NARROW DOWN CONTENDERS AND CASH-IN ON THE 2017 BELMONT STAKES
NARROW DOWN CONTENDERS AND CASH-IN ON THE 2017 BELMONT STAKES
The 2017 Belmont Stakes lacks the drama of a Triple Crown bid, and does not have the star power of either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness winner as a headline attraction, but what the race does have is a world of great betting opportunities afforded by a large wide-open field of contenders. Sure, horseracing fans and handicappers would have loved to see another headline match-up in the Belmont, but this year's tremendous betting race is not too bad for a consolation prize. What the "Test of the Champion" lacks in terms of drama it will be able to make up for in terms of offering an interesting handicapping puzzle that could generously reward the horseplayers who cash exactas, trifectas, and the other exotics tickets on the race.
One way of looking at this year's Belmont Stakes and deciphering the field will be for handicappers to let certain recent trends and angles try to lead them down the road to picking the winner and/or cashing exotics tickets in the race. Depending on what angles you find to be the most important, there is probably an angle out there that is nearly tailor-made for you, based on the results we've seen in recent years in the Belmont Stakes.
In years when no Triple Crown is on the line in the Belmont Stakes, the second-best item on any racing fan's wish list would be a "rubber match" - a face-off between the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. If that is not possible, then at least we'd like to see one of the previous two winners - either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness winner - come back and strut his stuff in the spotlight at Belmont to capture two-thirds of the Triple Crown.
Unfortunately, 2017 will not be any of these kinds of years in the Belmont Stakes. Kentucky Derby winner ALWAYS DREAMING finished eighth in the Preakness and is likely to be given a break by trainer Todd Pletcher. The same appears to be true for Preakness winner CLOUD COMPUTING, whose trainer Chad Brown also likes to give the horse time between races and is likely to point for a race like the Haskell instead.
What we will be left with for the 2017 Belmont Stakes is a line-up of also-ran horses from the Derby and the Preakness looking for to rise to the occasion in a big way on racing's biggest stage - similar to what Cloud Computing did in the Preakness - hoping for their break-out day to come in the Belmont Stakes. In my opinion, this is clearly the way to regard this year's race for your wagering purposes, because no horse among the list of probable starters has yet to distinguish himself above and beyond the rest. Plus, the Belmont Stakes, unlike the Preakness, is usually a very good place to look for a price.
Two horses at the top of many handicappers' lists in the 2017 Belmont Stakes, vying for favoritism perhaps, will be Preakness runner up CLASSIC EMPIRE and Kentucky Derby runner up LOOKIN AT LEE. If those horses are destined to lose the Belmont Stakes, however, it will probably be because they lose for the same reason the favorites almost always lose the Belmont Stakes - the three long and demanding races in five weeks within a five-week span while going up against fresher horses. Both of these horses ran in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and that is a distinct disadvantage in the Belmont Stakes, according to recent history.
The questions to ask on Belmont Stakes Day will be, what will Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee have left in them? And who amongst the long list of other contenders are the best ones to focus on?
Did the demanding Kentucky Derby and Preakness efforts take too much out of Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee? We'll have to wait and see if they can succeed where others have failed in the Belmont (horses running in all three legs of the Triple Crown).
Another question to ask about the favorites, is can they even handle the marathon 1 ½-mile distance of the Belmont Stakes on the heels of their big efforts back-to-back two weeks apart in the Derby and Preakness? Or will the Triple Crown grind of 3 races in 5 weeks, in conjunction with the 1 ½-mile distance, turn out to be their downfall, just as it has been for so many good horses in recent years?
This year, the probable field for the Belmont Stakes is led by the aforementioned CLASSIC EMPIRE and LOOKIN AT LEE. They probably will be the first and second choices. But what about the other options?
More so than any other recent year, trainers certainly seem to understand that there are no super horses in the probable field for the Belmont Stakes. This will lead to a long list of trainers "taking a shot" in the Belmont, and therefore a full gate of 14 horses.
Challengers pointing for the Belmont Stakes, in no particular order, include the Peter Pan Stakes runner up MEANTIME, trained by Brian Lynch; Fedirico Tesio winner TWISTED TOM, who will be the representative of the Chad Brown barn; and longshot TRUE TIMBER, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who was fourth in the Wood Memorial and third in the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard. The other new face will be highly-touted Japanese-based EPICHARIS, second in the UAE Derby, who has been pointed to the Belmont all along.
