BELMONT STAKES 2016 – PICKS

There may be no Triple Crown on the line for this year’s 148th running of the Belmont Stakes, but it should be an exciting race.

It all started with Nyquist.

First, he failed to win the Preakness. That means for the first time in 3 years, no Triple Crown will be at stake.

Then in late May came the announcement from Nyquist’s trainer that the Kentucky Derby winner would sit out the Belmont due to illness.

This opened the door for a bigger and wider field of contenders to take their shot at glory at Belmont, including a bevy of mostly late closers.

And, without Nyquist, the Belmont became about lack of real speed to set the pace.

Well, that is until WinStar Farm (owner of Creator and the company that has the breeding rights to Exaggerator) entered Gettysburg as a contender for the race this week.

This speedy horse, some are calling “the rabbit”, will provide as a perfect set-up for come-from-behind horses like Creator & Exaggerator, a seemingly obvious strategy to help their investments win.

Essentially, WinStar hopes that other horses will chase after their rabbit early leaving them too exhausted to handle the long 1.5 miles. Then, in comes Creator…

This is what happened at the Arkansas Derby when none other than Gettysburg set the pace, tired out most of the other horses, and let Creator come from behind to win.

But, (historically) this race is not won by late closers and seems to favor pace setters who have extraordinary stamina to handle the distance. The last time a true closer won the Belmont was in 2006 (Jazil).

Only Stradivari, Destin, Governor Malibu and Gettysburg are true pace setters from the field.  The rest could be considered closers.

So how will this play out with all these late closers? Will one break the drought and be victor?  Or, will a traditional pace setter win?

Also, spotty thunderstorms are expected around race time. If it rains and sets up a sloppy track, does that favor Exaggerator?

Belmont Race Track

One-mile and a half.

Belmont is the longest race track in North America. Most other tracks on the continent are just one-mile long.

And, the track is the same oval shape as most others making the corners much wider and longer and stretches longer and more gradual.

The track is also known as “Big Sandy” due to the amount of sand in the soil. Horses have to dig in to find their footing, meaning more effort per stride.

This element just adds more energy the horse needs to the already challenging distance.

So, how do we handicap this issue?

For one, look at horse pedigree. Meaning, who has been bred for stamina & distance?

In this race, Brody’s Cause, Lani, Stradivari, Trojan Nation & Suddenbreakingnews (and possibly Cherry Wine) have those genetics.

Another thing we should look at which impacts this unique and challenging race is jockey experience.

The winner will have a rider who knows this tricky track and the horse well.

That experienced jockey will be able to strategize the extraordinary effort needed to avoid the horse from burning out too quickly.

In this department, that gives an edge to Destin (Javier Castellano), Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux), Stradivari (John Velazquez), Creator (Irad Ortiz, Jr.), Governor Malibu (Joel Rosario), and possibly Suddenbreakingnews (Mike Smith – he’s new to the horse, but a great veteran jockey who knows Belmont).

Exaggerator

Advantages for the Belmont Stakes:

  • Outside Post (11th out of 13). Usually, for such a long race like this, post position is not really a concern. But, being on the outside helps Exaggerator in case there is a conspiracy to pin the horse to the rail or hold him down in traffic. With this post, he has more leeway to navigate out of trouble and waste less energy.
  • Experience with previous Triple Crown Races (2nd in KD; 1st in Preakness). Based on results alone, Exaggerator is the best horse in this race hands down. He’s a proven winner.
  • Jockey. Kent Desormeaux was a regular rider at this Belmont race track and recently said he “has an understanding” of the course, a possible advantage over other riders. He’s also a veteran Hall of Famer who’s proven he knows how to handle the talent level of this horse.
  • Weather. The forecast indicates possible rain at the start of the race or at least, a wet racetrack. Obviously, this horse excels on wet tracks.
  • Variable racing style. This colt has won races mostly from off the pace (some were way off the pace) by using his incredible accelerator. He has also shown he can sit right off the pace and pounce like he did in the Preakness. Jockey Desormeaux indicated this week that he would adjust the horse accordingly to the pace (lay back if fast; stay in the mix if slow). Nice to have these options if needed.

Possible Disadvantages:

  • Outside Post. As much as this could be an advantage for Exaggerator, not many winners have come from the outside post. Most have come from the inside. The swing out wide down the stretch adds even more to the distance for those horses who may be distance-challenged. Will this be an issue for him?
  • Stamina.  At the end of the Belmont, he’ll have raced 3 major stakes races in 5 weeks. Is he up for this challenge of a mile and a half? It’s unknown territory. But, the horse has shown to have a good recovery after hard work. (And, word is his energy is excellent, good color & eating really well.)
  • Odd incident this week. I’m not a horse expert, but I did read concerning news this week that Exaggerator made an unexpected “lead change” when he rode with his jockey at the track. Some of the old time experts indicate this behavior is a sign for a horse that is hurting. Will this be an issue? Is this an issue? Not sure how to read this since I don’t know much about it, but worth noting.

