The fact Sole Volante’s connections announced late Monday he will run in Saturday’s Grade 1 Belmont Stakes is noteworthy on a couple of fronts.
First, it’s a horse committing to the first leg of a revamped Triple Crown. This has become a novelty over the last three weeks, with defections – injury and otherwise – turning what was a dynamic race of dominant horses into heavy favorite Tiz the Law and others. Defections include Nadal, Charlatan, and Maxfield (all due to injury), along with Basin and Gouverneur Morris (routed to the Blue Grass Stakes and Haskell, respectively), and King Guillermo (training up to the Kentucky Derby).
It’s that elongated, twisting option-filled Road to the Kentucky Derby that’s turned trainers into travel guides. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the Derby back to Sept. 5 and horsemen from owners to trainers use that as the year’s lodestone event. The Belmont Stakes, even at a dialed-back, one-turn 1 1/8 miles, is simply is a means to an end this year. Albeit, a means to an end offering 150-60-30-15 Derby qualifying points.
On a National Thoroughbred Racing Association conference call, Jack Knowlton, the co-owner of Tiz the Law, said he thought three weeks ago that the Belmont would finally pit the country’s top 3-year-olds against each other.
From Too Many Horses to Not Enough Stars
“Clearly because of the injuries in Bob’s (Baffert) two horses, and now with Maxfield out, there isn’t the star power that we all expected,” Knowlton said on the Monday call.
“My original thought was that it could potentially be a race that would oversubscribe, but now it looks like it’s going to be more in the neighborhood of an eight or a nine-horse field, max,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who sends Dr. Post and Farmington Road into Saturday’s race. “That does surprise me a little bit, and I think that’s partly due to some bad luck for some horses, and also the uncertainty due to the timing of everything.”
Speaking of timing, that brings us to the second surprise involving Sole Volante. He’s shipping north and running the Belmont 10 days after winning a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park. That’s not seen in today’s stakes racing landscape, where star horses often enjoy a month or more off after a race.
Old-School Racing: Turn Around and Run
Sole Volante’s trainer, Patrick Biancone, said after the 1 ¾-length allowance win that owner Dean Reeves wants his prize horse in the Belmont Stakes. Reeves told Bloodhorse the “horse made the decision for us,” and even with shipping issues that mandate a stop in Memphis, Sole Volante is ready. The four-time winner and gelded son of Karakontie is a likely second choice behind Tiz the Law.
“He belongs with this group and we have a big shot,” Reeves said.
The other two additions earlier this week are Pneumatic, last seen finishing third in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes behind Maxfield, and Jungle Runner. Both come from Steve Asmussen’s barn, but both aren’t class equals.
Pneumatic Could Factor, Jungle Runner in Over His Hooves
Pneumatic won his first two starts at Oaklawn Park before finishing only 1 ¾ lengths behind Maxfield. Jungle Runner won a minor stakes at minor-league Remington Park last fall, but hasn’t come close since. He’s lost all four of his subsequent races by double-digit lengths, meaning you’re looking at the likely long shot.
The Belmont Stakes draw is Wednesday at 9 a.m. PT. A field of nine is expected.