Belmont Stakes Handicapping Method
by Trevor Whenham - 06/02/2008
Every horse race is unique, and to successfully handicap it you need to study the intricacies of that particular race. That being said, there are certain rules and trends that you can follow to get a good general idea of how a race might turn out. The Belmont Stakes is a good example of a race where a defined method might be useful. The race is always run at the same time of year over the same distance on the same track and racing surface. Horses are new to the distance, and this race will be the biggest challenge of their careers. Those consistencies provide similarities in many of the winners, and those similarities can be exploited. Here, then, is a simple Belmont Stakes Handicapping Method to help you separate the contenders from the pretenders in the big race. Horses that positively fit within the following six criteria are far more likely to be a factor than those that aren't, so they are the ones worth betting attention.
Distance - A horse in this race is almost certain to have never run the mile and a half distance of the Belmont before, and unless they later turn into a high-level turf horse they are unlikely to run it again. Because we can't look at past experience, then, we have to rely on other clues to determine if a horse is likely to have anything left when it comes to the stretch. To find a horse that is likely suited to the distance there are a few things to look for. Find a horse that has shown improved results the longer their races have been. A horse will typically start their career at four or six furlongs and stretch out as they get older. Horses that are destined to succeed in the Belmont will like the extra distance. Pay particular attention to how horses have reacted once their races have stretched out beyond 1 1/8 miles. The other factor is to look for a horse that consistently gains on its opponents in the stretch. If a horse is gaining in the end that means that it is fresher than its opponents, so it likely has energy left to run further. Finally, if you can see the replay of earlier races for the Belmont entrants, look for ones that look particularly fresh and vibrant as the race ends, or one that wins races without any vigorous urging from its jockey.
Breeding - Horses that do well for the Belmont are typically bred for success in this race. That is to say that the dam and sire typically produce horses that can handle a distance. The ultimate way to take advantage of this would be to study the pedigrees of all the horses to look for an edge. If that's not feasible, there is a short cut that is reasonably effective. Find a list of all the Belmont winners in history. Then look for horses who have one or more of those winners in the first three generations of their pedigree. The more past winners a horse has, the more likely a horse is probably suited to the distance. A good example is 2007 winner Rags to Riches. He first two generations included three different Belmont winners - A.P. Indy, Seattle Slew and Secretariat - so it was no surprise that she had lots of energy left when she entered the stretch.
Jockey - It has often been said that this is the hardest race for a jockey to win. Because the distance is so grueling and the stretch is abnormally long it is crucial that a jockey manages his horse perfectly so that it's not used up too soon. The best way to learn how to run this race is to run in it. Look for a horse that has a jockey who has Belmont experience - the more the merrier.
Style of runner - It would seem to make sense that this race would favor a closer. They can sit off the pace and pounce when the front runners get tired. That works occasionally, such as with Jazil in 2006. Far more often, though, the Belmont winner has been on the lead or in close contact with the leaders throughout. The public often likes the stunning power of a horse with a strong closing kick, but don't be fooled - when in doubt look for a horse that will be on or near the lead.
Psychology of entry - There are two types of horses in Triple Crown races - those who are there to win, and those who are there to give it a shot because their connections want to have a Triple Crown runner. A horse that doesn't look like it belongs probably doesn't. Ruling them out of your consideration will make you money. Longshots can win in this race, but this isn't really a race to be chasing them in.
Prep race - It makes sense that you want a horse that is well rested coming into the Belmont. Not too rested as it turns out, though. A horse is far more likely to have a good race in the Belmont if he has had a good prep race since the time of the Derby. The Preakness or the Peter Pan are two typical prep races, but others can work as well. If it comes down to a choice, though, pick the one that hasn't been out of action for five weeks or more - a seasoned horse is more valuable than a fresh one at this point.