Ok kids, time to wrap up what constitutes the entire horse racing season for most of the American viewing public. The very fact that you, my loyal readers, are still with me at this point is either a testament to my ability to slickly package mediocre handicapping or owing to general boredom. Regardless, I am humbly appreciative for your time and attention.
Thanks to technology, a pop-up on my phone this time of year allows me to re-live the experience of seeing two Triple Crown winners, the first of which (AMERICAN PHAROAH, 2015) still ranks as a Top 10 sports experience in my life. Three years later, when JUSTIFY hit the tape well clear of the Belmont field, he did so in a fashion no less impressive than his predecessor. Yet, the race (and the whole day, really) lacked a little bit of the nervous excitement and energy that would typically accompany a Triple Crown attempt, given that it had happened relatively recently. Or, perhaps the Belmont crowd remembered that the LIRR marooned them in Queens in 2015, and they were dreading to see what fun and exciting issues their trip home had in store this time around. Whatever the cause, the preceding account serves only as a convenient jumping off point for the write-up to follow and is not meant to suggest that the 151st running of the Belmont Stake will be lacking for excitement. With a Triple Crown not on the line and a modest (and even) field of 10 runners, this year’s raceshould nonetheless provide more than enough entertainment to the eye and opportunity at the pari-mutuel window.
To get caught up to speed…following a Kentucky Derby that was marred by a controversial decision to DQ the “winner” (MAXIMUM SECURITY) for the first time in the race’s history, the Preakness entrants arrived at Pimlico to face a viewing public that still had a bad taste in itsmouth. Fortunately, WAR OF WILL (the horse most affected by the Derby infraction) put forth an impressive and professional effort, en route to a 1 length Preakness victory. The win validated the decision from the Churchill stewards in a way that was immediately apparent to the casual follower. And having emerged from that race in good condition, WAR OF WILL will man (horse?) the 9 post at Belmont tomorrow, giving the Belmont Crowd a familiar snout to root for.
As for the race itself, faithful followers of this writeup already know that the unique length of the race and track design make handicapping the Belmont Stakes particularly challenging. The sheer size of the sweeping turns and massive homestretch of the Belmont Park oval present a challenge for jockeys that is completely unique and requires absolutely perfect timing. However, the manner in which the race generally plays out is somewhat counterintuitive. Consider that: 1) since 1952, 93% of Belmont Stakes winners have been in either 1st or 2nd at the top of the stretch, 2) since 1905, the most winners (24) have come from the #1 post, and 3) the deep, sandy footing is far more difficult to close into than strips with harder, more densely-packed surfaces. In light of this information, a picture emerges of a race that typically favors pacesetting and tactical-speed runners.
However, the horse is only half the equation. As it pertains to the Belmont Stakes, thoroughbred purists consider a jockey’s skill to be just as great a contributing factor to success as the skill of their mounts. For all these reasons, I have an unabashed bias toward local jockeys when marking up my sheets. The unique challenges present in this race are more easily dealt with by riders that race and train over the very same strip every day. This is especially true this year, with the G2 Brooklyn Invitational (a race the same distance as the Belmont Stakes) removed from undercard. My read on this year’s race – with its noticeable lack of early speed and handful of deep closers – is largely reflected in this bias. I believe that it will be the jockey who can best meter their horse’s speed while keeping them forwardly positioned that will earn the win honors and the right to go tear it up in neighboring Bellerose Terrace.
One final note on my picks before we wrap this up. I’m somewhat agnostic on the top 2 finishers and will be using them interchangeably. It makes sense to take this approach with most major stakes races (particularly with 3-year old horses), or if you just prefer to also mix in birthdays and anniversaries. If you do take that route, I’d recommend doing it in exactas or trifectas (like you’re supposed to) and NOT exclusively in superfectas, which are pretty much impossible to hit. You wouldn’t want to cost yourself a couple thousand dollars (from a $24wager) just because you made that kind of amateur mistake. Of course, this is just advice and not AT ALL from recent personal experience. Bottom line, don’t make the same mistake that someone probably just made.
It's supposed to be an absolutely gorgeous day here in New York tomorrow – a perfect day to 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. Breaking with tradition (not willfully), I won’t be one of the anticipated 90,000 in attendance this year. So if you want to get together, talk horses, and discuss the inevitable announcement of tariffs against Puerto Rico, you’ll have to call my cell phone. As always, a special shout out to Biz and the rest of the railbirds, checking in from wherever they are now that the Downs has closed up shop. Hope you all have a great weekend. We'll do it all over again next May....
Advice from our resident Horseman:
2) TACITUS10WILL BE BOXING IN AN
3) INTREPID HEART8EXACTA/TRIFECTA
LONG SHOT – SIR WINSTON7BUSY COLT FIRED TRIPLE-DIGIT BEYER
FIGURE OVER SAME TRACK LAST RACE
KEY FACTS & FIGURES
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!