MARK BELLING’S BELMONT STAKES ANALYSIS
I almost did it again in the Preakness! After last year picking the top four horses in exact 1-2-3-4 order, three weeks ago I again nailed the winner and almost hit the superfecta cold as my selections ran 1-3-2-4. The Preakness is an easier race to handicap than the Kentucky Derby because of the smaller field and a few other factors. The Belmont Stakes is somewhere in between. The field isn’t large but it is usually far superior to the field in the Preakness and really is this year as this year’s Preakness lineup was frankly awful. That’s because many top Kentucky Derby horses skip the Preakness and wait for the Belmont, preferring to take a five week break.
The other challenge with the Belmont is the distance. At 1 ½ miles, it is not only longer than any of these horses have ever run, it is likely longer than any of them will ever run again. Breeding matters. I have had some of my greatest handicapping successes ever in this race, picking 73-1 Sarava in the 2002 Belmont and hitting a cold exacta of 30-1 Lemon Drop Kid over 55-1 Vision and Verse. More recently, I nailed 16-1 Creator as the winner of the 2016 race. But there have been misses along the way to counter all that glory.
I have strong opinions on all but one of the horses in this year’s race and I really like a few other races on Saturday’s Belmont Park card. As this is being written, the freakout over air quality on the east coast is is going on. There’s always a chance the races will be postponed which would really be absurd given that horses have been around for thousands of years and have run in all sorts of natural conditions. A note on scratches: I will be able to update this site through Friday. If any scratches occur after that, simply drop the scratched horse from my picks and wagers and move up the remaining horses accordingly.
I’ll assess the nine horse field in post position order.
#1 Tapit Shoes—Three of the nine horses are trained by Brad Cox who is in position to win his third Belmont in five years. But this one is the least talented and has only one career win in five starts. I wouldn’t be surprised if this horse is sent to the lead to guarantee a fast pace for Cox’s other two horses, both of which come from behind.
#2 Tapit Trice—Same first name as #1 and that’s because they are both sired by Tapit who has had a huge impact on the Belmont Stakes as a sire. This is one of two from trainer Todd Pletcher and I think is Todd’s best shot. He had won four of five races before running a lackluster seventh in the Kentucky Derby. But he had a rather rough trip in that race and I’m willing to give him a second shot. His running style of coming from way back is not the preferred style in the Belmont Stakes.
#3 Arcangelo—Here’s the wild card. This horse was not on the Kentucky Derby trail but is coming off a gutsy win in the Peter Pan Stakes four weeks ago at this same Belmont Park track. He is training very well for this race. His trainer is very low profile and this is by far her best horse. His rider, Javier Castellano, is solid and has been based at this track for over two decades. My fear is that his last race was such an improvement over his earlier outings that it will be hard for him to improve yet again. Nonetheless, he’s a contender.
#4 National Treasure—I picked him to win the Preakness and he did just that. But everything was in this horse’s favor. He’s a front runner and got a very slow pace in the Preakness and was still all-out to win against a much poorer field than he is facing today. Then, there’s the Baffert factor. Trained by the notorious white-haired racing charlatan Bob Baffert, the horse can’t be discounted. For some reason, Baffert horses tend to run very well when shipped to New York. This is the one I’m torn on. I’m not putting him in my top selections but I might be wrong……
#5 Il Miracolo—It would be Il Miracolo if he won.
#6 Forte—He’s the pre-race favorite and was the pre- ace favorite in the Kentucky Derby before being forced to scratch by track veterinarians over the strong objections of his owners. He’s six for seven lifetime and trained by Pletcher who has had tremendous success in this race. But there are bad vibes. He remained on the so-called “vet’s list” for weeks and his last workout, while fast, was unimpressive to me as his exercise rider kept imploring him to get on with it. Handicapping horse racing is not just picking winners but deciding who to throw out. For better or worse, I’m tossing Forte.
#7 Hit Show—The second of the three Brad Cox trained horses and his one is a very live longshot to win it all. This horse was a decent fifth in the Kentucky Derby despite racing rather close to an overheated pace. His breeding is spectacular and the great Belmont influence Tapit is the sire of the dam (mother). The horse is three for six in his career and the rider, Manny Franco, is very good and very experienced at the tricky Belmont track. This is the only 1 ½ mile dirt track in America and has an unusual configuration with very long and wide turns and a relatively short home stretch. Jockeys don’t matter much in some races but they do in the Belmont Stakes.
#8 Angel of Empire—I picked him second in the Kentucky Derby and he ran a very nice third coming from way off the pace. The problem is that kind of running style never works in the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Cox is putting blinkers on the horse for this race. I normally hate that move because I see it as a sign of desperation and frustration with a horse. But in this case, it makes lots of sense as blinkers can focus a horse and get them to run faster earlier on. Angel’s Kentucky Derby speed figure is better than that of any other horse in this race and he has improved in each of his last five races. The five week gap since the Derby is ideal for a top horse. Jockey Flavien Prat is very good and now based at Belmont so he knows the track. Likely winner.
#9 Red Route One—This horse ran a so-so fourth in the Preakness against weaker competition than he’ll face here. He is making his sixth start of the year and just hasn’t improved at all. He’s good but not great. And his running style of coming from the clouds is wrong for the Belmont Stakes.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
|#8 Angel of Empire||7-2|
|#7 Hit Show||10-1|
|#2 Tapit Trice||3-1|
|#4 National Treasure||5-1|
(in order of preference)
Adjust dollar amount to your budget; the dollar amount here is used to indicate the strength of the play
$20 to win place and show on #8 ($60)
$6 to win place and show on #3 ($18)
$5 exacta box 7-8 ($10)
$2 exacta box 2-3-7-8 ($24)
$2 exacta box 2-3-4-7 ($20)
If you’re looking for a bigger score I love the end of the Belmont card and suggest playing the pick 5, pick 4, pick 3 and late daily double:
Starting with Race 9 50-cent pick five 9-10-11-12 with 1-6 with 4 with 7-8 with 1 ($8)
Starting with Race 10 50-cent pick four 1-6 with 4 with 2-3-4-7-8 with 1 ($5)
Starting with Race 11 $1 pick 3 4 with all with 1 ($9)
Starting with Race 12 (The Belmont Stakes) $4 daily double 2-3-7-8 with 1 ($16)
Great card at Belmont Park. In Race 9, the Japipur, I like #10 Big Invasion (6-1). In Race 10, the Met Mile I like #6 Zandon (5-1) to upset superstar Cody’s Wish. In Race 11, the Manhattan a strong play on #4 Ottoman Field (5-2) and in the finale, Race 13, I like #1 Spirit of St. Louis (5-2).