Destin

This Todd Pletcher trained horse is a pace-setter who likes to be within 3 lengths of the lead and use his tactical speed to win.

He also has a borderline pedigree indicating more stamina than speed, a crucial lineage to have under these circumstances.

His jockey is also the great Javier Castellano. He has a lot of success on the NY Racing Circuit and is a regular rider on this horse.

If this race becomes about a pace setter handling the distance, I like Destin to be in the top horses.

Suddenbreakingnews

I like this horse as a possible upset to Exaggerator.

He really impressed at the Kentucky Derby going from dead last to finish 5th.

Even more impressive is how he did it.

His final 1 mile and final ¼ mile at Churchill Downs were among the fastest ever recorded times in the last 30 years by a top 5 finisher.

Also, the jockey who raced him at the Derby has been replaced with veteran Mike Smith for the Belmont.  A Hall of Fame rider, Smith has over 500 wins including the Derby (2005), Preakness (1993) and more recently the Belmont twice (2010, 2013).  Smart move.

Another advantage for Suddenbreakingnews is that he’s well rested having sat out the Preakness.

And, the owner recently said of the colt that the long distance of the Belmont “fits him like a glove”. Meaning, his pedigree indicates he can handle the distance.  I like that confidence.

The Picks

Unlike most races I handicap, I don’t have a clear picture of who will win this Belmont Stakes.  But, what the heck, here goes:

  • Exaggerator
  • Destin
  • Suddenbreakingnews
  • Stradivari

Note:  Luv Cherry Wine especially in the rain, but his jockey has no experience at Belmont or I would rank this horse higher. And, while he came in 2nd at the Preakness, he came from 24 lengths from the lead to do so.  In only 3 times in 25 years has a Belmont winner come from 5+ lengths off the lead with .5 miles left to go.  In fact, 20 of the last 25 winners were within 5 lengths of the pace after the first .5 miles.  So for Cherry Wine to have a chance, he’s got to stalk the leaders.  Can the jockey navigate this and help him conserve energy?

Money Making Trifecta

If I were betting serious money (again, I am not), I would create a trifecta using Exaggerator and would include some of these higher payout horses:

Another late closing horse on my radar is Brody’s Cause (21-1).  While he only finished 7th at the Kentucky Derby, he has the pedigree built for the Belmont.  He is also the only horse in the race to match Exaggerator’s 2 Grade 1 Stakes wins & has actually beat Exaggerator twice before.  His odds should be better than they currently are.

Creator (16-1) is many experts’ top pick. On paper, he seems to be a major contender.  But I’m not sure about him, given his 13th place finish at the KD.  Granted, that jockey has been replaced with an experienced Belmont jockey and the owners have helped to create a winning situation for him by introducing Gov Malibu here.  I just don’t have confidence that he can upset. Still, if he does, this horse is an outstanding value.

Governor Malibu (21-1) – Trainer (Christophe Clement) trains in NY and he won a Belmont in 2014 with Tonalist.  The same jockey will ride this horse.  So, this team has a ton of experience here which will be helpful.

 

Cheat Sheet (Odds as of 12:17pm, Jun 11)

Post Horse Odds Remarks
1 Governor Malibu 21-1 Trainer Christophe Clement won a Belmont in 2014 with Tonalist and same jockey on this horse.
2 Destin 12-1 Finished 6th in the KD; Todd Pletcher trained horse; A real contender.
3 Cherry Wine 8-1 Finished 2nd in Preakness; Horse likes a wet track; Rider experienced on the rail.
4 Suddenbreakingnews 5-1 Finished 5th at the KD and did it with great speed.
5 Stradivari 9-1 Finished 4th at the Preakness; Many unknowns about this horse, but inside buzz is he’s very good.  Nyquist’s trainer has been known to say he’s “scared” of this horse’s talent.
6 Gettysburg 47-1 Inserted late by WinStar Farm, most likely to help what would have been a paceless race without Nyquist. He does have speed and is a good long-shot.
7 Seeking the Soul 54-1 This horse’s Grand Sire is Secretariat. But he’s never cracked 100 speed figure.
8 Forever D’oro 63-1 Little experience on this level at all.  Dallas Stewart trained. Owned by author Charles Fipke “Fire into Ice”.
9 Trojan Nation 66-1 Finished 16th at KD.
10 Lani 10-1 It’s a shame this horse has outstanding pedigree for distance. I couldn’t pick him b/c this track takes an experienced rider to handle a tricky horse on this course and this horse has behavioral issues. Still, if the rider handles him well by some miracle he should be in the mix. Some experienced handicappers are picking him to win.
11 Exaggerator 6-5 The favorite.   Outstanding horse.
12 Brody’s Cause 21-1 Finished 7th at KD. But different jockey; pedigree galore.
13 Creator 16-1 Finished 13th at KD, but rallied from last place at AK Derby to win. Chef Bobby Flay has stake in this horse.


Source : Belmont Stakes Website

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