by Trevor Whenham - 05/24/2006
The tragic end to Barbaro's racing career and the dismissal of other top Derby contenders has made the Belmont far more of a handicapping challenge than it might have been. Every horse in the field has both a reason to get excited and a major cause for concern. Bernardini is inexperienced, Bob and John flopped last time out, Jazil and Steppenwolfer are closers who were tiring down the Churchill stretch, Oh So Awesome has run mostly in France and underwhelmed in his American debut, and so on. We could get all worked up about trying to figure out what will happen in the race, but instead we'll just focus on past Belmont betting angles that might give us insight into this year's outcome:
The Back End Double - Since Risen Star won both the Preakness and the Belmont, there have been four other horses to replicate the feat. That's five winners out of only 11 Preakness winners that did not previously win the Derby. If you had bet $20 to win on each of the 11 horses that made the Preakness their first Triple Crown win you would be out $220. It would have been a good investment, though, because the winnings would total $342, for a profit or $122, or a return on investment of more than 55 percent. The bet: Bernardini fits.
The Back End Double, Part II - We can't make this too easy for you. The last horse to win the Preakness and Belmont without first running in the Derby was Pillory in 1922. In contrast, 20 horses have run in the Derby and then won the last two races since then. That doesn't look good for Bernardini. On the other hand, one horse to skip Kentucky en route to double glory was Man O' War, so Bernardini could be in good company.
Triple Crown Virgins - Four of the 16 Belmont winners since 1990 won in their first Triple Crown start. Since there are multiple starters every year that start their TC journey in New York, you would think it would be hard to profit on this angle. That's not the case, though, since there have been some huge prices to come through - Sarava at 70-1 in 2002 and Colonial Affair at 14-1 in 1993, for example. The bet: Oh So Awesome is confirmed and may be joined by Lewis Michael, High Cotton and Sunriver. All four will have decent prices, and one or two should be juicy longshots.
A.P. Indy is My Daddy - Bernardini, assuming he runs in the Belmont, will be the fourth A.P. Indy son to run in at least two Classics. None of the previous three have won in New York, but two of the three placed. $20 place bets on each would have cost $60, but return a healthy profit of $28. The bet: Bernardini to place.
Oh Ya, Well Storm Cat is My Daddy - It's hard to believe, but Storm Cat has only had two sons run in the Belmont. Tabasco Cat was the Belmont winner in 1994 and Vision and Verse was second for a huge $44.40 place price in 1999. The bet: Bluegrass Cat is the Storm Cat son who will look to continue the family success.
Skipping the Preakness - There have been 14 horses since 2000 that have skipped the Preakness, but have run in the Derby and the Belmont. Three of those horses have won - Commendable in 2000, Empire Maker in 2003 and Birdstone in 2004. A $20 win bet on each of the 14 horses would have cost $280, but would have stuffed your wallet with a profit of $916. That's a 327 percent ROI. The bet: Bob and John, Jazil and Steppenwolfer are confirmed, and as many as three others may join them.
The Belmont Favorite - Historically, the Belmont favorite has won 44 percent of the races, which is well above the norm for races. The last 15 years, though, haven't been as kind to favorites. Only four of the last 15 top choices have stood in the winner's circle. That's 26.7 percent, which is below the expectations. The bet: You have to decide if the favorite is due in the Belmont, or if the historical trend is being corrected. That will determine whether you want to bet for Bernardini or stay away from him.
The Iron Horse Theory - In the last 10 years, 14 of the 30 horses that finished in the top three in the Belmont had run in all three Triple Crown races. The bet: Probably no one. Sweetnorthernsaint is the only possibility, but a minor hoof injury probably makes him doubtful.
Class Begets Class - Of the last 20 Belmont winners, 14 (an incredible 70 percent) have a Classic-placed stud within the first two generations of their pedigree, proving the overwhelming importance of genetics at the track. The bet: You have some horses to choose from. Bluegrass Cat, High Cotton and Michael Lewis all fit. If you like quantity, then Bernardini and Steppenwolfer have two superstar descendants. The king, though, is Point Determined - all three of the studs in his pedigree placed on the Triple Crown trail.
Count The Syllables - If nothing else makes sense to you, just count the syllables in the horse's name. There have been 25 horses in the last 10 years that have had four syllables in their name. A $20 win bet each would have cost $500, but you would have cashed four winning tickets and scored a profit of $690. A place bet on each would have been profitable, too. The bet: Start counting. Or just settle on Bernardini - he fits.
Count The Syllables, Part II - In 1999, the Lemon Drop Kid, Vision and Verse, Charismatic triactor all had four syllables in their name. It paid $5,343 on a $2 bet. The bet: Starting counting and then get boxing.