2011 Belmont Stakes Predictions: Pace Scenarios
by Trevor Whenham - 6/2/2011
As we get ready for the final leg of this year’s Triple Crown, here are four significant pace factors to think about when you are looking for a Belmont winner: Also, I will provide some predictions on how I think the Belmont Stakes pace will play out for this year’s big race.
Animal Kingdom - If there is one thing we have learned about this horse over his impressive Triple Crown season is that he is not particularly pace dependent. He won solidly chasing a glacially slow pace in the Derby, and almost won the Preakness despite a much faster pace.
Closers like this are often very dependent on a fast pace up front so that the leaders collapse and are easy to chase down. Animal Kingdom isn’t as reliant — in part because he’s not a classic closer type that needs to come from way back like Dialed In. In the Preakness you could argue that he wound up closer to the back than would have been ideal early on, so Velazquez could look to be a bit further forward.
Shackleford - This is a very tough horse to judge in this spot. He’s a front runner that likes the lead, though he showed in the Preakness that he is quite happy not having the lead as long as he is right in contact with the leaders and pressing the pace. As impressive as his Preakness win was, though, there are a lot of reasons I am concerned about this horse here.
For starters, I’m not convinced that his connections will want him on the lead in a race this long, but it’s not immediately obvious who will take the lead in his place. He may be forced into the lead, and then he will have to determine what kind of pace is best here. He has a lot of closers chasing him so he can’t go too fast, but if he goes too slow then the solid talent that will be stalking him will be in good shape to pass him late. It’s a very tough position for him.
Beyond all that, I have serious concerns about his capabilities to hang on even if things go well and he is in the lead rounding the final turn. You can’t take the Preakness win away from him, but if the race was six or eight strides longer he would have been passed, and he definitely looked like he was happy to see the finish line.
The Belmont is 5/16 of a mile longer, so I don’t have a lot of faith that he can find a way around the track that will leave him with enough gas in the tank to win what should be a good fight at the end.
The closers - If I have a concern about this race it’s that all the horses I like best are going to be coming form the back of the Belmont field. Animal Kingdom will be looking to be much closer to the back than the front, and Nehro, Master of Hounds and Brilliant Speed will probably all be happiest if they are behind the Derby winner for the first mile of the race.
There are a couple of problems that can occur when so many quality horses are looking to occupy the same real estate and run the same race. First, they can run into traffic that can cause problems and affect the outcome. More significantly, if the early pace scenario doesn’t work out like the jockeys and trainers are hoping then horses can be forced to do things they aren’t comfortable with, and jockeys can be forced to take risks. That can lead to chaos, and chaos makes a race very tough to handicap.
The stalkers — There are three significant horses that are very likely to settle somewhere between the pace setters and the closers — Mucho Macho Man, Santiva and Stay Thirsty. Mucho Macho Man has run in both Triple Crown races so far, and has been disappointing in both — not terrible, but not nearly as good as I think he can be. He has made a jockey change, and that should lead to a much more tactical race. Santiva was sixth in the Derby and Stay Thirsty was 12th. What they both have in common is that they are much better horses than they looked on that first Saturday in May.
I don’t know if any or all of these horses are going to be at their best in this race, but what I do know is that the presence of the three of them is going to keep this pace quite honest. When there are strong horses in the middle of the pack then neither the speed horses nor the closers can get lazy because if they do then the race will fall apart for them because of the quality of those middle horses.
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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