How to Bet on the Belmont Stakes in 2019: Expert Strategy and Handicapping
As I sit here writing this, the Belmont Stakes are still more than a week and a half away. The field isn't set in stone, and the horses haven't done their serious works yet. We don't know enough to know who is going to win this race for certain. That means that we can't lock our bet in yet - not even close. But we can do some bigger picture thinking about how to bet on the Belmont. Each year is different, and here's the bigger questions for this race:
Are you with Tacitus or against him?: This is very likely going to be the biggest question to ask. Even though War of Will won the Preakness handily, Tacitus is likely to be favored in this race. And he is likely to go off at a reasonably low price - I anticipate something below 2/1 at post time, and he's at +150 in futures odds. That's a massive price compared to what Justify paid last year, but it still makes it tough to bet on both Tacitus and other horses and still come out on top - at least in terms of win bets.
The arguments in favor of the horse are strong. He won both of his prep races this spring and was clearly improving because the Derby was only his fifth career start. His Derby - a fourth after the disqualification - was a little disappointing. But he struggled early and clearly didn't like the sloppy surface and still showed toughness at the end, so it was a better race for him than it appeared to be.
More significantly, though, he is a son of Tapit. That great stallion has sired three Belmont winners since 2014 - Tonalist, Creator and Tapwrit. And Tapit is pretty much bred perfectly for this specific race. His grandsire, A.P. Indy, is a great stamina sire who won this race. A.P. Indy's sire and damsire were both Triple Crown winners. And Tapit's damsire in Unbridled, who has four Belmont winners among his direct descendants - including American Pharoah. Tapit colts shine in this race, and this is a very nice Tapit colt. So, do you like him? Or are you going to look to beat him?
What do you expect the race to look like?: Horse races aren't always won by the best horse. They are won by the horse who has the best day and who gets a race that best suits them. We can't always predict if the horses are going to be ready to run their best. But we can look at whether the race is going to set up well for them - or if we expect them to. If we like a closer, for example, then we need to make sure that there is likely to be serious early speed in the race, because closers are in trouble if there isn't. And if we like a speed horse, we would prefer that there aren't a lot of other speed horses because that can lead to a duel that can be suicidal - especially at a brutally long distance like this one.
In this race it's hard to find a lot of early speed - War of Will is the closest, and he isn't a pure speed horse. So, there is a chance we'll get a lot of feeling out and gamesmanship early on. Or we'll get a horse taking a risk they normally don't. Either way, the pace scenario has to figure into your betting.
Ignore the long shots at your own peril: He's some math for you - we would expect a horse at 25/1 to win the race about once every 26 years. The thing is, though, that the Belmont has been a far different experience than that in recent years. In the last 22 years, we have seen seven horses win the race at 25/1 or more. More math - that's more than seven times as many serious long shots than we would expect. So, while some of the longer shots in this race seem like they would be pretty easy to toss entirely, the likes of Sarava and others that were just as easy to toss tell you that we just can't do that.
Pay attention to the undercard: The Belmont Stakes is obviously the main event on the day, but the entire card at Belmont is one of the best of the year - and by far the best undercard of the three Triple Crown races. Besides the Belmont, there are seven other Grade 1 races on the undercard and a Grade 2. The Met Mile and Acorn in particular are shaping up as really interesting races. It is a rare day that we get to bet this many high-caliber races on one track on one day. And, since all the other races happen before the Belmont, we get several chances to see how top horses are handling the sometimes-tricky Belmont surface before the big race. It's a great day to be a horse racing fan.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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