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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 at 12:00 AM

POST TRIPLE CROWN WINNING TRENDS AT BELMONT PARK

By Noel Michaels

It’s difficult to envision the Belmont Park spring/summer meet getting any more exciting at any point than at American Pharoah’s exhilarating Triple Crown victory in the Belmont Stakes. However, for everyday handicappers and bettors, Belmont Stakes Day was just one small part of a great Belmont Park season that will continue on for another month of the best racing in the country at this time of year. Here is a look at some keys to winning the rest of the way.

This Belmont season will always be remembered at the year that American Pharoah became horse racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner, and first to accomplish the rare feat in 37 years. American Pharoah turned out to be the real deal, indeed, succeeding where so many hopefuls before him failed. Further validating American Pharoah’s greatness was his final time, which was the sixth-fastest in Belmont Stakes history and second-fastest among Triple Crown winners behind only Secretariat. Also behind only Secretariat was American Pharoah’s final quarter-mile time, as he flew home in 24.32 seconds (Secretariat ran every quarter mile of his historic 31-length Belmont victory in an equal 24 seconds).

American Pharoah’s owner vowed after the Belmont Stakes not to retire the horse immediately, and instead point him toward this fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. The next likely spot for American Pharoah to appear will be in Monmouth Park’s $1 million Haskell Invitational on Sunday, August 2. The horse’s owners live in Teaneck, New Jersey, and trainer Bob Baffert virtually has owned the Haskell in recent years to become the Haskell’s all-time winningest trainer.

While the next move for American Pharoah might already be in the works, what about the next move for Belmont Park handicappers, who still have a month of great racing still to go this summer? That’s what this column is all about.

The first month and a half of the Belmont Park spring/summer meet is in the books, and at this stage of the game, horseplayers who have been paying attention to Belmont all season have a solid set of information from the first part of the meet that can be broken down in order to formulate a successful plan for to win the rest of the way. Several trends have been quietly - and not so quietly - taking shape at Belmont Park this season as the meet has progressed, and many solid long-term track trends can also be factored-in to give us a winning plan of attack. From what we’ve seen through mid-June, we have noticed some trends developing at the Belmont meet that can help handicappers cash tickets and turn a profit.

Belmont Turf Races

On the Belmont Widener main turf course this season, the story has been the fairness of the inner turf course in both routes and sprints, and the bad inside posts in grass routes on the Widener (outside) turf course.

Taking a look at the overall post statistics from the Belmont inner turf course, the first thing that becomes quickly apparent is the fairness of the post draw in inner turf routes. Horses have enjoyed equally good chances of winning from really any post position from any part of the starting gate, inside, middle, or outside.

Inner turf sprints have been much tougher than usual on the outside posts, which are usually advantageous, but which have not been good so far this season.

On the Widener (outer) turf course, the story so far has been the middle posts, which are good, and the inside posts, which have been exceptionally bad. Out of a combined total of 93 horses to break from posts 1-3 so far in Widener turf routes, there have been only 4 winners combined from those posts. Outside posts have been no bargain either, but what has been a bargain has been betting horses from middle posts 4-8, which have won the vast majority of Widener turf routes at the Belmont meet to date. Of 31 such races run so far, 22 have been won from the middle posts 4-8, despite the fact that many of those 31 races did not even contain horses breaking from many of those post positions.

Belmont Turf Winning Post Positions
(thru June 7)

Post Widener Turf Route Wins
1 0-31 (0%)
2 2-31 (6%)
3 2-31 (6%)
4 4-31 (13%)
5 5-30 (17%)
6 7-30 (23%)
7 3-28 (11%)
8 3-23 (13%)
9 1-19 (5%)
10 1-16 (6%)
11 1-12 (8%)
12 2-7 (29%)

Beyond just what we’ve seen on the Belmont lawn so far this season, there are several more long term winning angles for success betting on Belmont grass races. Here are six of the best:

  1. Post 1 is terrible in turf sprints on the Widener main turf course (6F and 7F).
  2. Outside posts 6 and outward are the best in 7 furlong turf sprints.
  3. The inside posts 1-2 are good in Inner course grass races at 1 1/16 miles and longer.
  4. Outside posts are usually not a strong disadvantage at Belmont at the various distances on both courses.
  5. At one mile on the Widener course in particular, inside posts 1-4 are bad, outside posts 5-10 generally are good.
  6. When it rains, the inner turf typically dries out faster than the outer (Widener) course, so always keep that in mind when evaluating horses who prefer good, yielding, or soft turf.

Belmont Dirt Trends

Now let’s move over to the Belmont Park dirt track and look at some trends we’ve noticed so far. There have been a limited amount of track bias days so far at this Belmont meet, but if there’s one prevailing bias that has affected racing so far, it has been that outside running paths have seemed to be better than inside paths on a few different occasions.

Here are track biases so far at Belmont 2015:

Belmont Track Biases 2015
May 31 - Outside preferred
May 30 - Outside good
May 29 - Outside good
May 21 - Outside good
May 20 - Closers won 3-of-4 races
May 6 - Outside good, slow rail

When it comes to post position angles on the Belmont main track, the track does not always play like you would expect. Remember, Belmont runs almost no two-turn races due to its 1 1/2 -mile circumference. In the first half of the meet at Belmont, there were 92 dirt sprints run and 55 dirt routes - almost all of those dirt routes were run around one turn.

