Handicapping the Belmont Stakes
by Trevor Whenham - 06/02/2008
Handicapping the Belmont Stakes this year comes down to one deceptively difficult question - do you believe in Big Brown? The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is going to be a very heavy favorite in the Belmont. He's been favored in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and he has won both races with stunning ease. That combined with the public excitement over the potential for a Triple Crown ensures that the favorite will go off at odds far below even money. With odds that low there isn't much room for a mistake. If you like him and his chances then you have to bet on him and you can't really afford to hedge your bets or cover other possibilities. If you don't think that the favorite will finally win a Triple Crown after a 30-year slump then you will be able to access better prices and you will have more flexibility in your betting. So, can Big Brown win it? That's the multi-million dollar question. Only you can decide for sure, but here are the basic arguments on both sides to help you with your decision:
Big Brown is worth betting on in the Belmont Stakes because:
1. He's been the best horse in every race he has run in by a dizzying amount. The gap between him and every other horse of his age appears to be so wide that it would seem as if he could win even if he is at less than his best.
2. The style of the race doesn't seem to matter. He's won from the front and from off the pace. He's won from the widest possible post position. He's never found himself in serious trouble, and when it looked as if he might get boxed in during the Preakness he solved the problem with incredible maturity for a horse his age.
3. Distance doesn't seem to be a problem for him. He's never run the mile and a half distance of the Belmont, but then neither has any other horse in the field. It seems more than likely that Big Brown will handle the distance just fine. He looked fresh at the end of the Derby, and he was so untested in the Preakness that he looked as if he could have run seven more miles.
4. It's possible. Critics argue that we aren't likely to see another Triple Crown winner because of the grueling nature of the challenge and the relative fragility of our thoroughbreds. The fact remains, though, that we have been incredibly close a few times since Affirmed last got it done in 1978. Real Quiet lost by just a nose in 1998, Silver Charm led at the top of the stretch in 1997, and Smarty Jones was caught in the stretch in 2004. It's a very difficult task, but it is far from impossible and it only stands to reason that it will happen again at some point.
5. Acceleration. Entering the stretch of the Preakness it wasn't completely clear if Big Brown would be able to shake the pack that was following him. A dozen strides later it was all over. This horse can accelerate in the stretch like few I have ever seen. That is a powerful tool, and it can zap an opposing horse of it's will when it is unleashed in the stretch.
Big Brown isn't worth betting on in the Belmont Stakes because:
1. Inexperience. All through the Triple Crown we have heard about the inexperience of Big Brown. He has run far less than any other Derby winner in modern times, and he has never seen trouble. That hasn't been a problem so far, but the Belmont is a different animal. The crowd will be insane, and the length of the race and of the stretch can be extremely challenging for a horse. Because Big Brown hasn't experienced any racing hardship, we can't know how he will respond if and when he does find some trouble. That uncertainty makes him a bad bet at the price he will be at.
2. His foot. Big Brown missed several months of training last year because of a series of foot problems. Over the last two weeks he has been afflicted with a quarter crack - a small crack in his hoof. It has been treated and is responding well, but a quarter crack can be a problem for any horse, and is especially concerning for one with a history of sensitive feet when faced with the pounding endurance test that is the Belmont.
3. The field. The Belmont field isn't going to be large, but it is reasonably deep. Unlike the Preakness every horse in this race (with the possible exception of Ready's Echo) is a legitimate contender who could cause real problems for the favorite if he isn't at his best.
4. The immensity of the task. This is the 11th horse since the last Triple Crown to go into the Belmont with a shot at history. Many have been just as highly regarded at the time as Big Brown is now. None have won, and several have lost against horses that weren't well respected going in. He could win, but it doesn't make sense to bet that he will at the price he will be at.