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The Belmont Stakes arrives, just not the one you're used to

Workouts before the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park

Workouts before the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont on June 19, 2020. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

This is not the Belmont Stakes that was to be expected just a few months ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic carries a large responsibility for that as horse racing’s schedule has been upended. But injuries also have impacted the expected field for Saturday’s 152nd running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes, now the first leg of the Triple Crown rather than the last.

“There was a point in time where it was going to be an All-Star field,” said NBC Sports analyst Jerry Bailey, a Hall of Fame jockey, on a media teleconference this week. “Nadal was going to be in there. There was a good chance Charlatan was going to be in there. A horse called Maxfield was going to be in there. Those were probably in the top four horses in the country, three-year-olds. It’s like any sport. Injuries happen.”

Nadal and Charlatan are both Bob Baffert-trained horses. The former was retired last month after suffering a left front lateral condyle fracture. Charlatan has suffered an ankle injury that reportedly also will keep him out of the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5. Plus, further test results are upcoming after he reportedly tested positive for a banned medication.

Trainer Brendan Walsh opted to keep Maxfield in Kentucky for the Blue Grass Stakes on July 11 at Keeneland rather than run at Belmont.

But the Barclay Tagg-trained, New York-bred Tiz the Law is also among the elite 3-year-olds and is the overwhelming favorite with 6-5 morning-line odds for the reconfigured Belmont Stakes. The race will be run at 1 1/8 miles instead of its usual marathon 1 1/2-mile distance. No fans or owners will be in the cavernous grandstand.

The Belmont Stakes originally was scheduled for June 6. But it’ll be contested much closer to its original date than the Derby, which was pushed back from May 2, or the Preakness, which is now the Triple Crown’s closing leg on Oct. 3 instead of being the middle leg on May 16.

There is still solid competition for Tiz the Law in the 10-horse field, as befitting a Triple Crown classic.

The Mark Casse-trained Tap It to Win will provide speed breaking from the rail. Dr Post, breaking from the ninth post, just outside of Tiz the Law, also is a serious contender. The Patrick Biancone-trained Sole Volante, who did not ship from Florida to Belmont until Tuesday, also could be a strong factor in the race.

“The only horses right now that I can think of off the top of my head that are in training that we can say, ‘Oh man, it’s really too bad these horses aren’t in the Belmont,’ would be Honor A.P. and Authentic, the one-two finishers of the Santa Anita Derby,” said NBC Sports analyst Randy Moss. “The only reason they’re not in the Belmont is because Santa Anita got back running before Belmont Park did and scheduled the Santa Anita Derby sort of in conflict with the Belmont Stakes, for whatever reason.”

Honor A.P. won the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in 1:48.97 on June 6.

“It’s tremendously different,” said Jack Knowlton, part of the Sackatoga Stable group that owns Tiz the Law. “I had spoken to people three or four weeks and said that, in many ways, I felt that the Belmont Stakes was going to be the Kentucky Derby and the first time that the best horses in training were going to be meeting each other, West Coast, East Coast and in between. Clearly, because of the injuries, there isn’t quite the star power that we all expected. But I feel good about the race being a mile and an eighth.”

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