2011 Belmont Stakes Handicapping Trends
by Trevor Whenham - 6/1/2011
The Belmont is run every year on the same weekend over the same distance at the same track by horses of the same age. Needless to say, then, there are some strong trends that have emerged over the years that can help guide us towards the winners and away from the losers. Here are six of the more interesting Belmont Stakes handicapping trends that could influence the outcome in 2011:
The inside posts are not friendly - When a race is as long as this one is you wouldn’t think where you start really matters, but it appears to. Five of the last six winners have started in gate seven or higher. Only two of the last 10 winners have started inside of that No. 7 hole, and those two — Summer Bird and Birdstone — were in the No. 4 spot. It’s up to you to decide if this trend is established enough to be meaningful, but it certainly appears that the inside three spots are not the place to be. The average post position for winners in the last 16 years has been 7.1.
Longshots are lovable - Favorites have not fared very well in the Belmont — just two have won in the last 15 years. That has left the door open for a lot of longshots. Lemon Drop Kid came home at 30/1 in 1999, and Commendable was 19/1 the next year. Sarava set a record in 2002 when he won at 70/1. Birdstone, the sire of Mine That Bird and 2009 Belmont winner Summer Bird, was 36/1 in 2004. Da’ Tara was an incredibly unlikely winner at 38/1 in 2008. That’s five very fat winners in 15 years. Longshots stand a better-than-average chance in this race because horses are being asked to run much further than they have ever run before, and some horses just aren’t up to it while others really take to it. If you like a horse that goes off at a long price you shouldn’t be shy about it. Longshots are a lousy idea in the Preakness, but not here.
Fear the iron horse - The idea of a horse running in all three legs of the Triple Crown is a very romantic notion. Unfortunately, starting in both the Derby and the Preakness has proven to be a lousy way to prepare for the Belmont recently. Only one of the last nine winners of the Belmont — Afleet Alex in 2005 — had previously started in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Trainers have become more and more careful with their race selection and long layoffs between races have become the norm, so it just doesn’t seem like horses are up to the brutal challenge of three tough races in five weeks. That doesn’t mean that you should not bet on Animal Kingdom, Shackleford or Mucho Macho Man. It just means you be particularly confident in the choice before you do back them.
Triple Crown experience is important, but not as important as it used to be - First the big picture — 13 of the last 17 Belmont winners had previously run in at least one of the two legs of the Triple Crown. That’s a solid trend. The problem, though, is that the strength of that trend has taken a big hit in recent years. Three of the last four winners — Rags to Riches, Da’ Tara, and Drosselmeyer — were making their Triple Crown debut in the Belmont. There are a lot of horses in the Belmont Stakes field with Triple Crown experience this year, so there is a solid chance that the trend will get back on track.
Pay attention to the sires - Horses that win the Belmont tend to come from very impressive sires. Five of the last 10 winners of the race were sired by winners of Triple Crown races. Two more sires won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Drosselmeyer was sired by Distorted Humor, the sire of — among many other great horses — dual Classic winner Funny Cide. The other two sires from among the last 10 were Northern Afleet and Seeking The Gold — both top sires with impressive pedigrees of their own. The breeding of these horses is a real determining factor in their success.
Jockey experience helps - As a general rule the Belmont favors jockeys that both have a lot of experience on the unique track at Belmont, and who have had lots of success in the biggest races in the country. This is a very tactical race, so experience often pays off. If you look back at the winning jockeys over the last 25 years, it’s mostly like a roll call for the Hall of Fame.
It’s important to note, though, that some less experienced guys have broken through occasionally. In particular, the four-year stretch from 2005 to 2008 featured three winning riders — Jeremy Rose, Fernando Jara, and Alan Garcia — that were far from the most experienced in the race. In fact, they all won the race in their first try, and none of them had done great in other major races to a significant degree, either. Garcia rode longshot Da’ Tara, so there is no explaining his win. Rose and Jara were both on very good horses, though — Afleet Alex and Jazil, respectively.
You could craft a general rule here, then — if you are going to bet on a jockey that isn’t among the elite then be very sure that the horse he is on is a good one. Otherwise, stick with the best of the short men.
Doc’s Sports will release our expert Belmont Stakes picks for the third leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday, June 11. You can purchase our full Belmont package for just $20. You will get Doc’s win-place-show bets plus a variety of exotics for one low price, and if we don’t show you a profit then our next batch of horse racing picks come free of charge. Doc is an expert against the Belmont odds and he has been putting in lots of extra time on this race and thinks there will be some big profits on Saturday.
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