Handicapping the 2020 Belmont Stakes

Handicapping the 2020 Belmont Stakes
Photo: Derbe Glass/Gulfstream Park

Like everything else this year, the Belmont Stakes has been changed around a little, including the regular head-to-head article. Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast, my partner in handicapping, is taking a hiatus this week.

The Grade 1 event is usually a test of stamina and speed, arriving at the end of a grueling season of prep races, the bumper-car Kentucky Derby, and speedy Preakness.  This year, instead of drawing leg-weary runners from the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, plus later-maturing newcomers, we have a fresh field ready to go.

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The 2020 Belmont Stakes is a one-turn 1 1/8-mile event instead of 1 1/2-miles. Check the history books; this has happened before.

OK, enough of my rambling. Let’s examine this year’s field of ten 3-year-old colts, ridgling, and gelding.

#8 TIZ THE LAW (6-5)

A guy got hold of me on Facebook the other day, asking for my Belmont Stakes picks. “I want to beat Tiz the Law,” he commented. “Good luck with that,” I responded. Maybe I’m biased, but I’ve been on this colt’s bandwagon from the beginning. True, I didn’t think he would win the Holy Bull off the layoff, but moving on.

Other than a troubled trip in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over a muddy track, the son of Constitution has done everything asked of him by open lengths. If the Belmont was held at 1 1/2-miles, the Barclay Tagg trainee would have no issues getting the distance.As long as Manny Franco keeps Tiz the Law out of trouble, this is the TOP WIN CONTENDER.


Sole Volante is noted for his swift late-run down the stretch, motoring past tired opponents. He’s lost only twice, the last time in the Tampa Bay Derby when he was too far back and left with too much to do, unable to get to loose-on-the-lead King Guillermo. Yet there are some chinks in his armor.

The Patrick Biancone trainee is dependent on a swift early pace so that he can swoop past tired horses. Sole Volante has never run nine furlongs, although his pedigree and running style show that the distance shouldn’t be an issue.

The colt ships and gets back into action 10 days after beating an excellent field that included Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Ete Indien and Florida Derby runner-up Shivaree.Sole Volante consistently throws triple-digit Brisnet late-pace speed figures and has recorded more than any of his rivals. MAIN THREAT WIN CONTENDER.

#1 TAP IT TO WIN (6-1)

Tap It to Win is a late-blooming son of Tapit (sire of three, count’em three!) Belmont Stakes winners. Tap It to Win was a runaway 5-length winner in his previous start, an allowance race at Belmont.

Tap It to Win likes to be on or pressing the pace, and John Velazquez will use the ridgling’s speed from the rail to get an optional position. No matter, because the son of Tapit out of a stakes-winning daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has the pedigree to run all day. Tap It to Win’s early and mid-pace speed figures are the highest in the field, but he’s able to sustain that speed, with one of the top late-pace figures in the ranks.

The Mark Casse trainee ran a lifetime-best race in his last start 16 days ago. The big question is whether the ridgling will take another step forward or regress. Even if he regresses, his previous form is still good enough for an underneath position. EXOTICS CONTENDER.

#10 PNEUMATIC (8-1)

Pneumatic was brought along nicely by Steve Asmussen. After maiden and allowance wins, it was time to step up in the Matt Winn (G3).  Pneumatic took a stutter step coming out of the gate but quickly recovered. He pressed the pace, in tight on the rail, and was given little running room by Manny Franco on Celtic Striker. Pneumatic continued to give his all down the lane and missed by 1 3/4-length after fighting every step of the way. It was a good experience, and he didn’t look happy down on the inside.

By Uncle Mo out of a stakes-winning daughter of Tapit, the dark-bay colt should have no issues navigating nine furlongs. Drawing the far outside, Pneumatic has the option of pressing or laying off the pace.

Pneumatic returns after a perfect layoff of 28 days. His late-pace speed figures are some of the best in the field, and he could surprise. He needs to prove that he’s in the same league as the top contenders, but I’ll give him an EXOTICS CONTENDER shot.

