The Brock Talk

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Belmont Trends Say Stay Close Early

With the post positions now set and the morning line made for the 143rd Belmont Stakes (gr. I) Saturday, handicappers and prognosticators can now get underway. But before speed figures are studied and past performances perused, perhaps defining what it takes to win the Belmont Stakes is in order. After all, with the 1-1/2 mile distance, the sandy Belmont main track, the wide sweeping turns and it place as the third leg of the grueling Triple Crown to name a few of the races nuances, the Belmont Stakes is among the most unique in North America.

Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1) winner Animal Kingdom has been installed as the morning line favorite with 5-to-2 odds. Unfortunately, being either the Derby winner or the favorite have not been so prosperous in the concrete jungle where dreams are made of.

In the last 30 years, only Swale in 1984 and Thunder Gulch 11 years later, have won both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. During that same span, seven others who won the Run for the Roses finished second – sometimes heartbreaking seconds – in the Belmont. Smarty Jones (2004), Real Quiet (1999), Silver Charm (’97) and Sunday Silence all finished second in the Belmont to end their bid for the Triple Crown. Pleasant Colony (’81), Alysheba (’87), Charismatic (’99),War Emblem ('02)and Big Brown (’08) were less dramatic in losing their Triple Crowns in the Belmont.

Favorites have not fared so well in the last three decades either. Only six favorites have won the last 30 runnings (20%) of the Belmont Stakes with the last being Afleet Alex in 2005. Other favorites to don the white carnations in the Belmont winners’ circle were Point Given (’01), Thunder Gulch, A.P. Indy (’92), Risen Star (’88) and Swale.

Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro has been assigned the role as second favorite in the morning line at 4-to-1. If Nehro goes to the gate in the Belmont as the second most popular among punters, he will have a considerable advantage, at least from a historical perspective, over the favorite. In the last 30 years, ten Belmont winners (30%) have gone off as the second choice In the wagering.

Although many wrongly assume that the 12 furlong Belmont plays into an advantage for closers, trainer Steve Asmussen may want jockey Corey Nakatani to repeat his strategy in the Kentucky Derby with Nehro. Previously a closer from as far back as tenth-place in earlier races, Nehro was sixth after the first half-mile of the Derby, but was just more than 3 lengths from the lead.

That seems to be the cat bird seat in the Belmont Stakes, or near that margin anyway. Looking back 30 years again, only five horses have won the Belmont virtually from gate to wire and seven others have won the race from 6-1/2 lengths off the lead or more after the first four furlongs. The other 18 winners raced from between a half-length to 3-1/2 lengths off the lead early in their victorious romps in New York.

It would not be smart to totally discount a front runner like Shackleford, however. With little competition for the front-runner position, Shackleford is likely to try to join the likes of Da’ Tara (2008), Touch Gold, Swale and Conquistador Cielo in 1982 as those who won after leading early in the Belmont. Touch Gold throws a bit of a monkey wrench into this analysis after his quirky 1997 victory in which he lead after a half-mile, then dropped back to fourth, before making another run to catch Silver Charm at the wire.

And not all speedsters are completely defeated by the long Belmont distance. Nine other front runners have held on to finish second or third in the last 30 years. In fact, in the last three years, the pace-setter has finished in the top two with First Dude and Dunkirk both finishing second last year and 2009 respectively; and Da’ Tara winning.

Preakness winners have had their challenges in the Belmont with only five winning the second and third jewels of the Triple Crown in the last 30 years including Afleet Alex (’05), Point Given (’01), Tobasco Cat (’94), Hansel (’91) and Risen Star.

Master of Hounds returns to the United States from his base in trainer Aidan O’Brien’s stable in Britain after finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby and returning to Europe. In the last 30 years, he will be the 11th invader to start in the Belmont Stakes after traveling to New York from abroad with only Go And Go winning in 1990. Others of note were Le Voyageur, third in the 1989 Belmont behind Easy Goer and Sunday Silence; and My Memoirs, second to A.P. Indy in 1992.

The history of the Belmont is as interesting and unique as the race itself and over the last 30 years some trends seem to have developed. Speed horses, obviously, do not win the Belmont with any regularity, but they stay in the top three more often than some might think. Closers seem to have their challenges as well while staying close to the pace seems to be the winning formula.

The race has certainly measured up to its moniker as the Test of Champions as ten of the last 30 winner’s have been recognized as the divisional champion at year’s end and 59 in all. It is a large field that has entered to run in the 2011 Belmont with 12 slated to start in one of the oldest races in North America. Whether this Belmont is to be won by Derby champion Animal Kingdom, invader Master of Hounds, Preakness winner Shackleford or any other, after the race, somebody will be under the bright lights of New York and all its fame and history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had the same thought regarding Nehro's running style employed in the Derby and I hope that's what they do in the Belmont Saturday.

I made Mucho Macho Man my top pick on my blog but I'm beginning to second guess myself (never a good idea I'm told). Master of Hounds and Santiva look really good as does Animal Kingdom.