Keys to the 2015 Belmont Stakes

May 24, 2015 10:48am

Every year race fans debate the running styles of the Belmont Stakes contenders. Which manner - front runner, pace presser, mid-pack runner or come from behind stalker - is the most favorable for winning the grueling 1 ½ mile Test of Champions? How do the favorites stack up?  Is the third leg of the Triple Crown a decent betting race or should you save your money?  To answer those questions and more, I researched the last fifteen editions of the Belmont Stakes.



Running Style:

I discovered that half of the last fifteen Belmont Stakes winners raced mid-pack, around fifth place) early on, either between horses or in the clear on the outside. Only three took the rail trip. They started gearing up right around the 3/8 pole and were in full running mode by the time they hit 1 ¼ miles. 


Four of the Belmont Stakes winners were pace pressers, sitting second or third early. They made their move a little later, right around the 1 ¼ mile pole.  Surprisingly, only two colts could be considered ralliers, they sat in eighth or farther back. They moved up gradually and had the lead after 1 ¼ miles.  Overall, nine of fourteen Belmont victors had the lead after 1 ¼ miles. 




The Belmont Stakes is a very lucrative betting opportunity. How lucrative? Only four winners paid single digits to win.  The lowest win pay-out was $4.30 when Afleet Alex demolished the field as the betting favorite. Favorites do not fare well in the Belmont Stakes. Only two post time favorites in the last fourteen years won and only five favorites hit the board. In 2002, Savara paid a whopping $142.50 to his backers. Not counting that return or the single digit returns, the average payout over nine years was $39. The lowest trifecta was $67.50, in a six horse field in 2003. 


So how hard is it to pick the winner?  Eight of fourteen Belmont heroes (and heroine) were first or second in their previous start. The other six Belmont winners finished off of the board in their previous start – all in the Kentucky Derby.  Five Belmont winners prepped in a race other than the Triple Crown – and either won or placed. Two prepped at Pimlico; one in the Sir Barton, the other in the Federico Tesio.  Only two Preakness winners also won the Belmont Stakes.


How do Kentucky Derby winners fare in the Belmont? Not that great. Five Derby winners never made it to Belmont. Of the remaining nine, the best finish was by Smarty Jones, who was second. Four were third and four were off of the board. 




In previous years, a big fuss was made about jockeys unfamiliar with the Belmont track, and rightly so.  The “Big Sandy” is the only track in America with a 1 ½ mile circumference, so it’s easy to get lost.  Unlike the typical mile track, Belmont has a ½ mile pole at the top of the last turn.  In the Belmont, a jockey not familiar with the huge track can move their horse prematurely, thinking the ½ mile pole is really the 3/8 pole.  Good examples are the rides given to Smarty Jones in 2004, whose jockey Stewart Elliott misjudged the poles and sent the colt to the front before the 3/8 pole, thus losing all chances of a successful Triple Crown bid.   In 2009, Calvin Borel also made his move at the 3/8 pole with Mine That Bird. Neither colt couldn't sustain his bid.   Neither jockey rode regularly at Belmont Park; however the rider of 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone, Edgar Prado, and Kent Desormeaux, pilot of 2009 Belmont Champ Summer Bird, were fixtures on the New York circuit.


Only four jockeys since 2000 who won the Belmont Stakes did so in their first attempt in the race. Jeremy Rose, Fernando Jara, Alan Garcia and Jose Valdivia, Jr. timed it perfectly to win the trophy.  Of those, only Rose had not ridden at the Big Sandy before the Belmont Stakes, although he did have mounts earlier in the day to become familiar with the track lay-out.  Victor Espinoza is no stranger to New York or the Belmont Stakes. He’s had five mounts in the Belmont Stakes and rode the favorite twice, War Emblem in 2002 and California Chrome last year.  Victor’s best results were a second place finish in the 2001 Belmont Stakes with A.P. Valentine and fourth last year with California Chrome.



I don’t think any trainer will ever come close to touching the Belmont Stakes record of the masterful Woody Stephens, who captured the Belmont Stakes five consecutive times. D. Wayne Lukas came closest with three consecutive victories in his heyday in the mind-1990’s. Todd Pletcher and Nick Zito have earned the trophy twice. Bob Baffert and Kiaran McLaughlin each own a single victory. Bob Baffert, trainer of American Pharoah, is no stranger to the Belmont Stakes. In 2001, the big red colt Point Given inexplicably finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby, but came back to demolish the fields in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Baffert had had heart-breaking defeats in the 1999 Belmont Stakes when the gallant Real Quiet was denied the Triple Crown trophy by a whisker and again in 2012 when Paynter was bested by a bare neck. 



Track Surface:

It rarely rains on Belmont Stakes day. Since 2000, the test of champions has been held twice over a wet track twice. Before that, we have to go back to 1986 to find a wet track.  Both times this century, speed held. The winners raced on the lead or pressed the early pace.




Does pedigree matter in the Belmont Stakes? Silly question. All except two of the last fifteen Belmont Stakes winners were by stallions who had previously sired a stakes winner at 1 ½ miles or broodmare sires who had stakes winners at 1 ½ miles.  The exceptions were in 2011 – Ruler on Ice, who didn’t have the pedigree to win at 1 ½ miles, yet set plodding fractions on the front end over a sloppy track and held on to beat Stay Thirsty by ¼ length; 2012 – Palace Malice’s sire, Belmont Stakes runner up Curlin was a new sire.



Preakness Stakes:

As of this writing, only two Preakness runners are scheduled to come back in the Belmont Stakes. So, the Preakness Stakes is a key prep, right? For the winners, yes, the rest? Not so much. 


Out of the 45 horses that hit the board in the Preakness since 2000, 19 didn’t bother showing up for the Belmont.  Nine Preakness winners entered the Belmont Stakes. Two won, three finished second or third and the remaining four were off of the board, although War Emblem and Big Brown had excuses.


20 runner-ups in the Preakness also raced in the Belmont. Three who were second in the Preakness hit the board in the Belmont while none of the Preakness show finishers hit the board in the Belmont Stakes. So, Tale of Verve has a shot, but if any of the horses that finished fourth or worse show up in New York, disregard them.


Below are brief comments and running styles on the winners of the last fourteen Belmont Stakes. The race favorites who finished in the top three are in bold print.

2015 belmont stakes research 


So what can we learn from this decade’s Belmont Stakes? The winner generally sits in around fifth place early and moves up around the turn. He’s usually in front after 1 ¼ miles.  His jockey is familiar with the track and the Belmont Stakes isn’t his first rodeo.


If the Belmont winner didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby, he won or placed in his Belmont prep, which bodes well for Madefromlucky and Conquest Curlinate, the one-two finishers in the Peter Pan Stakes. 


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If the Belmont hero’s last start was in the Kentucky Derby, he normally finished off of the board in that race.  Good news for Carpe Diem, Frammento, Frosted, Materiality, Mubtaahij, Keen Ice and War Story.


Winners of the Preakness generally hit the board in the Belmont Stakes.  Half of the Preakness runner-ups also finished in the money in the Belmont.  Toss the horses that finished third in the Preakness and contested the Belmont. None hit the board, although two of eight finished fourth. That’s good news for Tale of Verve, who made a huge move to finish best of the rest in the Preakness.


The payout is often generous, and never pays less than $4, making the Belmont an excellent betting race, especially the exotics. Now that you know what to look for, finding the 2015 Belmont Stakes winner should be easy, right?


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Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

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