Root for California Chrome? Yes. Bet on him? Never!

Belmont Stakes Analysis

Since 1999, the Belmont Stakes must be ranked as the best betting race of the year for horseplayers shopping for value. In the third jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the usual dependable public does a poor job relating — with their wagers — which 3-year-olds have the best chance to win.

Two reasons for this stick out to me: The first, is that bettors get too enamored with celebrity horses, as their nationally-televised victories in Louisville and Baltimore are replayed over and over on sports channels, and even the national news. And for the colts that win both the Derby and Preakness, it becomes almost un-American to bet against them in the Belmont.

The second reason is the 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes distance, which creates pace and stamina situations never experienced by these runners before, and likely never again. This makes it difficult for analysts to gauge which horses will love 1-1/2 miles and which will hate it.

With horseracing’s high takeouts throughout the year, it is nice to realize that recent history shows that the Belmont Stakes is clearly a positive-expectation event. In the past 15 years, if a gambler wagered on all of the estimated 360 Belmont Stakes runners to enter the gate, they would have collected about $1.60 for every $1 wagered. And if bets were restricted to horses with odds of 10/1 or better, then I am sure the ROI would be closer to $2.

The bad news when betting the Belmont is that the odds of the horses with the familiar names — the ones that everybody loves — are annually pounded down way beyond sensibility. But the good news is that the remaining runners — the ones that nobody has every heard of — yield huge payoffs when one of them dashes across the wire first.

Without knowing much about handicapping, bettors can assume that the favorites are no more likely to be comfortable running this 1-1/2 mile distance — and all of the problems it presents — than the longshots.

To illustrate this point, the following is a list of the best-paying Belmont Stakes winners for the period: In 2013, Palace Malice, $29.60; in 2011, Ruler on Ice, $51.50; in 2010, Drosselmeyer, $28; in 2009, Summer Bird, $25.80; in 2008, Da’Tara, $79; in 2004, Birdstone, $74; in 2002, Sarava, $142.50; in 2000, Commendable, $39.60; and in 1999, Lemon Drop Kid, $59.50.

In summary, not only should bettors go against the low-priced runners in the Belmont Stakes, but it seems reasonable to me to wager three or four times the normal amount even if it means skipping other races earlier in the day.

Why not?

Like everybody else, I would love to see California Chrome become the first horse in 36 years to win the Triple Crown. But it doesn’t mean that I’m going to bet that way.

Not by a longshot.

Before he was a celebrity

 California Chrome struts his stuff in the Del Mar paddock in September 2013, just before the DM Futurity. After going off at odds of 5-to-1, Chrome finished a disappointing sixth.

cal chrome

Triple Crown Photo Bomb

While shooting this photo before the Del Mar Futurity last September, California Chrome swooped into my background.
chrome shoulder

Paddock profile

Fresh off the plane from Boston, Ed Collins eyeballs the paddock prospects before the $300,000 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 4.

Fresh off the plane from Boston, Ed Collins eyeballs the paddock prospects before the $300,000 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 4.

Del Mar: part horse track, part fashion show

One of the many at Del Mar.

One of the many at Del Mar.

Baffert prediction

Trainer Bob Baffert saddles  Roman Threat at Del Mar Sept. 4. As he walked by, Baffert said "This horse is going to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint for me."

Trainer Bob Baffert saddles Roman Threat at Del Mar Sept. 4. As he walked by, Baffert said “This horse is going to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint for me.”

Polished

Rum Point gleams like polished mahogany in the Del Mar paddock Wednesday before the $300,000 Futurity.

Rum Point gleams like polished mahogany in the Del Mar paddock Wednesday before the $300,000 Futurity.

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