Betting the 2016 Belmont Stakes? Check out these critical handicapping tips and angles on the final leg of the Triple Crown before you do.
Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator is the 9-5 morning-line favorite to win the 2016 Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown. Breaking from the No. 11 post, the son of Curlin will take on 12 other three-year-olds vying for the $1.5-million purse in the 148th edition of the “Test of Champions.” One horse he will not have to contend with is this year’s Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, pulled out of consideration with a fever and elevated white blood cell count following a third-place finish at Pimlico.
Behind the Derby, the Belmont is the second-best betting race of the Triple Crown trio historically. Aptly nicknamed “Big Sandy” because of its size and composition, the main track presents a host of different challenges for the field, which can throw horses and bettors for a loop. Principal of all is its 1-1/2 mile circumference, the longest dirt thoroughbred racetrack in North America. Additionally, asked to make one complete circle of the course, this race matches the longest distance on dirt three-year olds must traverse.
Stamina is key to winning the race. Considering such unique demands, in order to uncover a profitable wager, let us look at three factors to consider when handicapping the card: distance, pedigree, and running style.
Distance and Stamina
One must consider modern thoroughbred training methods when capping the Belmont. Throw out the idea that a horse needs to be well rested to win the event. Bettors should look for contenders in tip-top shape, ready to stretch it out for the log haul. The 1-1/2 mile distance is difficult for any horse to win—yet alone, a young, developing three-year-old carrying 126 pounds. Like humans, horses need to be conditioned to run long distances, but training and racing methods over the last few decades have traced backwards in regards to featuring stamina. Let’s use this information to our advantage.
Beginning primarily in the 1980s, many influential trainers with quarter-horse backgrounds, like the legendary D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, advocated speed with shorter and lighter workout regimens to prep for and win races. Their success helped lead to smaller amounts of exercise per week industry wide, as the number of breezes dropped from two or more a week to typically one. Racing frequency also decreased to an average of every three weeks, as opposed to 10-14 days in-between before. Overall, American trainers tend to shy away from training and racing for long distances, and place a greater emphasis on speed and recovery. In the 1930s or 1940s, for example, it was not uncommon to see a horse breeze six or seven times between the Preakness and the Belmont
With this in mind, in the last four decades, for example, every winner of the Belmont raced within 36 days, or five weeks of the event. Each horse meets this criterion this year. As far as conditioning goes, look for entries with at least two workouts if coming out of the Preakness or similar, and three to four if entering via the Derby. Both angles offer plus EV historically, as opposed to too little exercise.
Breeding and Stamina
Breeding strategies over the last four or five decades have favored quickness over long-distance running as well. Pedigree and the popular dosage index classification system, which measures the ratio of speed to stamina in a horse’s bloodline, has taken a bit of a hit in recent years when used as a handicapping tool for the Triple Crown races. For decades, one hoped to see a number below 3.0, which signified enough stamina to reach the classic distances making up the series with ample speed. The last three winners of the Derby and Preakness, however, have eclipsed this mark, attesting to the emphasis on speed throughout the last few generations.
The Belmont, because of its distance, still sees winners settling below the 3.0 threshold, typically. Since 1978, only five victors of the race carried a dosage score of 4.0 or greater, as opposed to eight each for the Derby and Preakness. American Pharoah nabbed the Triple Crown with a 4.33 score last year. Only one entry sits above this mark this year, Suddenbreakingnews (4.20), while five surpass 3.0: Governor Malibu (3.31), Cherry Wine (3.80), Gettysburg (3.80), Trojan Nation (3.44), and Exaggerator (3.40).
Moreover, over the last two decades, the winner often comes out of a sire who won one of the Triple Crown races or Breeders Cup Classic. Only one horse, Exaggerator, hits this mark in 2016. His sire, the legendary Curlin, won the Preakness and Breeder’s Cup Classic in 2007.
Running Style and Stamina
Nearly 60 percent of dirt route races are won by horses that run on or near the lead through the first half mile. It is difficult for them to find the perfect balance of speed, grip, and stamina on the surface to pass their peers down the stretch after running a mile or more, particularly with young horses. To do so from far back, the race has to set up in unlikely ways.
William Quirin’s speed points (0-8), found on Brisnet Past Performances, are a fabulous tool to help determine a horses running style. In the Triple Crown series, bettors should favor those in the 2-to-5 range. This is the sweet spot. Not only do these runners stay within striking distance of the leaders, but also their pressing or stalking styles allow them to expend their energy evenly over the course of the long race. Since 2000, horses with 6 speed points or more are just 1 for 24 in the Belmont. The lone winner: American Pharoah. Governor Malibu (4), Destin (4), Stradivari (5), and Seeking the Soul (4) are the runners within this zone this year.
Final Analysis – Fade the Favorite?
It is no secret that betting the favorite to win every race will lose you a lot of money in the long term. Across America, the chalk wins roughly 35 percent of all races, losing nearly 15 percent of one’s investment in the process. The discrepancy is even greater in the Belmont where underlays are rampant. Historically, the favorite wins 42 percent of the time, losing nearly 23 percent of one’s investment over the last century. Media hype, overconfidence, and souvenir tickets backing Triple Crown candidates are partly to blame for the loss of value.
Exaggerator is not a false favorite by any means, and it would not shock to see him win the race. But is his price at 9-5 worth it? Does it present value? This is what bettors must answer before making a wager. There are some red flags regarding colt’s breeding, conditioning, and running style headed into the event. But he did overcome similar issues in the slop at Pimlico. He will need to challenge early like in the Preakness, but be careful not to run up too hard against the speed horse Gettysburg at the half.
Todd Pletcher’s Destin (6-1) and Stradivari (5-1) appear most likely to give the favorite a test. The former is particularly intriguing, as it appears the top New York trainer has been pointing the son of Giant Causeway toward the race since his Tampa Bay Derby win in March. Cherry Wine (8-1) closed like freight train in the Preakness after hitting the gate at the start, and looks to be “live” entering the race. While Lani (20-1), who has found loads of trouble in his other Triple Crown trips, has yet to show Americans his best race and could cause a stir. This tandem will make up our trifecta ticket: 2-5-11/2-3-5-11/2-3-5-10-11