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The Belmont – it’s the weakest link
by Geir Stabell / Globeform
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Take a look at these names: Thomas Jo, Sunday Break, Royal Assault, Nolan’s Cat, Indy Storm and Sunriver. Have you heard of them all? Probably not. Can you guess what they have in common?


Well, remembering that Sunriver hit the board in Belmont Stakes a year ago, you may guess that’s what they all did. Correct, and the six did so within the last ten years. They had all done precious little going into the final leg of the Triple Crown where they all boosted the trifecta and superfecta payoffs. What did they achieve afterwards? Well, let’s put it this way; they all went on the ”reported missing” list.

How could these unknown runners make it into the top three in the Belmont? The answer is quite simple. The Belmont may be the serious stamina test in the series – but is also so often the weakest race.


This year may be different. Very different, as Curlin, Hard Spun and the filly Rags to Riches are all possible starters. This trio should, of course, scare away the ‘no-hopers’ but the history of the Belmont invites connections of longshots to have a go. Let’s examine the third leg of the Triple Crown.

The Belmont is the only Grade One event over 1 ½ miles on dirt in North America. That in itself makes the race quite unique. In addition, it is contested by 3-year-olds only, and it is often the one event where would be Triple Crown winners fail. How can that be, when – as we see from the list above – it is also a race where relatively ordinary runners manage to finish in the top three? Good question. Particularly since there seems to be another difference separating this event from the two first legs of the Triple Crown. The Derby and Preakness has also, on many occasions, had big priced horses hitting the board. But normally they are horses who are on the way up, improvers who confirm the form later. Normally such horses in the Belmont do not. Even not a shock winner, like Sarava. He won at 70-1 in 2002, and did very little afterwards. He was ‘king for a day’.


TRIFECTAS, SUPERFECTAS BEST

As the Belmont field is often small, gamblers want to try trifectas or superfectas. Backing the winner or hitting the exacta is not likely to produce a strong ”over the odds” payout, as is so often the case in the Derby. It is tricky, however, to spot the right longshot to include in these wagering plans, when even a shrewd eye for an improver may not get you anywhere. We have to expect the unexpected. Last year we nailed the Superfecta with a low cost plan based on two horses with guaranteed stamina; Jazil, who won, and Steppenwolfer, who ran fourth. It was an unusually easy ‘Super’, It is not often we have a Belmont with two solid stayers and a good pace scenario.

In an attempt at making some sense of the race, why not take a look at the last ten editions. Just before we get into this, however, let me remind you of one new factor this year. The artificial surfaces. We have seen that horses with turf form do well over Polytracks and Cushion tracks. As we also know that turf runners often stay further than the traditional dirt performers, there may be a case for believing that horses that have done well on artificial surfaces will be well suited to running 1 ½ miles on dirt.

Sarava had been racing on turf in England (and been downright moderate) before his 3yo season. Go And Go, the Irish trained Belmont winner back in 1990, had also raced on turf – and done so to G3 level. This is a complex matter, and not one space allows us to go into here. If horses with turf / artificial surface form fit in well, it probably has to do with breeding. Keep an eye on any combinations of such factors. If a horse exits artificial races in the Belmont and he is also stoutly bred, he may be the one to light up the board.


STAMINA WINS, CLASS WINS

The past ten Belmont winners can be classified into two categories.
First, those who possessed high class and stamina:

Afleet Alex

Empire Maker

Point Given

Lemon Drop Kid

Victory Gallop

Touch Gold

Then we have three horses who simply won the race through stamina, on a day when the class horses did not stay the distance;

Jazil

Birdstone

Sarava

One name is missing, Commendable, who beat Aptitude seven years ago. Aptitude was a better horse, he proved that both before and after the Belmont, and he stayed just as well as Commendable. The Lukas trainee got away with slow early fractions though, and that was how he managed to pull it off. Sometimes riders have too much respect for the Belmont distance, and this was exactly what happened on Commendable’s biggest day. US racing fans are spoilt when it comes to stats and vital information, such as riders’ results overall, at that track, at that meet and so on. If you can get a hold of stats that show which riders have done best in races over 1 ¼ miles or further, use it in your handicapping of the Belmont.


THE BETTING NOT ALWAYS A GOOD GUIDE

How does the betting normally go in the Belmont? That depends most of all on one factor; is there a horse chasing the Triple Crown in the field. If there is, he will be overbet, and you can get good value on the others. As mentioned, the biggest price in recent years was 70-1, but also Lemon Drop Kid’s price was huge, as he won at 30-1. He had been ninth in the Kentucky Derby on his most recent start. Twelve months later, we saw the aforementioned Commendable cause a similar upset, at 18-1. He had finished only eighth at Churchill. This complicates matters even more, as we just found out that a horse that was well beaten at Churchill Downs, where premium is very much on stamina, can win over 1 ½ miles at Belmont.

Sometimes when one is looking for trends, one finds little or nothing of use. And we tend to be disappointed in our own work. Don’t be. Maybe it is quite simply because there are no solid, reliable trends to be found. I feel the Belmont is, to a certain extent, such a race. It is an oddity in the North American racing calendar. Think about it. The horses that run in the Belmont have all been through spring preps over a mile, 1 1/16 miles, some 1 1/8 miles, then had just the one stamina test in their lives; in the Derby. When they get to the Belmont, it is not only the first time they try the distance. It is the only time they run over 1 ½ miles! Which means that, any clues to the puzzle are unlikely to be found in results achieved by Belmont runners after the big race.

Horses as different as Thomas Jo (no, no, no… his name was not ”Thomas Who”...) and Funny Cide have filled third spot in the Belmont. This makes the Trifecta betting tough. And, before you get on the email and ask ”how bad was the Belmont when this Thomas Jo ran third?”...

This is how bad it was: He checked in behind Victory Gallop, whose nose ruined Real Quiet’s Triple Crown dream in 1998. These two had filled the exacta also in the Derby and the Preakness. Yet, the soon to be forgotten Thomas Jo ran third behind these heavyweights. Who was he? He was a useful horse, a gelding, but he was well below top class. He won the Sir Barton and Tesio Stakes, and he was named Texas Horse of The Year. Mainly thanks to his third in the Belmont, where he earned $110,000. That’s the kind of race this is. Occasionally, horses are handsomely rewarded just for turning up.

Can it sometimes be the same for gamblers? Oh, how I wish!

Geir Stabell


DON'T MISS OUR FREE BELMONT DAY SPECIAL - OPENS WEDNESDAY





Last update: 2007-06-05 05:36:59 (First published: 2007-06-05 05:25:40 )

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