Expert Handicapping for Kentucky Derby Horses in the 2019 Belmont Stakes
If you are not a hardcore handicapper and you want a good shot at cashing a ticket on the Belmont Stakes, then you could do much worse than just betting the horses that previously ran in the Kentucky Derby. In the last 21 years, the Belmont winner has previously run in the Derby 15 times. That includes the last four winners. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why that is. The best three-year-olds run in the Derby, and the Derby is the best seasoning there is for the Belmont - it's the longest race available before the marathon of the Belmont, and horses learn how to deal with crowds and chaos in a way that makes the Belmont seem simple in comparison.
This year it looks like we are going to have about nine horses in the Belmont. And five of the likely starters are from the Derby. That's a too much of a percentage to make this a truly useful handicapping angle this year, but it is still something significant to consider. And it feels really quite likely that one of the five will be the winner. Here's a look at each of them (Odds to win the Belmont are from BetOnline):
War of Will (+200): The Preakness winner is not likely to be the favorite in the Belmont, but he still gets the top spot on this list for one big reason in my eyes - he is the only iron horse in the field. I have endless respect for horses that run in all three legs of the Triple Crown because that is what it is supposed to be done. We've gone away from that kind of in-the-trenches toughness in recent years, so I will always praise a horse that steps up to the challenge. And there is more to like than that when it comes to this horse. The connections are excellent. The breeding is solid - far from the best in the race, but not a disaster. Now, the biggest reason that I don't think he will be, nor should be, favored is that he is much more a horse built for the Preakness than this race. And the two races have taken a toll on him. But he is a warrior, as he showed in the Preakness, and he is very athletic, as he showed in the Derby when he was forced to imitate a crash test dummy. In a race that hasn't exactly come up deep, he is absolutely a factor.
Tacitus (+150): This horse is very likely to be favored here, and that comes as no surprise. He didn't seem to love the sloppy track at the Derby, and looked out of sorts early on, but he was moving forward late and finished fifth - up to fourth after the disqualification. It was a solid effort all things considered. And he won both of his prep races leading into the Derby, so he is a very classy, proven horse. But what really stands out here is his sire. He is a son of Tapit. If you were to sit down and design a stallion specifically to produce Belmont winners, you couldn't do better than Tapit. His grandsire, A.P. Indy, won this race and is one of the great stamina sires of all time. A.P. Indy's sire and damsire are both legendary Triple Crown winners - Seattle Slew and Secretariat respectively. And Tapit's damsire is Unbridled, who won the Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic, and is a great sire who has sired top horses like Arrogate and is the grandsire of two Belmont winners. Tapit was born to sire Belmont winners, and he has done his job - three sons have won the race since 2014, including Tonalist, Creator and Tapwrit. So, this is a very talented, proven horse with strong connections - trainer Bill Mott and jockey Jose Ortiz have both won the race - and impeccable breeding. This horse should absolutely be the favorite.
Master Fencer (+1200): In the Derby, this colt became the first Japanese-bred-and-based horse to run in the Derby. And it went about as well as we would have expected given his moderate racing career - he was a total non-factor, finishing a non-threatening eighth before the disqualification. He did encounter some of the contact that got Maximum Security disqualified, though, and he was willing at the end even if he didn't seem nearly good enough. And he ran a mile and a quarter on turf twice in Japan, so he has shown some stamina tendencies - though he didn't win either time. And his damsire, Deputy Minister, did sire Belmont winner Touch Gold. I'm not a believer, but I wouldn't openly mock someone who was - at least not to their face.
Spinoff (+2500): Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Belmont three times. Twice it was with horses that were coming off underwhelming to ugly Derby performances. Tapwrit had not fired, and Palace Malice had hit a wall hard and finished 12th. But Pletcher both times aimed for this race without hesitation or consideration of anything else, and had the horse dialed in for a much better performance. Spinoff was about as bad as horse can be in the Derby, finishing 18th in a race that he was never a part of. But Pletcher will have him ready for a bigger race here, and his breeding is solid - not like Tacitus by any means, but pretty good. I am not convinced he is a big contender, but he has a better chance than this price suggests and will be useful in the exotics.
Tax (No odds listed): Tax doesn't have odds listed at BetOnline right now, but all indications are that he is headed to the Belmont. He will be a big long shot. He was a non-factor in the Derby, failing to find room to move inside and finishing well back and totally out of it - though ahead of Spinoff comfortably. He was a respectable second to Tacitus in his last prep race, though. Therefore, if he could duplicate that effort, he could be a part of the exotics.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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