The 152nd Belmont Stakes, Out of Sequence, One Turn, A New Distance, Still The Belmont

June 18, 2020

Our Geo Sette has used the house arrest quarantine to sharpen his handicapping skills, and they were pretty sharp to begin with. He treats us to his Belmont Stakes thoughts and an Ice Cold Exacta play…..

It has been one of the craziest years our nation has ever absorbed. I’m certain nobody could ever argue with that statement.  This has negatively impacted our economy and the entire foundation of the sports, and of course our beloved Sport of Kings. 

There have been many amendments and sacrifices, and, at least for this calendar year, a major shift to the storied history of our sport. 

In many aspects it simply doesn’t feel right, but the races must go on and we can applaud that. 

So with the Kentucky Derby rescheduled for September 5th and the Preakness Stakes to be run on October 3rd,  our 3rd jewel of the Triple Crown has become the 1st Jewel, and the “Test of A Champion” which defined the race and it’s mile and a half journey, has been modified to only nine furlongs.  This, to many racings purest like myself, is disappointing, but we have no choice, we must accept the reality that is 2020. 

We’ll run the race without any fans in attendance. That will be hard to swallow. There will be no roar from the crowd as they turn for home during what is always a fabulous stretch run.  In 2002 when Sarava shocked the racing world at 70-1 to win the Belmont Stakes, there were over 120,000 people in attendance. 

Who can ever forget the thrills and ridiculous dominance of Man O War, Count Fleet and the insane display of greatness Secretariat brought to us. Time passes by in the blink of an eye. Can you believe it has already been 5 years since American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in a jam packed Belmont Park. Matched a few years later by Justify which thrilled us some more and brought some new fans to the sport we love. 

Let’s be thankful for the history of this great race, which was inaugurated back in 1867. That’s 153 years ago folks. A lot to appreciate for sure. 

Even with the totally eerie empty grandstand I am hoping to hear Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blasted as the Belmont field hits the racetrack. Let’s hold on to as much as we can. It’s not the daunting “Test of a Champion” we are all used to, but it’s still the run for the carnations, a very special race, and this year with all other sports put to the sidelines, it’s the only game in town.  It’s something we can all embrace and get excited about.

I have personally attended this fabulous event many times in years past. I was there in 2007 when Rags To Riches became the first filly in over 100 years to beat the boys. Ten years earlier I watched Touch Gold beat Silver Charm.

I will take this as it is. Sure the entire racing season has been compromised. It feels weird knowing that the Kentucky Derby was not run on the first Saturday in May and the Belmont is the first jewel in the Triple Crown.

It’s not the most intriguing field ever, but we have some of the best three-year old’s in training running for us, and yes, most importantly, the show will go on. 

As always for my loyal readers;

I worked many hours in film study, pedigree and past performance reconciliation all to provide my very best analysis so you can be more informed for your window decisions and when you watch the race on television. 

The following is my predicted precise order of finish after handicapping tooth and nail. Are you ready?  Let’s Go!

# 8 Tiz The Law   

This colt simply could be the most reliable three-year-old in training and to me is well worthy of this top selection. Sired by Constitution, razor fit and has the bloodlines to easily get this distance.  The highly skilled Manny Franco is back in the saddle for Barclay Tagg and this guy is the only horse in the field with multiple grade one victories, which he accomplished as a juvenile and most recently a few months back in the Florida Derby.  In his only race over this Belmont soil, he romped in the Grade One Champagne Stakes. He made a big run in which he showed the ability to overcome obstacles, as he stumbled and was jammed in traffic, something as a handicapper I just love to see.   He has also exhibited a nice paddock disposition and a killer instinct in his stretch runs. His form compared to others in the field reminds me of the significant advantage Good Magic had over the field in the 2018 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. He ended up whipping the field by several lengths. He will likely get a favorable trip sitting 3rd or 4th off the lead, he’ll have great solid positioning with a smart ride from Manny, then fire his very best in the final quarter.  If he brings his best, he’ll be very tough to beat.  He has also shown versatility racing very well over 4 separate tracks in his 5 lifetime starts.  He’s my top choice and he will certainly be well backed at the windows by the betting public. He is by far the most probable winner. 

