By a quick show of hands: who had CLOUD COMPUTING in the Preakness?
Yeah, me neither. In fact, in the unlikely event that you made it all the way through this year’s Preakness write-up, you would know that I didn’t come close to anything resembling intelligent handicapping. However, you would have also seen that I thoroughly detailed the reasons that the Preakness is always the hardest of the Triple Crown race to forecast, thereby ensuring myself a comfortable hedge against the idiotic advice I was sharing. Chess, not Checkers.
And so, after a reasonable showing in the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes serves as the rubber match for our 2017 Triple Crown handicapping manifesto. So, let’s have a little fun with this one, shall we? The absence of ALWAYS DREAMING, CLOUD COMPUTING, and CLASSIC EMPIRE may have taken some of the sheen off of the public’s perception of this year’s race. However, I believe that it will create an opportunity for juicy payouts at the pari-mutuel window. Along those same lines, consider that the current morning line favorite (EPICHARIS, 4/1) is a Japanese horse, shipping in from Ireland, who has never run in the United States and is currently being treated for some sort of leg issue. And the second choice (IRISH WAR CRY, 7/2) most recently finished 10th, sixteen lengths back of the Kentucky Derby winner. Finally, there’s the pace setup (lots of closers, not much speed) and general oddity that is the 1.5 mile Belmont Park main track. I believe that this confluence of circumstances creates a reasonable opportunity to reclaim some of what was left in Baltimore.
So, from a technical perspective, what happens when the gates open tomorrow? With only 11 entrants, none of whom has shown a particular penchant for causing issues at the gate, the start is expected to be pretty clean. What the race order looks like 150 seconds later will likely be determined within the first quarter mile of the race. IRISH WAR CRY will want to get to the lead, but he has a history of weakening late when pressed. And MEANTIME, breaking from 2 posts further outside, will probably look to do exactly that. Two-time Belmont-winning jockey Mike Smith will not allow IRISH WAR CRY to go loose on the lead, and if the first call is in less than 24 seconds, the second betting choice will be in deep water. EPICHARIS, from the 11 post, will be forwardly placed, as will GORMLEY, creating the potential of moving the pack wide into the first turn.
How heavily the lead is pressured will play heavily into the final race order and, contrary to past years, I’m going to look for the closers to make some noise late.
Despite the marathon distance, the Belmont Stakes is not nearly as favorable to closers as most people believe. The sheer size of the sweeping turns and massive homestretch make timing a closer kick extremely difficult. One second too soon and your horse is empty with 200 yards to go. One second too late and you're getting into stride as the winner's are crossing the finish line. The timing must be perfect. Moreover, the deep, sandy footing of the Belmont oval is far more difficult to close into than strips with harder, more densely-packed surfaces. In fact, since 1952, 92% of Belmont Stakes winners have been in either 1st or 2nd at the top of the stretch. For all of these reasons, the jockey’s ability to read and properly rate their horse is just as important as the horse’s abilities. My final read on the order of finish relies heavily on this dynamic.
One final note before we wrap this up. Loyal followers to this write-up know by now that I do not put too much stock into the made-for-NBC angles that accompany the Triple Crown races. At the end of the day, you’re talking about insane 1200 lb animals (ridden by 90 lb jockeys) cramped within feet of each other until a bell rings and they get kicked in the ribs. Anything that can happen on the track, will. However, I’m breaking from tradition this year and putting a $2 win ticket on PATCH (12/1). In case you don’t already know the story, this horse is missing his left eye, on account of a mysterious infection he suffered as a 1-year old. To add to the bad fortune, he drew the outside post in BOTH the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, meaning that he is unable to see the field, and can only see the grandstand. This is an obvious disadvantage, on top of what is already a debilitating condition. I’ve always been a sucker for an underdog, and this is well worth the price of a small coffee.
It's supposed to be a great day here in New York tomorrow so get together with some family and friends, fire up the BBQ, pop open a few adult beverages, and grab your seat for what promises to be an exciting day of thoroughbred racing . I'll be one of the 50,000 in attendance, so if you'd like to get together, talk horses, and discuss what we can do with all the liquidity in this market, shoot me a line. As always, a special shout out to Biz and the rest of the railbirds up at the Downs. Hope you all have a great weekend. We'll do it all over again next May....
Advice from our resident Horseman:
1) TAPWRIT 2
2) LOOKIN AT LEE 6 WILL BE BOXING IN AN
3) MEANTIME 9 EXACTA/TRIFECTA
LONG SHOT – TWISTED TOM 1 (NY-BRED GETS JOCKEY UPGRADE AS HE SEEKS HIS 4TH STRAIGHT WIN)
KEY FACTS & FIGURES
* The Belmont Stakes winner is draped in a blanket of white carnations (also the official drink of the race until 1997, when it was changed to the Belmont Breeze)
* The Belmont Stakes is often called the "Test of Champions" due to the power and stamina required to conquer the grueling distance, sweeping turns and deep, sandy track
* Coming off a long layoff, TWISTED TOM (20-1) gets a switch to top-flight jockey JJ Castellano. When riding on Chad Brown-trained horses this year at Belmont, Castellano has brought 37% of his mounts to the Winner’s Circle.
* Only MEANTIME (15-1) has raced at Belmont Park (finishing 2nd in the Grade III Peter Pan)
* Of the field of 11 horses, 8 were bred in Kentucky. One was bred in New York (TWISTED TOM, 20-1), one was bred in New Jersey (IRISH WAR CRY, 7/2), and one was bread in Japan (EPICHARIS, 4-1)
* In the previous 148 runnings of the Belmont Stakes, the favorite has won 62 times (42%). Since 1999 there have been five winners at odds of over 24-1 (LEMON DROP KID, SARAVA, BIRDSTONE, DA'TARA, RULER ON ICE). In 3 of the past 4 years, the $2 exacta has paid more than $260
* If you had bet on EVERY starter in EVERY Belmont Stakes for the last 17 years you’d have just about doubled your money
* Since 2000, 14 of the last 16 Belmont Stakes winners had not run in the Preakness
* The weather forecast for race time is 68 F with a 0% chance of rain
Remember, these are just our thoughts and are in no way an endorsement to wager on these horses (or to wager, period). Good luck and enjoy!