The Belmont Stakes holds the key for another Triple Crown contender but is the betting odds favorite a lock or should we look for long shots and bigger returns?
Triple Crown Winner Looming
The Belmont Stakes - longest of the Big Three and a mile and a half of chocolate colored quicksand expressly designed to suck the life out of Triple Crown contenders, vanquishing them from the halls of immortality and sending them back into obscurity. This year we have another contender in American Pharoah who has captured the imagination of the horse racing world and made experts out of even casual fans and bandwagon jumpers. But only 11 horses belong to this exclusive club and a new member has not been accepted since 1978, the year Steve Cauthen guided Affirmed into the record books.
Twenty-three horses have failed to win the final leg of the Triple Crown but the number of attempts has increased since the turn of the century. The Belmont has proved to be a graveyard for the hopes of six Triple Crown candidates in only the past 13 years. It is simply a matter of time before this exclusive club swells to a dozen and history could be made if American Pharoah lives up to his billing. But like the groundswell of excitement for California Chrome headed into last year's Belmont Stakes all it takes is for a 9-1 shot like Tonalist to end the dream and make the rest of us wait until next year.
Baffert and Espinoza
Trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza have been there, done that, seen the movie and got the T-shirt. This will be the fourth bite at the elusive apple for Baffert as he trained Silver Charm to Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories in 1997 only to come up short in the Belmont. The following year Baffert got Real Quiet through the first two legs only to falter in the third. Finally, in 2002 Baffert was again on the threshold of captaining War Emblem to equine immortality only to watch hopelessly as his horse finished a disappointing eighth with the same jockey aboard who guided him to victories in the Derby and Preakness...Victor Espinoza.
Speaking of Espinoza it will be the very same Espinoza who will be teamed with Baffert once more to hopefully vanquish their Triple Crown demons. Espinoza has had two previous attempts to make history beginning with the aforementioned War Emblem in '02 and California Chrome last year. Unlike Baffert, who saddled one Belmont Stakes winner in Point Given back in 2001, Espinoza has never crossed the finish line first in the third leg of the Triple Crown. But both men are determined to end their streak of futility courtesy of American Pharoah.
American Pharoah Changes the Game
Our own esteemed writer here at Sportsbookreview.com Jay Pryce dissected the 2015 Preakness with the surgical precision of a trained assassin. Jay adroitly predicted that American Pharoah would be the one to beat as favorites have dominated the Preakness returning a 16% return on a same unit win bet since the race began in 1873. But Jay also gives a wink and a nod to betting against the Preakness winner in the final leg of the Triple Crown.
But here's where Jay and I part company. The bandwagon jumping masses will bet American Pharoah like they're reading June 7th's newspapers. That is usually a recipe for disaster but I would warn against betting against this one. While the Belmont lineup is not cemented the early betting odds have American Pharoah at +105 while the field is -135. The Derby and Preakness winner will probably go off as an even money betting odds favorite when the gates open at the Belmont. But if you watched the Preakness then you breathlessly witnessed the thunder and fury of a three-year-old colt who sprinted to the lead and only got stronger as the finish line neared. American Pharoah bolted to a seven-length victory and put aside any reservations I had about him navigating the additional few furlongs at the Belmont. This colt is not only a sprinter but a router. A stone cold killer that will be the newest member in a very exclusive club. If you're looking for a longshot in this year's Belmont Stakes sports picks, I suggest you wait until next year.