# 9 Dr. Post   

This colt from the Todd Pletcher barn seems to be well placed to run his best race yet against this field. Pletcher has won this special race three times, and he saddles arguably the best rider in the business today in Irad Ortiz, who won this race in 2016 riding Creator.  This hard-hitting guy was purchased for $400,000.00 and was expected to deliver early and often. He began his career last summer in a sprint over this same Belmont strip, but he had a very tough start and trip. He took all the money that day and finished 4th in a field of 5. It was a major disappointment to his owner and the bettors. They put him on the shelf until earlier this Spring and he came back running in fabulous form. Obviously he’s lightly raced, but he’s gotten a world of experience in his 3 starts, like my top choice, finding his way through difficult situations and still showing the willingness to run. He’s got heart and I appreciate that. He’s now won his only two starts as a three-year old, he has increased his distance with each start, and I feel his pedigree speaks well for him to easily make the needed nine furlongs.  Like my top choice, expect him to break well and gain positioning in the first quarter, sitting 4th or 5th and getting a better feel for the track, and then counting on the aggressive ways of his pilot to help mount a menacing presence.  He’s been working steady with his AM drills and I feel he’ll also benefit if it gets wet. I expect him to mount a powerful close which may fill your exacta quite comfortably. 

# 10 Pneumatic   

This very attractive colt did not race as a two-year-old, beginning his career earlier this year at three. He has put together three impressive races.  He has impressive bloodlines being sired by Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie) with Teardrop on the dam side (Tapit).  There are quality connections to consider with Ricardo Santana Jr. up for Steve Asmussen. (who won this race in 2016 as I mentioned above with Creator) I also appreciate his work on June 8th at Churchill Downs, a swift breeze in 59.4, which is an indication of fitness.  In his last race, the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill Downs, he ran a big number, and after watching that race several times, I was impressed with his professional disposition while being in tight early, then going eye to eye and passing horses while being pressed. He had a nice turn of foot on the final turn and seem to dig in for more, something I always love to see in the final quarter of a race. He was eventually run down by the highly regarded Maxfield, and finished a close third. That was a nice field which included the likes of Attachment Rate as well.  I feel he’ll improve from that race, especially if he takes to the Belmont surface.  He should get a nice trip and will be more of a threat if the pace is rapid.  This guy deserves consideration on many of your exotics tickets and could better my 3rd choice rating with his very best.  

# 2 Sole Volante   

You just gotta love a gelding with heart, and that’s been my impression with this guy. The very likable Luca Panici gets to ride in a triple crown event. I’m happy for him and the consistent barn of Patrick Biancone. He’s 6 for 6 lifetime in the money, winning 4 of his races. You must appreciate a horse that has a nose for the wire. He’s been consistent and reliable as he ships up North after racing only in Florida.  He opened his career with back to back wins over the lawn as a two-year-old and was dismissed both times at the window, winning each race at 13-1 odds. His backers had to be joyous. He has demonstrated the type of stretch running kick most handicappers appreciate and I too am giving him the respect he deserves as my 4th choice. Every time he’s out on the track he gives you his very best.  I would endorse using him especially on your deeper gimmicks as it would not be a surprise if he hits the board again.  

# 3 Max Player  

This colt has taken 4 months off and appears to be fresh and fit when looking at his workout tab. I have great respect for New York based trainer Linda Rice who switches pilots to the fabulous Joel Rosario, one of the stronger armed jockeys’ you will find in the game.  Rosario has often proven his value in big spots winning this same Belmont Stakes last year aboard Sir Winston and in 2014 bringing the lightly raced Tonalist home. In his last race, the Grade Three Withers, he was dynamic rolling 5 wide and trouncing the field by more than three lengths. He’s another horse who will look to mount a powerful close. I think that he will save ground in positioning and hope to get a clear path down the lane.  He’s my 5th choice, but he’s capable of showing much more, so he shouldn’t be ignored entirely. His connections should lend a hand to your overall confidence here. For me he will only be on deeper exotics.  

