What does it take to win the Belmont?

The longest tenured of the Triple Crown races, known to racing fans as the “Test of the Champion” is only ten days away.  For the 143rd time the Belmont Stakes will be conducted, as 3YOs aspiring for Classic glory will go once around America’s largest dirt oval.  Using the last ten years as a bit of a guide, let’s take a look at what might be considered some Belmont “rules” and some Belmont myths.

MYTH #1- Closers have an edge in the Belmont because of the distance of the race.

Annually, there is a horse who makes a relatively meaningless late move in the Kentucky Derby and that horse is immediately stamped as a Belmont horse.  The list is endless.  In the last ten runnings of the Belmont the winner has been more than 3 lengths out with four furlongs to go exactly twice.  The correlation between those two winners is pretty clear, as they were Birdstone in 2004 and his son, Summer Bird, in 2009.  Each were about 5 lengths off the pace with a half-mile to run.  Otherwise, in the last ten runnings two horses were in the lead after one mile, three more were between a head and one and a half lengths out, and the other three were between two and 2 3/4 lengths out.

RULE #1 – Horses with speed excel in the Belmont

Now, I’m not necessarily talking about frontrunning types, but clearly horses who have shown the tactical speed to stay within range of the pacesetters have an inherent edge.  Dale Romans offered this statement to Gene Kershner after the Preakness in discussing Shackleford’s Belmont hopes: “You know, Woody Stephens said a long time ago, Belmont is a speed horse’s race. Everybody’s tired at the eighth pole, so the horse on the lead can usually keep going.”  In 2007, the filly Rags to Riches stumbled badly at the start and raced wide around the first turn of the Belmont.  On the backstretch, sensing the moderate pace, jockey John Velazquez moved her towards the leaders.  A confirmed stayer and late runner, Rags to Riches had the tactical speed to move to within a length and a half of the lead with a half-mile to run.  She, of course, took over outside the quarter pole and won one of the most stirring renditions of the Belmont in the last 25 years.

MYTH #2 – Newcomers need not apply

Trainer Todd Pletcher broke a winless skid in Triple Crown races when Rags to Riches won in 2007.  In the last 10 years trainers who had never won a Triple Crown race won the Belmont in 2002, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2010.  That goes to show you that the Belmont being much more of a “specialist” type of race, it removes the necessity for a trainer to have had past Triple Crown success. 

RULE #2 – Be VERY careful with Preakness runners

You may find it surprising but the combined record of horses who were exiting the Preakness Stakes in the last ten years is a paltry 2-27.  In eight of the last ten runnings the favorite was a horse who had run in the Preakness and the only two that obliged were Point Given in 2001 and Afleet Alex in 2005.  The ROI on all Preakness starters trying the Belmont in the last ten years is $0.34.  In a year such as this where you have a couple of very high profile Belmont entrants exiting the Preakness this statistic will be put to the test.

RULE #3 – Local preps help

Seven of the last ten Belmont winners had started previously over the strip known as “Big Sandy.”  The exceptions were Summer Bird, Rags to Riches, and Sarava.  Each of those three horses were either trained by NY-based horsemen and/or had ample training time over the Belmont oval.  This is part of the reason why trainer Graham Motion is planning to send Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom to NY for a final workout on Monday.

With the Belmont draw a week away the field remains somewhat fluid.  However, the prospects of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners being in the field is tremendous.  That would occur for the first time since 2005 if it happens.  Check back here over the next ten days for updates and more thoughts on the Belmont.

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2 Responses to “What does it take to win the Belmont?”

  1. Geno Says:

    Nick,

    Very interesting post, especially the data on the Preakness winners.

    PS Thanks for the mention.

    Gene

  2. Mary Says:

    Agree this is very interesting. Hope you’ll post more of the myths and facts. I would especially like to see any facts as related to pedigree.

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