US RACING: Expect 10 to race in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes as trainer Todd Pletcher guns for win number four in Belmont

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Todd Pletcher

Entries are to be taken and post positions drawn Wednesday for the 152nd Belmont Stakes and its accompanying undercard.

In this most unique of seasons, the Belmont Stakes — traditionally the last and longest of the three Triple Crown races for 3-year-olds — will for the first time ever serve as the launch of the classic season with a reduced distance.

A field of 10 is projected to be entered in the Belmont, which this year has been shortened to 1 1/8-miles from its usual mile-and-a-half “Test of a Champion.” The post-position draw for the Belmont is set to start at noon Eastern and can be streamed live via the New York Racing Association Youtube page.

The changes to the traditional Triple Crown format this season are a result of racing’s shutdown earlier this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kentucky Derby, which traditionally starts the Triple Crown on the first Saturday in May, instead was rescheduled for Labor Day weekend on Sept. 5. The Preakness Stakes, the traditional second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown, will this year serve as the final leg on Oct. 3.

Trainer Todd Pletcher will try for his fourth Belmont Stakes victory Saturday with a pair of colts who’ve taken different paths into the event’s 152nd edition.

Dr Post has only three career starts, the most recent coming April 25 when he won Gulfstream Park’s Unbridled Stakes. The 3-year-old son of Quality Road is taking advantage of a rescheduled Triple Crown calendar that starts Saturday with a 1 1/8-mile running of the Belmont.

“Under traditional timing, he was not going to be ready for any of the Triple Crown races but certainly not the Kentucky Derby,” Pletcher said Monday on an NTRA teleconference. “This has kind of been to his benefit.”

Pletcher’s other Belmont Stakes runner, Farmington Road, has six starts to his name, including three stakes tries in 2020. Another Quality Road colt, he was fourth last out May 2 in a division of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.

“He’s probably a horse who would’ve benefitted from the traditional distance of a mile and a half of the Belmont,” Pletcher said. “He’s come close to delivering that breakthrough performance.”

Pletcher’s two trainees are among nine 3-year-olds probable for Saturday’s race, which will run behind closed doors at Belmont Park. Florida Derby (G1) winner Tiz the Law stands to be the prohibitive favorite.

Pletcher, a seven-time recipient of the Eclipse Award Outstanding Trainer award, has three Belmont Stakes scores to his name, winning with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013) and Tapwrit (2017). His three Belmont victories are the most of any trainer who’ll saddle runners for Saturday’s edition of the race.

Dr Post and Farmington Road both shipped to New York last week from Pletcher’s Florida base of Palm Beach Downs. They breezed in company Sunday at Belmont, moving four furlongs in :48.87.

“Both of them seemed like they handled the main track at Belmont very well,” Pletcher said. “So, fingers crossed everything continues to go as smoothly as it has this week so far.”

St. Elias Stable campaigns Dr Post, a US$400,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland’s 2018 September sale. He debuted with a fourth-place effort last July at Belmont, then resurfaced for his 3-year-old bow with a victory March 29 at Gulfstream.

The 1 1/16-mile Unbridled was Dr Post’s first stakes race and offered the colt a few challenges. He ran in tight quarters early on, bumped rival Attachment Rate on the backstretch, then was sandwiched between that one and Americanus coming for home before squeezing through and scoring by 1 1/2 lengths.

Dr Post “got a lot of education that day,” Pletcher said.

“For a lightly raced horse, we were happy that not only was he able to win, but he was able to overcome some adversity,” the trainer said.

Chrysalis Stables LLC campaigns its homebred Farmington Road alongside Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert LaPenta. The colt raced twice as a 2-year-old before breaking his maiden Jan. 12 at Tampa Bay Downs in his first start of 2020.

Farmington Road moved from that effort onto the Triple Crown trail. He was fourth in a division of Fair Grounds’ Risen Star Stakes (G2), second April 11 in the Oaklawn Stakes, then fourth in Nadal’s division of the Arkansas Derby.

Pletcher said Farmington Road lacks early speed but possesses “a good, sustained run” for strong closing efforts. The trainer expects the field to be more compacted Saturday than it would be in the Belmont’s traditional 12-furlong format, which should give the late-running colt less ground to make up.

“These one-turn scenarios, I think you’ll see the group a little closer together,” Pletcher said. “Hopefully that’ll be to the benefit of Farmington Road, who instead of being way out contention early on will hopefully be in contact with the main part of the field.”