We are less than two weeks away from the Belmont Stakes. I don’t know about you, but the closer we get to I’ll Have Another’s shot at history the more nervous and excited I get.
To help pass the time I thought I’d take a look at some recent Belmont Stakes handicapping trends. Unfortunately, most of them don’t seem to improve I’ll Have Another’s chances in the big race:
Triple Crown attempts
The obvious focus of the race this year will be whether I’ll Have Another can join the select ranks of racing giants that have won the Triple Crown.
When Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown in 1977 just four years after Secretariat, and then Affirmed did it again the next year, it must have seemed like it had become the easiest feat in sports. Time and again since then, though, we have been shown just how tough it really is.
Eleven different horses since 1979 have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and none of those 11 have won the Belmont. Some have come very close — Real Quiet was within a nose, and Smarty Jones and Silver Charm looked to have a good shot in the stretch.
The combination of the distance, the pressure, the fresher horses in the race, and the grueling challenge of three races in five weeks in an age where horses often get a five-week break between starts has been too much to overcome. That’s a strong trend for I’ll Have Another to overcome here.
Longshots have been paying off
Last year in the Belmont Animal Kingdom and Nehro were the favored runners, but it was 25/1 longshot Ruler on Ice that came through for the win. That was the sixth time in 16 years that a horse at 25/1 or higher won the race — a far higher rate of success for longshots than is typical in most races. On top of that, the favorites — which typically win a third of all races — have only won twice over that time.
It’s hard to know for sure why the results in this race tend to be so unpredictable. However, it’s likely that the massive challenge of the distance and the fact that the favorite has probably already run in at least one Triple Crown race (so he’s bound to be tired) that has a lot to do with it.
Whatever the reason, this is another reason to be nervous about I’ll Have Another — certain to be a very heavy favorite here.
Iron horses have struggled
Optimizer and obviously I’ll Have Another are the only two horses this year poised to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown. That feat of stamina has become increasingly rare.
It has become particularly rare to see a horse that has run in the previous two races come out on top in the Belmont. In the last 10 year only Afleet Alex in 2005 has managed to pull it off.
Last year there were three iron horses in the Belmont, and they couldn’t manage to finish better than fifth in an underwhelming Belmont Stakes field. That’s yet another reason to be nervous about the chances of I’ll Have Another — or the value he offers at what will surely be a microscopic price.
Previous Triple Crown experience
This is a perfect example of how the time frame matters when you look at a trend. Over the last 18 years, 13 Belmont winners have run in at least one previous Triple Crown race. That would make it seem like that earlier experience was very important to success here.
When you tighten the time frame, though, things change entirely.
In the last five years only one Belmont winner — Summer Bird in 2009 — had run in a previous Triple Crown race. That’s a complete reversal of the past.
The sample size is still too small to assume that this is a new trend, but it is certainly compelling — and another strike against I’ll Have Another.
Here’s something that finally works in I’ll Have Another’s favor. His jockey, Mario Gutierrez, is in the midst of one of the most unlikely runs in the history of the sport.
Six months ago he was a totally unknown jockey in the minor leagues of the sport in Vancouver. He was seen working a horse, given a shot on a 43/1 longshot in a February stakes race in California, and that horse is now on the verge of a Triple Crown. It sounds too good to be true.
He will be making his first-ever ride over the Belmont surface in the week before the big race. The track is longer than any he has ever seen, and the race itself is very tactical because pace and timing are so hard to judge.
You’d think that that would mean that a guy who had never run in the Belmont Stakes before would be hard-pressed to win it in his first try. While the winning jockeys are largely the greats of the sport, since 2005 we have seen three different riders win the race in their first try.
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