June 19 (UPI) -- Tiz the Law is the big favorite for Saturday's $1 million Belmont Stakes as the U.S. Triple Crown gets going on its backwards schedule in this disrupted COVID-19 season.
The Belmont is the top prize in extensive graded stakes action at Belmont Park, Churchill Downs, Santa Anita and Woodbine. Turf milers are on display from coast to coast.
On the foreign front, Royal Ascot concludes its run Saturday with a Group 1 tripleheader. And the fourth leg of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" on Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse has a few viable candidates for the Run for the Roses -- the anchor leg of the Triple Crown for this year only.
The schedule is goofy enough but some of the races are downright puzzling. For help with handicapping them, look no farther than popejude.com, where Jude Feld shares his insider expertise.
But first, this:
The Road to the Triple Crown
Tiz the Law tis the heavy favorite in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. The race this year moves from its traditional spot as the anchor leg of the Triple Crown and, instead, kicks off the series. It also has been shortened dramatically, from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/8 miles.
Tiz the Law, a Constitution colt, is 4-for-5 and makes his first start since winning the Florida Derby on March 28. Trained by Barclay Tagg, he is owned by the colorful syndicate Sackatoga Stable, which won two-thirds of the Triple Crown in 2003.
"You don't get top contenders all the time," Tagg said. "He's a nice horse. Hopefully, he's as good we think. You work every day, seven days a week, you just hope nothing happens and nothing goes wrong. But so far, so good. We're pleased with the way he's been doing and we're ready for the race."
On paper, Tiz the Law is the one to beat. But they run these on the track, not in the pages of the Daily Racing Form, and others are worth a look.
Sole Volante wheels back on just 10 days rest after winning an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. Before that, the Karakonte colt won the Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, and then finished second in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby. Modernist, an Uncle Mo colt, won the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds and then was third in the Louisiana Derby.
Todd Pletcher will saddle two, both by Quality Road -- Farmington Road and the better-fancied Dr Post, who won his last two starts, including the Unbridled Stakes, before shipping north from Gulfstream.
The winner of the Belmont gets 150 points toward a start in the Kentucky Derby, now set for Sept. 5. Tiz the Law already is safely in the maximum-20 Derby field, topping the leader board with 122 points.
There's another Kentucky Derby qualifier on the weekend program -- the Unicorn Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse. The Unicorn is one of two races added to the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" series when the Triple Crown schedule was scrambled.
The winner of the Unicorn gets 40 points, with the minor placings picking up 16, 8 and 4 points, respectively. The current leader in the series with 40 points in the bank, Café Pharoah, is in the 1-mile race and drew the outside gate in a field of 16.
Also entered for the Unicorn are points-holders Tagano Beauty (12) and Dieu de Vin (10).
The series concludes with the Japan Dirt Dirby at Ohi Racecourse July 8.
The Road to the Oaks
Gamine travels from California to play the favorite in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Longines Acorn at Belmont Park. The Into Mischief filly, trained by Bob Baffert, makes just her third career start. She won at first asking March 7 at Santa Anita, then ventured to Arkansas to win a 1 1/16-miles optional claimer May 2.
The opposition includes Lucrezia, also by Into Mischief, a two-time winner at Tampa Bay Downs during the winter and second to the imposing Swiss Skydiver in the Gulfstream Park Oaks in her most recent start.
Perfect Alibi, winner of the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga last summer, has not been seen since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Casual, Glass Ceiling and Water White all exit impressive wins.
Eight 3-year-olds are set for Saturday's $100,000 Audubon Stakes at 9 furlongs over the Churchill Downs green course. Field Pass is the morning-line pick off a victory in the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks on the all-weather course at Turfway Park and a recent third on the Churchill Downs turf. Pixelate and Summer to Remember also get some attention.
Sunday's $100,000 Grade III San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita got eight takers to tackle 14 furlongs, starting on the downhill course.
Avalanche won the Grade III San Luis Rey two starts back. Siberian Iris has been competitive at this level. Tintoretto makes his first U.S. start after racing earlier in his native Germany. The others are mostly allowance types.
Decorated Invader is the morning-line pick in Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Pennine Ridge for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park coming off a win in the Cutler Bay Stakes at the same distance over the Gulfstream Park turf.
He was fourth, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last fall. There are others here, though. Proven Strategies, a speedster, might like what amounts to a one-turn trip over the spacious Belmont layout.
Vanzzy comes off a snazzy victory in the Rushaway Stakes over the Turfway Park all-weather course. Seven are entered.
Only five signed on for the $150,000 Grade III Wonder Again for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park.
Two of those, Sweet Melania and Selflessly, compete for the first time since finishing third and fifth, respectively, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Highland Glory had a nice winter in Florida, winning twice before finishing second in the Honey Ryder Stakes on May 2.
The starting gate will be a bit more crowded for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Wise Dan at Churchill Downs. Eleven are entered for the 1 1/16 miles with Factor This as the strong early favorite.
The Brad Cox trainee, a 5-year-old son of The Factor, won the Grade III Fair Grounds Stakes and the Grade III Muniz Memorial in New Orleans in his last two outings.
Toinette and Keeper Ofthe Stars are the morning-line picks among seven in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Wilshire Stakes for fillies and mares at Santa Anita.
Toinette won the Grade II Goldikova two starts back, one of several graded stakes wins. Keeper Ofthe Stars won the Grade I Gamely over the course last month going a furlong longer than this mile and seeks a third straight win.
Ten are set for Sunday's $100,000 Grade III American Stakes at 1 mile on the Santa Anita lawn.
Bowie's Hero, a multiple graded stakes winner, looks tough here if he can shake off the rust. He's been idle since finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Mile last November.
Cleopatra's Strike, Sharp Samurai and Bolo could figure in the outcome. Jasikan, an improving 4-year-old Bated Breath colt, is worth a look coming off a long vacation.
Pure Sensation is the 5-2 pick on the morning line for Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Jaipur over the Belmont Park inner turf course. The 9-year-old Zensational gelding was 4-for-6 last year with one of those defeats coming in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
Also in the field are Kanthaka, racing for the first time since finishing third in the Grade III Daytona at Santa Anita in May 2019, and Stubbins, third in this year's Daytona. Oleksandra exits a late-running second in the Grade II Monrovia at Santa Anita.
Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Woody Stephens at Belmont Park is for 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs. Echo Town, a Speightstown colt trained by Steve Asmussen, is a narrow morning-line favorite over Meru and Mischevious Alex. The latter won the latter won the Grade III Gotham going 1 mile March 7.
Five 3-year-olds comprise the field for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Lazaro Barrera Stakes at Santa Anita. Collusion Illusion is the 4-5 favorite on the morning line, followed closely by Ragtime Blues. Both show great promise and they are drawn in the two inside gates.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Jean Elizabeth, an Illinois-bred daughter of Adios Charlie, brings a seven-race winning streak into Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Whimsical Stakes at Woodbine. The Larry Rivelli trainee has never finished out of the money in 20 career starts, including a pair of wins last fall at Woodbine.
Around the world, around the clock:
We hope you've been enjoying the day-by-day coverage of the Royal-less Royal Ascot. For all it's lacking in terms of fashion, food, fans and fun, there has been no shortage of top-flight racing action.
The meeting winds up on Saturday with a Group 1 triple header -- the Diamond Jubilee, a 6-furlongs "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, the St. James's Palace for 3-year-old colts and the Coronation Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
The Group 2 Coventry is for 2-year-olds and the Group 2 Queen Mary is for 2-year-old fillies. Nothing like going out with a bang.