2014 Belmont Stakes Handicapping: Live Long Shots
by Trevor Whenham - 6/3/2014
For a lot of reasons I keep finding myself going back to the 1999 Belmont Stakes when I think about California Chrome and his bid for history this year. I was quite sure Charismatic was going to win the Triple Crown that year, and so were bettors - though Menifee was bet down more as the second choice than any horse is likely to be this year. Things didn't go as planned, and Charismatic hobbled home third on a broken leg.
Two massive long shots - 30/1 Lemon Drop Kid and 55/1 Vision and Verse - took advantage of the situation. The payoffs were absolutely staggering - $1,537 on the exacta and $5,343 on the trifecta even though the heavy favorite was a part of it. It's a good reminder of two truths about this race - no favorite is guaranteed of anything, and long shots can and often do come through.
That was far from the only time in the last couple of decades that big-priced horses have prevailed. Three horses since then have paid more than $70 to win in the race - including Sarava in 2002 at 70/1. Betting long shots in this race has been far from a bad idea. In fact, over the last dozen years you could have made a positive ROI of more than 80 percent by betting every horse to win each year. That doesn't happen in races that favorites shine in.
So, if underdogs are so attractive in the Belmont in general, are there any in the field this year that stand out? Let's take a look at the five longest shots on the board at this point (all odds are from Sportsbook.ag):
Commissioner (+3500): This horse has raced against several Triple Crown participants this spring, and he hasn't looked very good against any of them. He just hasn't looked like he is of the same class, and my initial response would be to toss him out.
There are three reasons to give him at least some consideration, though. First, while trainer Todd Pletcher is hopeless at the Derby, he has actually been solid at the Belmont. He has won two of the last seven races, including last year with Palace Malice, and has done that while running far fewer horses than he does in the Derby. He is at home in New York, and he is almost an asset here.
Second, the horse has almost laughably good Belmont breeding. His sire, A.P. Indy, won the race. So did grandsires Touch Gold and Seattle Slew, and great-grandsire Secretariat. This horse is as bred for this race as a horse can be.
Finally, Javier Castellano is on board. He is the top rider in the country right now, and it seems like he wins every race he rides in when in New York. He can get the most out of the horse on this track.
I'm not at all convinced it all makes him a contender, but it's a lot to digest at least.
Social Inclusion (+3500): Let me start by saying that I doubt that this horse is ultimately entered in this race. The starting gate issues will be the excuse, but that just masks that he is better suited for a shorter challenge.
That being said, when a horse that was the second betting choice in the Derby, and the third-place finisher in the Preakness, is going off at a price like this then he is worth a look. He has yet to reach his full potential, but the talent is immense.
Matterhorn (+4000): My late mother taught me that if you can't say anything nice then you shouldn't say anything at all. With her words in mind, let's move on to the next horse.
Kid Cruz (+5000): When this horse won the Federico Tesio at Pimlico, he gained a fair bit of buzz heading into the Preakness. He wasn't a favorite by any means, but he was a wise guy pick - especially in the bottom of exotics. He was a non-factor, though, and looked totally out of place. After that performance it seems unlikely that he can be a factor here, though his sire in 1999 winner Lemon Drop Kid, who we talked about at the outset.
Matuszak (+5000): Yet another 1999 reference - it was Bill Mott who trained Vision and Verse. He had that horse surprisingly ready for the race as he did in 2010 when Drosselmeyer pulled off the mild upset. Mott doesn't throw a ton of horses at the Triple Crown like other Hall of Fame types like Pletcher, Lukas or Baffert do, so his record of success from a small sample size is at least a little compelling.
The horse has looked very good in recent training, has the great Mike Smith in the saddle, and has very good breeding - a son of Preakness winner
Bernardini, and the immortal Mr. Prospector is his damsire. Add it all up, and it is harder than it should be to leave this 50/1 shot out of your exotics.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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