Saturday’s Belmont Stakes will be run at a gruelling mile-and-a-half, the longest race each of the entrants has ever run. Without a Triple Crown on the line, TV ratings won’t be huge. And without Nyquist in the field, there will be no rematch between the Derby winner and Preakness champ (Exaggerator).
But let’s not focus on what’s missing. What we will get is a good race to bet. Over the last couple of weeks, I have discussed the basics of handicapping and betting strategy for horse racing. Now let’s go through that process for the Belmont.
Because this is one of the biggest races of the calendar year, you can rest assured that most of the human connections are excellent. Whether you bet on a Dale Romans, Steve Asmussen, Todd Pletcher, or Christophe Clement horse, you are wagering on a top conditioner.
The same can be said of the jockeys: these are the cream of the crop. There may be a slight advantage with riders like Irad Ortiz Jr., John Velazquez, and Javier Castellano, who are based in New York, but most everyone working with this caliber of equine is capable.
As for class handicapping, the majority of these horses have been running against each other. That said, Forever d’Oro and Seeking the Soul are coming off of maiden wins and are up against much tougher competition now. At the other end, you have Exaggerator, who prepped for the Kentucky Derby primarily in California and has raced against the best of the best consistently.
Trojan Nation’s history makes him deserving of his long odds. He still hasn’t won, finishing second in the slow Wood Memorial and finishing up the track at the Kentucky Derby. Stradivari, who made a big jump from a starter allowance win to running at the Preakness, looked to be on par with this type of horse three weeks ago at Pimlico. Destin and Suddenbreakingnews were not disgraced in the Kentucky Derby, and now have had five weeks off.
Pace handicappers were given big news on Monday when it was announced Gettysburg would run in New York. In what appeared to be a paceless race, WinStar Farm, owner of the late-running Creator decided to enter speed horse Gettysburg. (WinStar also has a stake in the breeding rights of Exaggerator.)
Gettysburg is being asked to help set up Creator and Exaggerator. But even with him in the lineup, the tempo is likely to be slower than what we saw at the Derby and Preakness.
Who’s that going to benefit? Stradivari and Destin should be fairly close to the front. A lot of deep closers might need to be closer than normal in order to mount their rally around the second turn. Exaggerator has proven to be the best of the come-from-behind options, though Brody’s Cause, Cherry Wine, Creator, and Suddenbreakingnews, are all possible.
Even if you think Exaggerator is the best horse, it’s tough to take him at even money or shorter. A slow pace isn’t going to help him and he will be one of the more fatigued horses. Along with Lani, Exaggerator is the only horse in the field who raced both the Derby and Preakness. The difficulty in racing three times in five weeks has been illustrated over and over again by the lack of Triple Crown winners.
The weather may play into his hand since there is a good chance of rain, and he is still a deserving favorite in this field, but he doesn’t offer value.
If you are going to bet against Exaggerator, doing so with another closer is a poor approach. That raises the question: who will get the first run on the pace setter?
While Stradivari clearly belongs with this group, I prefer a horse that didn’t run three weeks ago. My win bet will go on Destin. He was off for a long time before the Derby and should be primed for the Belmont. He finished a decent sixth at the Derby, mounting a mild rally around the final turn after a tough start, and his trainer and jockey (Pletcher and Castellano) are as good as it gets in New York. At 15/1 or so, the value is ample.
For the purposes of this article, it is hard to map out a horizontal bet since we are not breaking down the races leading up to the Belmont. That said, Exaggerator and Destin would be As, with Suddenbreakingnews and Stradivari Bs, and maybe Creator as a C. In the event the pace is ridiculously slow, perhaps Gettysburg should be a C, and anyone who will like the extra distance should be covered.
In terms of vertical bets, I’m going to key Destin. I’ll play him for $2 on top of Exaggerator, Suddenbreakingnews, and Stradivari in an exacta, and for $1 over Creator and Gettysburg. I’ll make the same bets the other way: Exaggerator, Suddenbreakingnews, and Stradivari over Destin for $2, and Gettysburg and Creator over Destin for $1.
That’s a total of $16. If Destin is first or second, I expect a decent payout; if Destin finishes in the top-two and Exaggerator doesn’t, the payout could be big.
(Photo credit: Mike L Photo’s (Flickr), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19881355. Photo has been cropped.)
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