#3 MAX PLAYER (15-1)

One of four contenders who have won or placed at nine furlongs, Max Player is the Belmont Stakes underdog…er…horse. The lightly raced son of Honor Code hasn’t faced much, but he’s done it convincingly. He went five-wide in the Gotham Stakes to win going away by 3 1/4 lengths.

Linda Rice skipped the rest of the year’s prep races around the country, preferring to keep the colt home and aiming for a stakes at Belmont.

Max Player enters off a long layoff of 140 days but has recorded a string of five and six-furlong breezes, including a second to last 5F 1:00.60 bullet.

Joel Rosario pairs with Max Player for the first time. He may keep the colt closer to the pace than he’s been in previous starts. LONGSHOT LOWER EXOTICS CONTENDER.

#9 DR POST (5-1)

The improving Dr Post showed his determination in the Unbridled Stakes. I like this colt’s heart. The Todd Pletcher trainee was in tight traffic for the entire trip but didn’t let that bother him. He contested the early pace briefly, then dropped back behind the pacesetters. Irad Ortiz, Jr. had to steady the colt around the turn while hunting for running room. Dr Post played bumper cars down the stretch while between horses but prevailed late by 1 1/2-lengths.

Dr. Post is taking a step up and stretching out to nine furlongs. By Quality Road, a nine-furlong specialist out of a mare with speed-oriented bloodlines, Dr Post’s pedigree indicates that nine furlongs is at the top of his range.

The colt likes to run mid-pack. That means he’ll likely have a wide trip from post nine.

The Pletcher/Ortiz Jr. combo has a high win rate. That being said, Dr Post needs to prove that he’s at the same level as the top pair. He’ll have to run an all-time best to win. EXOTICS CONTENDER if you’re covering the field, otherwise pass.

#4 MODERNIST (15-1)

The well-bred Modernist looked good winning his maiden and then the second division of the Risen Star (G2) and then… he fizzled, not going anywhere fast in the Louisiana Derby (G2).

Modernist is a two-time winner at nine furlongs. The dark-bay colt was a late addition to the Belmont by Bill Mott. Modernist tuned up with a pre-race 5F 59.20 (1/16) move He’s a need-the-lead sort. Note that both victories were on the lead after glacial early fractions. Modernist won’t get those slow fractions in this field and will have company up front.

Modernist could hold on for a minor award if somebody doesn’t run their race. LONGSHOT LOWER EXOTICS CONTENDER if you’re covering the field, otherwise pass.


Dr Post’s stablemate has tried nine furlongs three times. His best placing was a come from the clouds second place, just missing by a half-length in the Oaklawn Stakes. Farmington Road is a one-paced closer. He’s been between five to eight wide around the tun in his last three starts. Despite his closing running style, Farmington Road’s late-pace speed figures are low. He has one victory in six career starts. PASS.

#6 FORE LEFT (30-1)

Fore Left is making his first start since a victory in the UAE Two Thousand Guineas in Dubai. The Doug O’Neil trainee has hit the board once in four starts against graded company. PASS.


It’s probably not politically correct, and the adopted kids with red hair may protest, but Jungle Runner has been whipped like a redheaded stepchild by double-digit lengths dating back to Remington Park last December. I could add further clichés and idioms, but you get the picture. PASS.


I see two top contenders and a bunch of exotics maybes in the Belmont.

Tap It to Win, Modernist, Tiz the Law, and Pneumatic will be forwardly placed. Dr Post, Max Player, and, if he can keep up, Jungle Runner will settle mid-pack, while Sole Volante and Farmington Road will do their best running late.

The top four should ensure a solid, but not overly fast pace, giving those near the front an advantage.

#8 TIZ THE LAW (6-5)


#1 TAP IT TO WIN (6-1)

#3 MAX PLAYER (15-1)

Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


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Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

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