Expert Handicapping for the Fresh Horses in the 2019 Belmont Stakes
We hear a lot about fresh horses coming into the Belmont every year. The theory is that a horse that has not run in the last four or five weeks - since the time of the Kentucky Derby, approximately - is going to have an edge over horses that ran twice in that time. Trainers like to give their horses a month or more between starts whenever possible these days, so running more than that is asking a lot. Since 2005, only three horses have won the Belmont after running in the first two legs of the Triple Crown - Triple Crown winners Justify and American Pharoah, and Afleet Alex finished third behind massive long shot Giacomo before winning the last two legs in 2005. So, getting to know the fresher horses in the race has been a worthwhile exercise most years.
There is just one true iron horse left standing in the field this year. War of Will got crushed by Maximum Security in the Derby to ruin his chances there, but he rebounded for a nice win in the Preakness. There is a second horse in the field who has been almost as busy. Everfast ran in the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard before finishing second in the Preakness. The only difference is that running a mile in a field of 13 is far less taxing than running a mile and a quarter in a field of 19 in a race that turned into a mosh pit.
As it stands now, it looks like there will be seven fresher horses joining the two spring warriors. Here's a look at each, and how fresh they are (Odds are from BetOnline):
Off since running in the Derby
This is a very important group, because it is frequently where the winners come from. The last two Belmont winners before Justify last year, and four of the last seven, have won the Belmont after running the Derby, skipping the Preakness, then coming back fresh off a five-week gap. There are four horses expected to look to replicate that effort this year:
Tacitus (+150): He's the likely Belmont winner, and for good reason. He won both of his prep races and put up a pretty decent effort in the Derby after early issues and a dislike of the sloppy surface. But it is his breeding that stands out - his sire is Tapit, who has sired three Belmont winners since 2014. And both trainer Bill Mott and jockey Jose Ortiz have won this race before - not to mention many, many races both separately and together on this track. This is only his second race in nine weeks, so he is rested, and he will be tough to beat. A deserving favorite.
Master Fencer (+1200): This horse had more than a month off before the Derby after his last race in Japan and more than a month between the Derby and now. He should be even more rested than last time out, too. He had to make the trip over from Japan and deal with quarantine before the Derby. But he trained at Keeneland after the Derby, and now he is already at Belmont, so he will be more settled in. That's a plus. The bigger problem, though, is that he has given little indication he is good enough to contend here.
Spinoff (+2500): This horse was a total disaster in the Derby. A mess. He got a decent enough start, but he ran insanely wide, had nothing left by the half mile mark, and basically walked home to finish at the back of the pack. And it's not like he was freaking Secretariat before that race. He's a long shot for a reason. But his trainer, Todd Pletcher, has won this race three times. And twice it was with a horse that had previously disappointed in the Derby, so we could see a step forward for this colt.
Tax (No odds listed): He didn't fire in the Derby and got himself trapped on the rail well back in the pack. It was not an inspiring effort. And his breeding doesn't leap off the page for this spot, either. He was second in the Wood Memorial behind Tacitus in his final prep race, though, so it would be valuable if he could replicate that effort. But he's going to be a real long shot.
Peter Pan Stakes
This race is run at Belmont a week after the Derby, so it acts as something of a local prep race for the Belmont. And horses out of this race have a month between starts, so they are reasonably fresh. Tonalist won the Peter Pan and the Belmont in 2014 to make the race more immediately relevant. We don't have the winner of that race here this year, but we do have the next two across the line.
Sir Winston (+1200): This colt ran in three Derby prep races this spring and wasn't nearly good enough to be relevant in any of them. And then after trailing the field in the Peter Pan, he unleashed a charge that was good enough to secure him second. But if he is a solid second in a race, then it's not much of a race. The biggest thing he has going for him is that his damsire, Afleet Alex, won the Belmont. Add in that his sire is a Breeders' Cup Classic winner who has done well in the breeding shed, and there is at least a chance that he could improve. But I sure won't be holding my breath.
Intrepid Heart (+1000): This horse had a lousy start in the Peter Pan and was weakening down the stretch to finish third. And that was his first stakes race and only his third career start. It's very hard to believe that he is ready for this test. So why the reasonably low price? He's the other son of Tapit in this race, and that will draw betting attention - likely more than he deserves. Todd Pletcher training him always draws New York bettors, too.
Long Branch Stakes
Joevia (+2500): The last prospective runner to join the field at this point is Joevia, and he has a real chance to be the longest of long shots in the field. He made his graded stakes debut in his fourth career start in the Wood Memorial, and he was absolutely disastrous. He crossed the line seventh in the 11-horse field but caused all sorts of problems and was disqualified. After that he headed to the Long Branch, which in a non-graded stakes at Monmouth. It is essentially irrelevant in terms of the Triple Crown, and this year it drew only four horses. Joevia was the strong favorite, which is all you need to know about what kind of race it was. And his win does nothing to impress. He doesn't belong here.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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