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When is the Belmont Stakes not a real Belmont? 2020.
This 152nd running (Grade I, nine furlongs, 1-1/8 miles, $1,000,000) will be the first leg of this year's convoluted Triple Crown. They scaled it back to nine furlongs. Always a long race, settled in at 1-1/2 miles for nearly a century, the last time it was run at this distance was 1893-1894. This distance will mean they'll start in the chute, making it only a one-turn race, which is a huge difference for many horses. Running around two turns is not automatically easy for a horse.
The only horse here who has run longer is Modernist, who went 1-3/16ths in the Louisiana Derby. I guess they figured these runners couldn't have prepped on a regular schedule, which we will see appears to be true. I still would have liked to see the classic distance of 10 furlongs, 1-1/4 miles.
While the favorite, Tiz the Law, has been labeled head-and-shoulders above the rest, I believe he is beatable with a potential bomber winning. None of these horses has ever run against any of the others.
In post-position order:
1. Tap It to Win (Morning Line odds 6-1).
Pros and cons. He has recency, running last on June 4. He loves to be on the lead and with this draw, if he can get away and maintain a responsible pace on what is usually a very fast track, they may not catch him. His Beyer Speed Figures are on a healthy uptick, but he has no class. He bombed in both the Breeders' Cup Futurity and in a small stakes at Churchill Downs. He comes in off two straight wins, including at Belmont last out. I'll need a bigger price.
2. Sole Volante (9-2).
Again, recency, June 10. He's a wiseguy pick after the favorite. His Beyers have plateaued in the mid-90s, although they're second best in the race. He's a closer who will be in the thick of the lead, but he should be able to save ground. While rider Luca Panici is a veteran Italian jockey, he's never ridden at Belmont. If Panici chases the leader, he might be cooked, although he may have to at this shorter distance. It's concerning that he didn't seal the deal in the Tampa Derby. He's capable, but I want more price.
3. Max Player (15-1).
With only three races run, this one hasn't raced since February, although it was a win in the Grade III Withers. Trainer Linda Rice has drilled him consistently since April, but will he be fit? His Beyer growth is good. He seems to have a chance, but it's funny to say that this race he needs to get into shape is The Belmont!
4. Modernist (15-1).
Like Sole Volante, Modernist seemed on his way with a win in a split Rebel Stakes in Louisiana, but then went green in the Louisiana Derby, finishing third. When trainer Bill Mott announced this week he was going to enter, it seemed a surprise, even to Mott. There's speculation he may be scratched beforehand. We know Mott will need to be convinced right up to the post parade.
5. Farmington Road (15-1).
Eddie Olczyk likes this one. I'm not sure why. His one win was a maiden special weight. He didn't assert himself at all in the Oaklawn Stakes or the Arkansas Derby. He'll need about all the others to participate in a maniacal pace, watch it break down and mop up. Won't happen.
6. Fore Left (30-1).
I don't know. He won the Group III UAE 2000 Guineas way back in February in Dubai, but a bad post, for him, and low American Beyers. I'll skip.
7. Jungle Runner (50-1).
No chance. He should be playing A ball, like at Arlington or Remington Park, where he came from.
8. Tiz the Law (6-5).
Trainer Barclay Tagg is a middling 13 percent in getting horses ready off a long layoff. He won the Florida Derby in late March and is the clear winner in the Beyers department. He won the Grade I Champagne here last October. Rider Manny Franco is not top-tier, so we'll need him to not screw up. He's only eight percent at this meet. He'll have plenty of time to get his position on the backstretch, but his post seems a tad too far out. Clearly the class of the race. Can I get 2-1? They'll probably reminisce, but Tiz the Law is out of the Sackatoga Stable, which gave us Funny Cide, the Derby and Preakness winner in 2003.
9. Dr Post (5-1).
Did Dr Post lose the post draw? He's a midrange closer and if he can save some ground, get open and run into a hot pace, he's got a good chance. In the up-and-down Beyer angle, he's due for an up, which he needs. He's won his last two. With Irad Ortiz up, there's a lot to like.
10. Pneumatic (8-1).
I can't bring myself to bet on Churchill Downs, but this one was my pick in the May 23 Matt Winn (Grade III). He was on a quick pace throughout but finished third. But there's a lot to recommend. He's a son of Uncle Mo. Beyers are improving and his two wins in three races turned into key races. That's when the horses you beat win their next time out. There were three of them. Ricardo Santana Jr., who won the very hard-fought jockey title at Oaklawn, is plenty hot. This is Pneumatic's debut at Belmont, so we'll find out if he likes it or not. Some don't. As of this writing, Pneumatic is 25-1 in Belmont Advanced Wagering. Keep that to yourself.
I'm looking at Pneumatic, Dr Post, Tiz the Law and Max Player in an Exacta box with Tap It to Win, Pneumatic and Dr Post as price plays. With an eye on the odds, as always.
Your tee/vee destination will be the Big Peacock NBC doing a coverage drive-by from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Expect a lot of hype over September's Kentucky Derby, but don't believe the Belmont is a prep for that. If you want to catch the full card, as I know you do, the Madison Square Garden (MSGHD) channel will cover from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. If you're really jonesing, NBC will also televise Royal Ascot from 8 a.m. -11 a.m.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.
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