by Noel Michaels
Notwithstanding the victory in 2018 of Triple Crown winner Justify, the Belmont Stakes (G1) is truly one of the great unheralded graveyards for favorites in all of horse racing. It has become increasingly difficult for a horse who has already won, or even competed, in both of the first two legs of the Triple Crown to win the Belmont Stakes. Because of this, no matter how good the favorite might look in the Belmont Stakes, it is still worthwhile to bet against them.
Part of the reason favorites do badly in the Belmont Stakes is because they are usually already depleted after having run in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1), and are facing off against fresher horses. Additionally, the Preakness, in particular, seems to have become a negative key race in terms of running successfully in the Belmont Stakes.
Dating back to Commendable in 2000, 10 of the last 19 Belmont Stakes winners had not run a race in the five weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont. When you narrow it to four weeks out from the Belmont to accommodate horses exiting the local prep race in the Peter Pan (G2), then 12 of the 19 Belmont winners had at least a four-week layoff going into the race.
Belmont winners Tapwrit, Creator, Palace Malice, Union Rags, Summer Bird, Jazil, Birdstone, Empire Maker and Commendable had all run in the Kentucky Derby but skipped the Preakness in favor of other methods of readying for the Belmont Stakes. Filly Rags to Riches had no race between the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and the Belmont.
Tonalist and Drosselmeyer , the 2014 and 2010 Belmont winners, skipped both the the Kentucky Derby or Preakness but did have a race in the Peter Pan and Dwyer Stakes (G2), respectively. They won the Belmont off four-week layoffs. Before that Lemon Drop Kid was a troubled also-ran in the Derby who also competed in the Peter Pan, which has proven to be an effective Belmont Stakes prep in recent history and is a good place to look for a longshot.
Belmont Stakes winners of yore usually were war horses who danced every dance in the Triple Crown series, but that’s no longer the trend to look for in a Belmont winner. A quintet of recent Belmont winners – Tonalist (2014), Drosselmeyer (2010), Da’ Tara (2008), Rags to Riches (2007) and Sarava (2002) – were making their Triple Crown debuts in the third jewel. The new shooters in this season’s Triple Crown races who are entered in the Belmont Stakes are Joevia, Sir Winston and Intrepid Heart.
This year, only Preakness winner War of Will will have raced in all three Triple Crown races. That has to be considered a negative in terms of his chances to win. Also, Everfast and Bourbon War are exiting the Preakness three weeks ago, which is a possible knock against those contenders.
Finally, the group of Belmont Stakes-bound horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby and then skipped the Preakness, giving them the experience of running in the Derby and also the benefit of five weeks off between races, are Master Fencer, Tax, Spinoff and Tacitus. This year’s advantage could go to these horses, not only to win but also in the exactas and trifectas if you are betting the exotics.
Best of luck!
PHOTO: Master Fencer (c) Horsephotos.com/Kathleen O’Leary