Some of the Kentucky Derby also-rans also will be back to take another crack in the Belmont. This dangerous group includes Santa Anita Derby winner GORMLEY, Blue Grass Stakes winner IRAP, Wood Memorial winner IRISH WAR CRY, and Gotham Stakes winner J BOYS ECHO. This list also includes a pair of Todd Pletcher representatives, Kentucky Derby 6th-place finisher TAPWRIT and Derby 14th-place finisher PATCH.
There are also a trio of Preakness also-rans likely to take another shot in the Belmont including third-place finisher SENIOR INVESTMENT, sixth-place finisher MULTIPLIER, and seventh-place finisher CONQUEST MO MONEY.
BELMONT STAKES 2017 PROBABLES
|Horse||Trainer||Finish, last race|
|Classic Empire||Mark Casse||2nd in Preakness|
|Lookin at Lee||Steve Asmussen||4th in Preakness|
|Conquest Mo Money||Miguel Hernandez||7th in Preakness|
|Epicharis||Kiyoshi Hagiwara||2nd in UAE Derby|
|Gormley||John Shirreffs||9th in Kentucky Derby|
|Irap||Doug O'Neill||18th in Kentucky Derby|
|Irish War Cry||Graham Motion||10th in Kentucky Derby|
|Meantime||Brian Lynch||2nd in Peter Pan|
|Multiplier||Brendan Welch||6th in Preakness|
|Patch||Todd Pletcher||14th in Kentucky Derby|
|Senior Investment||Ken McPeek||3rd in Preakness|
|Tapwrit||Todd Pletcher||6th in Kentucky Derby|
|True Timber||Kiaran McLaughlin||3rd in Sir Barton Stakes|
|Twisted Tom||Chad Brown||1st in Federico Tesio|
The winning trainers of the Kentucky Derby (Todd Pletcher) and the Preakness (Chad Brown) will have a total of three horses in the race, but none of them will be Always Dreaming or Cloud Computing. Obviously concerned with his horse's badly sub-par effort in the Preakness, and preferring lots of time off between races for Always Dreaming throughout the colt's career, Pletcher will instead wait for the summer, rest and gear up for the Jim Dandy at Saratoga. Pletcher will instead be represented by Patch, the fan-favorite one-eyed horse, and Tapwrit, who won the Tampa Bay Derby and clearly has talent despite his big loss in the Derby.
Chad Brown is another example of a trainer that likes time between races for his top horses, including Cloud Computing. After considering moving forward with Cloud Computing into the Belmont, Brown will now point the horse for the Haskell and will instead run Twisted Tom in the Belmont. Twisted Tom is as much and unknown heading into the Belmont Stakes as Cloud Computing was heading into the Preakness . . . maybe that is a good thing.
Irish War Cry is an interesting contender. He was the buzz horse for many heading into the Kentucky Derby, but he got a bad start and was wide on the Kentucky Derby Day inside-biased track. When when he skipped the Preakness, trainer Graham Motion was not saying they were waiting for the Belmont. However, they decided to jump back into the fray and take a shot when it began to become apparent that the 2017 Belmont Stakes field would be so weak.
Trainer Brian Lynch has brought along Meantime very nicely and is set to run in the Belmont after a good second in the Peter Pan - a race that as recently as 2014 sent Tonalist and Commissioner to run 1-2 in the Belmont. While the Peter Pan winner, Timeline, is waiting for the Haskell due to distance concerns for the 1 ½-mile Belmont, runner-up Meantime is considered tailor-made for the Belmont and therefore Lynch has decided to take his shot here.
Classic Empire will be a low-odds Belmont Stakes favorite despite not winning either leg of the Triple Crown so far. He is running in the Belmont Stakes because his trainer Mark Case says, "he deserves a chance to prove how good he is."
How good Classic Empire really is, however, remains to be seen. He had the race won in the Preakness but tired late and opened the door for Cloud Computing to catch him. Now he'll need to go further - a mile and a half - and he'll need to somehow summon another big effort against challengers that are fressher than he is.
