2015 Belmont Stakes Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 6/3/2015
So, we are almost there. The Belmont Stakes. The latest date with destiny. Another Triple Crown on the line. It seems like we have a good shot at getting one this year. But we have said the same thing at least a half dozen times in the last 20 years. Will this year be different? Or will cruel history repeat itself once again? The truth is that I have no idea. What I can do, though, is make three Belmont Stakes predictions:
Todd Pletcher holds the cards: Pletcher doesn't have the best horse in the race - that is clearly American Pharoah, whether he wins or not. What Pletcher does have, though, is the ability to determine how the race is run early on. American Pharoah is going to go to the front - we know that. What we don't know, though, is whether he will be able to lead the race like he did in the Preakness or if he will let someone else do it like he did in the Derby.
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Pletcher will decide because he has the two most likely other leaders in the race. Both Materiality and Madefromlucky have shown the tactical speed necessary to lead early on, and both seem capable of messing with the early pace without ruining their race. It's very unlikely that Pletcher would send both to the front - no point in burning your horses in a duel if you don't have to. It is quite possible that he will send one out to ensure an honest early pace, though. Or, he could let American Pharoah set the pace early and then start to push him in the second half mile to see what he is capable of on the day.
The other trainers aren't going to want to mess with American Pharoah before they have to, so they are likely going to be willing to let Pletcher do the dirty work and sit back and await their opportunity. So, Pletcher controls what the race will look like and now just has to figure out the best way to use his resources to make it a fair fight. Or, better yet, an unfair fight - I'm not sure he can beat the favorite in a fair fight.
The early fractions won't be blazing: While Pletcher has the opportunity to make this one crazy early on, I am not expecting things to move quickly early. It won't be totally pedestrian, but they should be moving much slower than they could be through the first half mile.
We have seen some Triple Crown bids thwarted by insane early speeds, but that won't be the case here. In fact, it's quite possible that the second half mile will be faster than the first. You don't see that often in long races like this. However, with the other horses knowing what American Pharoah can do and looking to feel him out slowly, it could easily happen here.
It's a fairly unique situation this year in that American Pharoah has the most speed in the race but little incentive to use any more of that speed than he has to. If a different horse had his speed, he might look to set the tone aggressively, but he can sit back, let the race develop while staying out of trouble, and then make his move at the end. It's the best possible situation for him to be in.
If Carpe Diem or War Story had stayed in the race then he wouldn't be this fortunate, but the defections have really aided his cause.
The losing streak will end… or not: I have gone back and forth on this one more times than I can count. This is less of a prediction than confused muttering at this point.
On one hand, history has taught us that we should be very skeptical of a horse in this race no matter how good he looks. Silver Charm is the best horse I have seen in this same spot, and he was beaten soundly. Real Quiet looked great and got nipped at the wire. Smarty Jones was a great horse who got fried in the middle half mile by a torrid pace and couldn't hold off Birdstone. Big Brown just had no punch on the day. He was cooked. So many good horses weren't able to get it done.
American Pharoah ran a very tough Preakness and is the only horse to run in all three legs of the race. He's going to be tired - as was a factor in getting California Chrome beat last year. Lots of reasons to go against him.
But then I look at how he has worked since the Preakness - two stunning timed efforts which were by far the best we have seen by a horse in this race. And I look at the group up against him - many good horses but none of his caliber when they are at his best. And then I look at horses like Point Given and Afleet Alex. Both horses were the stars of their three year old class, just like American Pharoah is. They both had disappointing Derby days - Point Given was fifth, and Afleet Alex was third. But then both came back to win the Preakness and then both absolutely crushed the Belmont - Point Given by more than 12 lengths and Afleet Alex by seven. They are both contemporary proof that a horse can run three times in five weeks and still have a massive effort left for the Belmont.
So, it comes down to this - either American Pharoah will win the Belmont or he won't. I'll hopefully get it nailed down a bit tighter than that by post time.
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