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.

From a sure Hall of Famer to rode “like a bug boy.” America turns its back on Borel after he loses Belmont

Kent Desormeaux celebrates winning the Belmont Stakes aboard Summer Bird

Kent Desormeaux celebrates winning the Belmont Stakes aboard Summer Bird

What a difference a race makes.

Leading up to Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the racing world spent five weeks genuflecting before the great Calvin Borel. Racing observers loved the way he captured the Kentucky Derby with his rail ride on 50-to-1 shot Mine That Bird, and they also admired his savvy decision to jump off the Derby champion and onto Preakness-winning filly Rachel Alexandra.

Borel’s fame skyrocketed, as trainers and analysts heaped credit on him for his outstanding Triple Crown rides. Writers called for the jockey to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the rider entertained America with stints on the “Tonight Show” and the “Late Show with Dave Letterman.”

But fame is fleeting.

In Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, Borel made a huge move from the backstretch to the top of the lane aboard Mine That Bird. He was poised to become the first jockey ever to win all three Triple Crown races riding two different horses.

But at the quarter pole it seemed that the grueling three-race Derby-Preakness-Belmont schedule caught up with Mine That Bird. Or maybe, running the 1-1/2 mile-Belmont distance was just not this gelding’s thing.

In any event, Mine That Bird was gassed.

As Borel pleaded with the Bird to pass tiring pace setter Durkirk, anybody watching the stretch run could see that the other Bird — Summer Bird — was the only horse left with any legs. Desormeaux had Summer Bird rolling. He blew by both Dunkirk and Mine That Bird with 100 yards to go and crossed the wire 2 -3/4 lengths in front.

Right afterward, television analysts, and even trainer Chip Woolley, pointed fingers at Calvin Borel. They said he moved Mine That Bird too early and that’s why the 6-to-5 favorite lost the race.

In the New York Post, writer Ed Fountaine summed it up this way: “Did Calvin’s sudden celebrity, his guest spots on Jay Leno and David Letterman, go to his head? Renowned for his work ethic, Borel spent Belmont week sightseeing in Manhattan, not taking a single mount to get acquainted with Belmont Park, a track he had just ridden over seven times before.

“Then, after guaranteeing victory all week, he rode 6-5 favorite Mine That Bird like a bug boy. Abandoning the golden rail, he launched a premature move wide around the far turn and ran out of gas in the final furlong.”

Rode like a bug boy? Ouch. And just last week Borel was a sure Hall of Famer.

Yep, it looks like America’s short love affair with Borel is over. Put a fork in it. It’s done.

When gamblers lose big money at short odds — especially when the rider guarantees victory – they will turn on that jockey. Horseplayers can be unforgiving, and some are downright nasty. Just ask any jockey about the crude language they hear when unsaddling losing favorites at any race track in America, and they’ll tell you.

When I looked at the Belmont, Mine That Bird didn’t look much better than some of the other horses and, at 2-to-1 on the morning line, he offered absolutely no value. The 1-1/2 mile Belmont is a tricky distance because the pace is so slow and in the recent past this race has ended with many unforeseen outcomes.

I spread my bets out over four horses at good prices that appeared to have the sustained running style that would work at 1-1/2 miles. And my runners had some of the best jockey talent in the country aboard: Chocolate Candy, 9/1, Garrett Gomez; Dunkirk, 9/2, John Velazquez; Mr. Hot Stuff, 22/1, Edgar Prado; and Flying Private, 17/1, Julien Leparoux.

At 11/1, Summer Bird looked OK too. When looking at his past performances, I added a few points to the 99 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in the Kentucky Derby to account for his wide trip, but my mistake was not giving Summer Bird enough weight for his potential to improve in just his fifth start.

I think spreading out my wagers against Mine That Bird was the right thing to do. But the one problem with betting four horses in a race, is that when they all lose you need to think up nasty things to shout at four jockeys in the unsaddling area instead of only one.

And that’s the real challenge.

© Copyright Maiden King, 2009. Written exclusively for  maidenking.wordpress.com. Not to be duplicated or reprinted.

Saturday, Belmont Stakes — 3:27 pm post time

Maiden King conquers the Belmont Stakes

Maiden King conquers the Belmont Stakes

Belmont Stakes, 1-1/2 miles, 3-year-olds

Possible overlays                            Morning line

#1 Chocolate Candy                             10/1
#2 Dunkirk                                          4/1
#3 Mr. Hot Stuff                                  15/1
#8 Flying Private                                  12/1

 The Belmont Stakes is an intriguing race because 3-year-olds are tackling a mile-and-a-half distance for the first time and almost certainly will never race this far again.

Over the years, longshots have popped that were real head-scratchers when looking at their past performances, and I think it’s because of the slow early pace.  The pace is much quicker at shorter distances than the Belmont Stakes, which leads some talented horses to tire badly in the stretch. But if the early pace is slowed to a crawl — like is often the case in the Belmont –  then some horses can sustain their runs for much longer distances. 

For example, when Commendable won the 2000 Belmont Stakes, somebody asked trainer D. Wayne Lukas how he got a sprinter to win a 12-furlong race. And Lukas said that Commendable galloped the first six furlongs, then it became a six furlong race.

Therefore, I expect the jockeys in this race to come out of the gate with their mounts in a hammerlock and their feet on the dashboard. Also, a slow pace would be disadvantageous to the 2-to-1 betting favorite Mine That Bird, who runs his best races closing from the clouds. That style works best with heated pace battles that burn out the early pace setters in the stretch.

Mine That Bird is a good horse, but I can’t take 2-to-1 at this crazy distance.

The best early speed looks like #6 Charitable Man, who won the Peter Pan while pressing the leader on May 9. However, if Dunkirk runs his best then he should be close to the front on the far turn.

Between these two, Durkirk is the better bet to win at this distance based on the sustained pace rating he earned in the Florida Derby. Two California-based horses — #1 Chocolate Candy and #3 Mr. Hot Stuff — have been running on synthetic surfaces where they have shown that they can run on if the early pace is slow enough.

Finally, D. Wayne Lukas saddles #8 Flying Private, who is improving and must be respected off is 102 Beyer Speed Figure earned in the Preakness Stakes.

At the window, I will bet $250 to win on #2 Dunkirk at 3/1 or better;  $150 on #3 Mr. Hot Stuff and $100 on Chocolate Candy, both at 6/1 or more; and $100 on #8 Flying Private at odds of at least 8/1.

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