are formidable. As a juvenile he crushed his debut at Saratoga, winning by 4
1/4 lengths with complete authority, and he followed up with a powerful 4-length
romp in the Champagne (G1) traversing a one-turn mile at Belmont Park. This is
significant since the Belmont Stakes, in its new shorter format, will also be
held around one turn.
An awkward inside trip over
a sloppy track in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) likely cost Tiz the Law an
undefeated season, but the son of Constitution bounced back with a pair of big
races during the winter at Gulfstream Park. In the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull (G3),
Tiz the Law overcome early traffic to romp by three lengths over Ete Indien,
who returned to dominate the Fountain of Youth (G2) by 8 1/2 lengths. Then Tiz the
Law proved he can handle 1 1/8 miles when cruising to victory by 4 1/4 confident
lengths in the Florida Derby (G1).
Tiz the Law isn't always the
quickest runner out of the gate, and at times he can be a little overeager to put
himself into contention. But these pitfalls should be easy to avoid since Tiz
the Law has drawn perfectly in post eight with the main pace players to his
inside. Tiz the Law has enough tactical speed to stay within striking range of
the pace, but drawing wide affords him an easy opportunity to settle behind the
leaders while running in the clear. Traffic shouldn't be an issue with such an
In conclusion, Tiz the Law
is a short-priced but deserving favorite for the Belmont Stakes. He's the only
horse in the field to have posted a triple-digit Beyer speed figure, and his
proven affinity for Belmont Park is an asset. Any way you slice it, Tiz the Law
is the horse to beat, and I won't bother trying to oppose him. Instead, I'll
single him in multi-race wagers and key him on top in the trifecta and
For the vertical exotics, #2 Sole Volante (9-2) is a must-use runner.
Although this son of Karakontie is bred to excel on turf, and is indeed a
stakes winner on grass, he's really thrived since switching to the main track,
posting four straight Beyer speed figures in the 92-96 range.
Sole Volante achieved his
signature victory in the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs,
where he rocketed the third quarter in :23.26 and the final five-sixteenths in
:30.53 to defeat graded stakes winner Independence Hall by 2 1/2 lengths. A
slow pace subsequently compromised Sole Volante's late rally in the 1 1/16-mile
Tampa Bay Derby (G2), but the improving colt still sprinted home in :30.62 to
finish second behind future Arkansas Derby (G1) runner-up King Guillermo.
Following a 3-month break,
Sole Volante returned to action in a 1-mile allowance race on June 10 at
Gulfstream Park, where he rallied confidently from last place to beat a deep
field including Florida Derby (G1) runner-up Shivaree and Tiz the Law's old
rival Ete Indien. Having demonstrated he can handle a one-turn route just fine,
Sole Volante figures to be a major threat from off the pace in the Belmont
Stakes, and I will be very surprised if he finishes out of the trifecta.
The wildcard in the Belmont
Stakes is #1 Tap It to Win (6-1),
whose sire—Tapit—is responsible for three previous winners of the oldest
American classic. Conditioned by Mark Casse, who saddled Sir Winston to win the
2019 Belmont, Tap It to Win has sandwiched flashes of brilliance around disappointing
efforts. In his two tries against stakes company as a juvenile, Tap It to Win
finished last in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) and Street Sense S., beaten by
more than 20 lengths on both occasions.
But after taking the winter
off, Tap It to Win has come back a different horse. After beating fellow
Florida-breds in a 6-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream, Tap It to Win
stepped up in class and distance for a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Belmont.
The result? A freakish victory. After carving out fast fractions of :22.65,
:45.64, and 1:09.39, Tap It to Win powered away and led by 7 1/2 lengths at the
eighth pole before crossing the wire 5 lengths clear in 1:39.76, missing the
track record by just 0.54.
It was a massive performance,
which raises a key question—can Tap It to Win repeat the feat? He was never
challenged on the front end at Belmont, but figures to face pace pressure on
Saturday from #6 Fore Left (30-1),
front-running winner of the UAE Two Thousand Guineas (G3). It's possible a duel
for the lead while stepping back into stakes company will prompt regression
from Tap It to Win. On the other hand, if his runaway allowance win is proof he's
turned a corner, Tap It to Win could give Tiz the Law quite a tussle down the
So how do we turn these opinions
into wagers? Let's put all our eggs in one basket and key Tiz the Law on top in
the trifecta and superfecta, since covering for the possibility of his defeat
will reduce our profits if he wins as expected. Underneath, we'll strongly
emphasize Sole Volante and Tap It to Win while adding #4 Modernist (15-1), #9 Dr
Post (5-1), and #10 Pneumatic (8-1) to
$6 Trifecta: 8 with 1,2 with 1,2 ($12)
$3 Trifecta: 8 with 1,2 with 4,9,10 ($18)
$1 Superfecta: 8 with 1,2 with 1,2 with 4,9,10 ($6)
$1 Superfecta: 8 with 1,2 with 4,9,10 with 1,2 ($6)
$0.50 Superfecta: 8 with 1,2 with 4,9,10 with 4,9,10 ($6)
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Belmont Stakes?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.