Better Stick to Exotic Bets for the Belmont
by Greg Melikov - 06/05/2008
Handicapping the Belmont Stakes since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978 has been a snap for those playing against a possible 12th Triple Crown champ, but only on the front end.
However, exotic bettors needed the Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner to finish second or third in eight of the 10 races to cash tickets.
Of the four exactas with TC hopefuls finishing second, only the '04 Belmont paid three figures: While Birdstone returned $74 to win for $2, the exacta with Smarty Jones paid $139. Ah, but the $2 trifecta proved very rewarding: $1,589.
The most lucrative trifecta came in '99 when Lemon Drop Kid, paying $61.50 on the front end, edged Vision and Verse, who returned $44.40 to place, combined with Charismatic for a $5,343 trifecta.
>From '79 when Spectacular Bid ran third to '04, six odds-on favorites lost, but five hit the board. Meanwhile, four odds-on choices scored: Swale, '84 Kentucky winner; A. P. Indy, '92, who missed the first two TC legs because of an injury; Thunder Gulch, '95 Kentucky Derby victor; and Point Given, '01 Preakness winner.
Some experts say the Belmont is one of the most difficult races to handicap because of the distance. Maybe! Some say pay attention to recent performances because horses are more likely to score in top condition. Yes!
Some point out the field is usually smaller and the track is wide with sweeping turns so traffic usually isn't a problem. Yes!
Others point out horses that rally from far back don't usually win and those with good tactical speed that stalk just off the pace and have enough stamina to accelerate down the stretch prevail. Absolutely!
Pedigree can be an important factor as well since all the horses will have to go farther than they ever have before. While a surprising number of winners in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness outrun their breeding, the Belmont is called the true "Test of the Champion."
However, it makes sense to handicap the third leg of the Triple Crown like you would the first two and avoiding picking a horse solely on pedigree if the animal never showed any ability to win at 1 1/8 miles or beyond.
Big Brown drew the inside post in the 140th Belmont Stakes and is the early 2-5 favorite He could go off at lower odds on Saturday after his bullet breeze of one minute for five furlongs on Tuesday.
The odds-on favorite that came closest to achieving immortality since '79 was Real Quiet in '98 who fell a nose short. Ironically, Kent Desormeaux was aboard the runner-up that day - Big Brown's rider.
Rick Dutrow Jr. is as cocky as ever. While the trainer told BloodHorse.com he preferred an outside post, he wasn't disturbed when his horse drew No. 1. "I just can't see a post getting him beat. It doesn't matter what post he drew. He is much better than these horses."
Since Belmont records have been kept since '05, the inside post produced the most winners: 23. The last winner to draw the rail was Empire Maker in '03.
The early second choice at 7-2 is Casino Drive, the Peter Pan winner, who drew No. 5, the next winningest post tied with No. 3 with 13 victories. Edgar Prado, who will be aboard the son of Mineshaft, is going for his third Belmont triumph as a Triple Crown spoiler.
The last 10-horse field was in '89 when Easy Goer dashed odds-on Sunday Silence's TC dreams.
The most likely way to make any money on the Belmont is to play the exotics and leave out either Big Brown or Casino Drive.