2019 Belmont Stakes Pace Scenario
Your first instinct may be to think that the way the pace sets up in the Belmont Stakes is far less important than in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. It's an opinion that would make sense - the very long distance and almost endless stretch drive gives room for any horse to overcome whatever has happened before.
But, somewhat surprisingly, it hasn't been true. Since 2008, both of the Triple Crown winners, and long shot Da' Tara, have wired the field, and four other winners have been within three lengths of the lead at all times. So, being up front early has been a definite advantage.
The biggest reason is that closers typically need a faster pace early on that falls apart so that they can pick up the pieces with their late charge. But jockeys are typically quite reserved early on in this race, so a pace duel rarely emerges, and early fractions are usually quite slow. Horses that can handle the distance likely have enough in reserve in the stretch, so it is hard for horses from the back to move forward. That doesn't necessarily mean that the front runners are the only one with a chance here, but it does make the Belmont pace scenario quite significant.
An interesting wrinkle this year is that there just isn't much early speed in the field. At all. We seem very unlikely to see fast, or even assertive, early fractions from the pack. That's much better news for the horses closer to the front than those from the back. And yet there are a lot of natural closers in this field. We'll have to see how jockeys adjust their race plan in response to what we see on paper.
Joevia: The longest shot in the field is the only pure speed horse. He led favored Tacitus in the Wood Memorial before fading badly, and he wired the field in his last outing. He is probably going to go to the lead - though drawing the inside post complicates that slightly. It takes two horses to duel to set up a fast pace typically, though, and it is very unlikely that a second will engage in the early pace. This horse is very tough to respect in the race, so instead of pushing him and risking burning out early, the others will likely sit behind him and wait for him - almost inevitably - to tire and give way.
Pressers and Stalkers
Intrepid Heart: He stumbled early in his last race and was forced to chase more than he is used to. But in the first two races of his short career, he was on or near the pace. He's a good bet to be at or on the lead of the chasing group in the early parts of this race.
Spinoff: A wide trip, not liking the sloppy track, and everything else that could have gone wrong, didn't allow this horse to run anything close to his ideal race in the Kentucky Derby. But if we give him a mulligan for that performance, then we see a horse that is always among the leaders and who was good enough in the Louisiana Derby to hold on for second after being near the front the whole way.
Tacitus: You could argue that the favorite doesn't deserve to be in this group because he tends to like to be a little further back and was much further back in the Derby. But he has shown tactical speed and is talented enough to adapt as the situation requires. And in this race being up is better than being back, so that is very likely where we will see him.
Tax: Again, the Derby went wrong for him in every possible way, and he was way off the lead early on - and later, for that matter. But up to that point he had been at his best when he had been within the top three early on. He'll be looking to find his spot near the lead.
War of Will: This colt was fourth early on in the Preakness before launching his move and was never worse than third in his other two graded stakes victories this year. He probably isn't quite as likely as some to want to lead the group chasing Joevia, but he'll be a part of it. Of interest, his ideal style is probably pretty close to the race Tacitus will look to run, so by far the best two horses in the race will likely be eyeing each other all the way around. If that happens, then we'll get to see who the alpha is.
Bourbon War: At his best, this colt sits near the back and closes like a freight train. And being a son of Tapit, he should have stamina to make a move late. But at his worst, like in the Preakness, he starts at the back and just stays there. He has tantalizing talent, but no consistency.
Everfast: The heavily-raced Preakness runner-up has shown early speed at times, but not in his best races. The Preakness was by far his career best outing, and he was as many as 22 lengths off the lead in that one. Whether it suits this race or not, the colt is likely to settle off the pace again and hope that things blow up in front of him enough for him to get a piece of things.
Master Fencer: He's a classic one-run closer as he showed in the Derby when he got up for sixth after running almost 25 lengths off the lead early on. Besides not really suiting the style of this race, I just don't think he's good enough. This is a discussion for another place, but his 8/1 morning line price is just ridiculous in my eyes.
Sir Winston: Last time out this horse was well off the pace - more than 10 lengths - in the Peter Pan Stakes on this same Belmont surface, and he closed nicely to finish second. So, we know he likes the surface. And he's bred to likely get the distance. But is he good enough to overcome the typical bias of this race?
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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