Novice horse racing fans pay attention to the Sport of Kings three times a year. First, all eyes turn to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby; then most people watch two weeks later to see if the Derby-winner takes the Preakness. If (s)he does, the Belmont audience is huge when (s)he goes for the Triple Crown.
Some years, the Breeders Cup championships draw a few eyes, and so do boutique meets at Saratoga, Del Mar, and Keeneland. But for the most part, only fairly serious racing fans pay attention. The same goes for the Belmont in years where there is no Triple Crown on the line. That’s too bad, it is easily the best betting event of the three big races, and you bettors should take notice even when there isn’t a Triple Crown hopeful, like this year.
A week from Saturday (June 10, 2017) a large field will contest the mile-and-a-half “Test of a Champion.”
Let’s review the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, sort out what it means going forward, and find some early Belmont Stakes options.
No horse entered the Derby a big favorite after mixed results throughout the prep season. The muddy track and 20-horse field gave a lot of hopefuls major issues. Irish War Cry cut off Tapwrit and slammed into McCraken, who pinballed off of Classic Empire at the start. All four were compromised. However, the tepid favorite, Always Dreaming, got a great trip and coasted home.
Lookin at Lee, a huge longshot, got incredibly lucky, running the entire race on the rail, finding room late, and surging to finish second.
Classic Empire impressively rallied to finish fourth.
Only ten horses entered (five which ran the Derby), and Always Dreaming and Classic Empire were bet as though it was a match race. The two favorites went head-to-head from the get-go on a fast track, and Classic Empire put away Always Dreaming on the final turn. Classic Empire appeared to be home free, but was caught on the wire by 13/1 Cloud Computing. Classic Empire settled for second, ahead of 30/1 Senior Investment. Lookin at Lee ran fourth, and Always Dreaming finished eighth.
Up to 16 horses are considering running in the event. It’s no surprise that quite a few owners and trainers think they have a shot: three of the last four winners (and seven of the last nine) have gone off at odds of 12/1 or higher. The bottom line is that few horses in America are bred to run anywhere remotely close to this far. Furthermore, there is often a big favorite if the Triple Crown is on the line, but running three races in five weeks is incredibly taxing.
Newcomers to the Triple Crown, those who have a familiarity with Belmont Park, or are bred to run long, often have a big advantage in the race.
I would not consider wagering on anybody who has run in both the Derby and Preakness, particularly Classic Empire. He’ll be over-bet and has not shown a desire to get the extra distance. In general, I would prefer a horse who ran in the Kentucky Derby and then took five weeks off versus one who skipped the Derby and ran the Preakness (and is thus coming off a three-week layoff).
It is far too early to make a decision, of course, but we’ll certainly be looking for a price. The kin of Tapit have done very well recently in the Belmont. Of five entrants in the last three years, Tapit disciples have two wins, a second, and a third. Tapwrit has those bloodlines this year.
An interesting longshot will be Epicharis. The Japanese-bred colt finished second in Dubai’s UAE Derby, but elected to skip the Kentucky Derby so that he had more time to acclimate to the U.S. He is bred to like long distances.
Finally, Meantime will be making just his fourth career start at The Belmont. However, he ran second at Belmont Park on May 13 in the Peter Pan Stakes, and his dad, Shackleford, ran fourth in the Kentucky Derby, won the Preakness, and finished fifth at the Belmont in 2011.
Photo credit: Mike Lizzi [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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