2021 Belmont Stakes Pace Scenario: Expert Analysis and Predictions
We are less than one week away from the running of the 153rd edition of the Belmont Stakes. And with no sideshow like the Medina Spirit/Bob Baffert eating up most of the coverage, and no possible winner of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes has generated little to no buzz. However, in horse racing, typically horseplayers would prefer to bet on races that fly under the radar because there is value in the odds.
In big races – much like big games like the Super Bowl – everyone suddenly becomes an expert and wants a piece of the action and that bleeds the odds dry of any real value. The Belmont Stakes is a good example of that because you have a 10-horse field set to go forward, with the favorite currently sitting at around 3-1. I don’t believe the post-time favorite – whoever that’s going to be – will go off at less than those odds because I believe this horse race is wide open and every single one of the 10 entries can find themselves in the winner’s circle. So where do we start our handicapping in a race as wide open as this one? The Pace.
The reason I’m writing this article is to help you understand how the 153rd edition of the Belmont Stakes should play out. In this short 10-horse field, you have a handful of horses that like to be on the lead, a group of closers, and then a few horses that are good with biding their time and pouncing when they are given the green light. There is this common belief amongst horseplayers that Belmont is a closer’s track because of the grueling distance and the dirt surface. And for this race specifically, with tons of talented horses, I tend to buy into that notion.
So, where does that leave us? Well, let’s look at the pacesetters or this race and if they have what it takes to go wire-to-wire.
To start this section, we must first pick out which horses are bred to go to the lead and set the pace. However, you may find that tricky to do in this year’s edition of the Belmont as the front-running horses are few and far between. There will be no Medina Spirt, Soup and Sandwich or even Preakness runner-up Midnight Bourbon to challenge for the early pace. Instead, the horse that’s vital to the Belmont pace is Rock Your World. For those of you who haven’t followed along with me on the Triple Crown trail, trainer John Sadler had high hopes for this horse entering the Kentucky Derby, but he simply didn’t fire off well. If we go based on his only other start on dirt, he can be classified as a pacesetter, but only just. In the Santa Anita Stakes, Rock Your World broke sharply out of the gate and set fast fractions on his way to a wire-to-wire win, albeit that was a shorter race against lesser opposition. Do the connections want to risk sending him to the front to control the pace in a mile-and-a-half race? I don’t believe so.
So where is the pace coming from? Well, horses such as Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie (two horses I touched on in-depth in the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby) are the likeliest candidates to want to be up close to the lead but probably not lead it or lead it by default. Essential Quality has not led a race this year as a pacesetter, so the connections may take a shot at sending him to the front in hopes of stealing slow fractions and coming home with a flurry as they turn for home. Essentially Quality does have speed to burn, so that could be an option for that team. As far as Hot Rod Charlie goes, he broke well in the Louisiana Derby and set the pace with moderate fractions at the half in the 1-3/16 journey. In that race, he was able to lead throughout before opening up and eventually winning by two lengths. His speed figures for the first half mile were solid. And if by no choice of his own he finds himself on the lead, he’ll be comfortable and he’ll be able to put up fractions that he knows he’s capable of running while keeping some reserve in the tank for the home stretch.
Mid-pack and Closers
In terms of those horses who prefer to sit in the mid-pack or at the back of the field, we have about seven of them that we could cover in-depth. The horse that impressed me the most and that I was on in the Preakness was Rombauer. The connections had mentioned that the horse was training well and that his strength was gaining. And with a pace in front of him that he was able to run at, he gobbled up the distance and came home with a flurry. Unfortunately, while I like the horse and its talent, the pace won’t be nearly as hot in this race, so he’s going to have to out sprint some horses down the stretch if he wants to win his second jewel of the Triple Crown. Another horse that should have no issues coming from behind is Keepmeinmind. I was iffy about his chances in the Preakness because of the way the horse set up on paper with both Baffert horses likely going to the front and not setting blistering fractions. This race isn’t exactly the cat and mouse race like the Preakness was. And with a pacesetter figuring to set somewhat reasonable fractions, I think Keepmeinmind should be kept in mind when coming up with the second and third places on your exotic tickets.
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