# 1 Tap It To Win    

This son of Tapit has speed and lots of talent, and he’s bred to go as long as he wants to.  Can Mark Casse win back to back Belmont Stakes? Yes, all things are possible, especially with a successful barn like this. I have my concerns with this guy coming from a State Bred Restricted optional claimer on May 20th but then he blasted 1X allowance foes going wire to wire over this Belmont soil. Yes he’s shown great flashes of brilliance vs cheaper, but he has also surfaced with some very poor efforts.  Hall of Fame Jockey Johnny Velazquez always adds to the appeal of a racehorse, so expect a smart ride which will be important as he will undoubtably be on the lead. It will be important for him to not go too fast, too early. He could be pressed by some other speed in the race. His advantage is he’s breaking from the rail. I just can’t ignore the money he burnt last season in his only two races of significance where he finished up the track.  He’s won his last two,  but this assignment may simply be too much for him to overcome. If I am right, he’ll press for, and get the lead early, but with several talented horses charging hard I feel others will pass him and he’ll finish out of the money.  He’s a fast horse, but he’s not the only speed in the race and he’ll need a few others in the field to falter badly to increase his chance of taking it wire to wire. 

# 4 Modernist   

This colt could be a race wild card because I feel he’s got quality gate speed, so he has the potential to be a threat early in the race and press Tap it to Win, or seize the lead himself. I always have great respect for Bill Mott. He’s one of my favorite trainers on the New York and national circuit, and he won this race back in 2010 with Drosselmeyer.  Junior Alvarado has been his only rider since his debut, and he’s back up in the saddle again. In his last, the grade 2 Louisiana Derby, he was too wide and compromised from post # 14.  He does have a solid workout for this race, breezing in 59.1 over this same Belmont strip.  There’s no doubt he’ll have greater comfort breaking from this post, so look for him to be contending early or for at least the first 6 panels. He’s another horse by Uncle Mo ( Indian Charlie) and I feel he’ll have a solid career, but because his overall times are simply not as good as many above. I will have to watch him develop. Last note, his money chances improve greatly if for some reason Tap It To Win never fires out of the gate. 

# 5 Farmington Road

Interestingly enough, if this Belmont was the typical “Test of a Champion”  going a mile and a half, I actually would have given this colt more consideration. I do like his pedigree and I feel with his physical appearance he would really turn on the gas going longer.  Javier Castellano is up for Todd Pletcher and he’s only 1 for 6 in the early stages of his career. He does travel well, racing over 5 different tracks in his 6 lifetime starts. Now he returns to his debut surface at Belmont. If it rains and rains really hard, he could improve and better my rating, but I didn’t like the way he flattened out in the Grade One Arkansas Derby.  He has the propensity to start slow, often too slow which keeps him from contending. His only victory came at Tampa Bay Downs in a cheap 20k MSW. His overall times have been slower than most in this race so he needs the rain, and tons of improvement to hit the board in this spot.  Look for him perhaps in the future going a mile and a quarter vs cheaper or in a Grade 3 stakes race. 

# 6 Fore Left   

This guy has the most experience in this field. He has nine races to his credit. I have great respect for the connections here with Jose Ortiz up for Doug O’Neil, who both have done lots of winning over the years. To me, this colt is more of a natural sprinter. He is a 4X winner on the soil, and has gone a mile in his last two starts, the last overseas at Meydan. He’s another starter that has good speed and he’ll factor into the pace early on which is a great part of my handicapping.  He’s working well for his first race since February 6th, but his overall performance times are simply slower than many of his opponents in this big race. As a juvenile he was overmatched in his two grade one races, and that’s what I’m thinking will happen again in this spot. He’ll need a collapse by many here to hit the board, even though Jose Ortiz at a huge price is enticing. I’m tossing him. 

# 7 Jungle Runner   

I almost feel bad for this colt because I tried my best to find something I liked about him. I couldn’t, so he’s my choice to run last.  He habitually shows very little energy, especially the type of grit you need to win a race like this.  His overall numbers are significantly slower than most in this field. It would be an outright shocker if he beat this field. He’ll probably go off at 60-1, but he should be 100-1.  He is very likely to finish in the bottom three. That’s something I would bet on, but I wouldn’t bet him to win using your money. He’s simply a toss, except for those number’s players who enjoy using the “Lucky 7”.  Good for Relu Gutierrez, who gets a mount in this race, at least he gets a taste of it. 

So there you have it. As always I want to thank you in advance for your comments. Enjoy the race and pray that soon enough we’ll get back to normal with the world we once knew. 

All my best always

Contributing Authors

Geo Sette

Geo serves multiple roles at Past the Wire. He is a columnist, handicapper, and analyst. Geo has been fascinated with the Sport of Kings since...

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Thanks for the great pick. Played the 10 to win and place based on your description and got the exacta.

Jon Bercher @JBercher View testimonials