No matter how good the favorites might look in the Belmont Stakes, it is still worthwhile - from a handicapping and wagering standpoint - to bet against them if they have run in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The Belmont Stakes is a graveyard for favorites of all shapes and sizes, and it has become increasingly more difficult for a horse to win the Belmont Stakes who has already competed in both of the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
Dating back to Commendable in 2000, nine of the last 16 Belmont Stakes winners had not run a race in the five weeks in-between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont. Recent Belmont winners including Creator, Palace Malace, Union Rags, Summer Bird, Jazil, Birdstone, Empire Maker, and Commendable had all run in the Kentucky Derby but skipped the Preakness in favor of other methods of readying for the Belmont Stakes. Filly Rags to Riches had no race between the Kentucky Oaks and the Belmont.
The 2014 Belmont winner Tonalist, and 2010 Belmont winner Drosselmeyer, hadn't run in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, but did have a race in-between, in Belmont Park's own local prep the Peter Pan. They won the Belmont off four-week layoffs, which were close to ideal. Lemon Drop Kid, like Tonalist and Drosselmeyer, ran in the G3-Peter Pan Stakes in-between the Derby and Belmont. That local Belmont Park prep race has often served as an effective Belmont Stakes prep in recent history and is a good place to look for a longshot winner of the Belmont Stakes. This year that contender would be MEANTIME.
Belmont Stakes winners of yore usually were war horses that danced every dance in the Triple Crown series, but that's no longer is the trend to look for when handicappers sit down to try to smoke-out the next Belmont Stakes winner. A quintet of recent winners of the Belmont Stakes were making their Triple Crown debuts in the Belmont Stakes, including Tonalist in 2014, Drosselmeyer in 2010, Da' Tara in 2008, Rags to Riches in 2007 and Sarava in 2002.
Therefore, some kind of race in-between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes does not seem to hurt a horse's Belmont Stakes chances, unless that race happens to be the Preakness. The aforementioned Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont has proven to be a good prep race. However, there seems to be something about the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes, three weeks before the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, that really takes its toll on a horse's stamina. Perhaps that's why it was 37 years between Triple Crown winners until American Pharoah came along.
Favorites are also not enjoying a good trend in the Belmont Stakes recently, notwithstanding American Pharoah.
In 2017, Creator won the Belmont Stakes and paid $34.80. The favorite was Preakness winner Exaggerator at 7-5. He finished 11th. The second and third favorites, Suddenbreakingnews and Stradivari, finished ninth and fifth.
As a matter of fact, when Union Rags won the Belmont Stakes five years ago as the second-choice, he came about as close to being a winning favorite as there's been in the Belmont in recent memory other than American Pharoah. Union Rags paid $7.50 to win as the close second-choice behind that year's favorite, Dullahan.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR BETTING THE 2017 BELMONT STAKES
Based on the trends in the Belmont Stakes against the favorites and against horses exiting the Preakness, we still have several live contenders in the Belmont Stakes to try to narrow down.
We advise betting against Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee. They will be behind the 8-ball trying to run their third Triple Crown race in five weeks, and odds on both will be too low.
Preakness horses have done poorly in the Belmont, so that also will eliminate Senior Investment, Conquest Mo Money, and Multiplier.
Longshot True Timber simply does not appear to be good enough. That narrows down the 14-horse Belmont Stakes field to 7 bet-able horses.
From this point forward from a handicapping perspective, the best idea is to follow some Belmont Stakes handicapping axioms, including betting pace pressers and stalkers instead of deep closers, and giving preference to horses with post draws in the outer half of the field.
One angle that seems particularly relevant this year also will be to bet back horses from the Kentucky Derby who had wide trips. As touched-on earlier in this article, the track at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day was inside biased, thereby helping the horses with rail trips such as winner and runner up Always Dreaming and Lookin At Lee, while at the same time hurting the horses with outside trips.
Both of Pletcher's Belmont horses, PATCH and TAPWRIT, were at a disadvantage in the Kentucky Derby due to outside trips against the inside-biased track. This factor also badly hindered the chances of IRISH WAR CRY in the Kentucky Derby. In my opinion, these are the horses that should be keyed in the Belmont Stakes, along with the two horses in the race specifically pointed to the race, Peter Pan runner up MEANTIME and Japanese invader EPICHARIS.
The 2017 Belmont Stakes might lack star power, and everyone including the trainers of the contenders seems to know it. However, that doesn't mean the race won't be a prime betting race that will eventually be won by a well-spotted horse ready for an up-and-coming effort in the right place at the right time. This year's Belmont will feature a wide-open full field of horses, but the list of contenders can easily be narrowed down, and you will be paid handsomely if you select the correct horse out of the short list of actual contenders in the race. Enjoy the Belmont Stakes!
By Noel Michaels
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