See the following charts for a complete post position breakdown on the Belmont dirt:

Belmont Dirt Sprint Winning Post Positions
(thru June 7)

Post Dirt Sprint Wins
1 15-92 (16%)
2 20-92 (22%)
3 14-92 (15%)
4 16-92 (17%)
5 14-88 (16%)
6 6-63 (10%)
7 2-38 (5%)
8 3-21 (14%)
9 2-17 (12%)
10 0-10 (0%)
11 0-4 (0%)
12 0-2 (0%)

The above chart shows that the track has been amazingly fair to all Belmont posts so far in dirt sprints, with the exception of the far outside posts 10-12, which are a combined 0-for-16. In other words, stay away from the far outside posts in dirt sprints.

In dirt routes, meanwhile, the anti-outside advantage has been even more pronounced. Outside posts in Belmont dirt routes have been downright awful so far at this meet. Based on the raw post position figures listed below, you truly need a post 1-6 in order to have you best chance in a Belmont dirt route at this year’s meet.

Belmont Dirt Route Winning Post Positions
(thru June 7)

Post Dirt Route Wins
1 10-55 (18%)
2 7-55 (13%)
3 8-55 (15%)
4 7-54 (13%)
5 6-50 (12%)
6 12-42 (29%)
7 1-25 (4%)
8 1-21 (5%)
9 1-13 (8%)
10 2-11 (18%)
11 0-5 (0%)
12 0-3 (0%)

Beyond just what we’ve seen on the Belmont main track so far this season, there are several more long term winning angles for success betting on Belmont dirt races. Here are four of the best:

  1. The rail post can great in dirt routes over one mile.
  2. All posts outside No. 5 can be dead at 7 and 7 1/2 furlongs.
  3. Horses breaking from posts 9 and out at one mile are at a big disadvantage.
  4. Except for 7 and 7 1/2 furlongs, there is no real disadvantage for any post position from 1 thru 8 at any distance on the Belmont dirt. Disadvantages generally only affect far outside posts.

Trainer and Jockey Angles

This season’s big story in the Belmont training ranks has been Todd Pletcher, who has been red-hot of late and is winning races at around a 40% clip. Pletcher usually wins at a high percentage, but this season has been exceptionally deadly and dominant.

Currently Pletcher horses are impossible to overlook, as are the horses from trainer Chad Brown, who is just a few wins behind Pletcher in the trainer standings with 21 wins to Pletcher’s 25. None of the horses from these two top stables tends to pay a lot of money, but their horses win so often that they always must be included on all of your multi-race exotics tickets such as Pick 3s and Pick 4s.

While these trainers have been the best so far, bar none, we nevertheless are quickly approaching the part of the meet where you need to get off of betting horses from these two powerhouse stables.

You need to start betting against Brown and Pletcher now for a number of key reasons:
1) The win percentages of these trainers are so high that they can only decrease from this point forward;
2) Bettors see these win percentages and start over betting horses with questionable chances of winning, lowering the expected ROIs of both Brown and Pletcher the rest of the way;
3) Brown and Pletcher’s numerous wins have taken live conditions away from many of their best horses, in other words, they’ve run through their conditions. The horses have already won at their proper class levels and are now up in class into tougher class levels where their win percentages will be lower;
4) Both of these trainers annually start gearing-up their barns right now for the Saratoga meet, where they perennially battle it out for top trainer. This means that they’re holding back certain of their best live, fit, and ready-to-win horses so they can win up at Saratoga instead, and finally;
5) Specifically for Pletcher, his barn has been affected by a virus in the last week or so, and some of his horses have missed training as a result. They might not be ready to rebound for their best in time for late-June or early-July at Belmont, but you can bet they’ll be ready later for Saratoga.

A couple of other trainer angles you must be aware of at this point in the Belmont meet include betting horses from more of the lower-profile but high-percentage trainers quietly having good meets. There are a few of the trainers I want to mention in this category starting with Jason Servis, who has 6 wins from his first 19 Belmont starters for a 32% win percentage. Servis has had some bad luck, too, and with better luck his win percentage would be even higher.

Two-year-old racing has begun at Belmont, and while we wait for later (at Saratoga) for a lot of the big guns from the Todd Pletcher stable to be unleashed, the trainer that has been dominating in these early juvenile races has been Wesley Ward. Overall, Ward is 5-for-16 in the win column at the Belmont meet, and he cannot be overlooked now, particularly with young horses and turf sprinters.

Another trainer you want to start betting now at Belmont if you haven’t already is John Terranova, who has a 31% win percentage with 5 wins from 16 starters. His horses are returning good prices, too, so start laying attention to him because it’s not too late.

Lastly in the trainer category, I want to mention NY wintertime leading trainer David Jacobson. He has won with an uncharacteristically low 19% of his starters at Belmont so far this season. Jacobson is usually up closer to 30% in terms of his win percentage, and my educated guess would be that he will get hot in the final month of action at the Belmont spring/summer meet until his win percentage raises back up to its usually lofty levels. Plus, with Pletcher and Chad Brown dialing-back their operations for the next month or so, somebody has to start to fill the win gap. That trainer picking up the slack will be David Jacobson.

In terms of jockeys, I don’t want to totally ignore the category in terms of handicapping tips for the rest of the Belmont meet because I think there are a couple of trends going on that bettors should know about.

First of all, Irad Ortiz has taken charge of the jockey standings ahead of Javier Castellano and is red hot at present with 33 wins to Castellano’s 25. Keep this in mind, because the average Irad Ortiz winner ($10.60) pays more than $3 more on the tote board than Castellano’s average winner ($7.40). One way you can make money betting Irad Ortiz is by betting him in turf races, because this is his most overlooked category. Irad Ortiz’s 23% win percentage on the Belmont turf leads all riders currently, and his winners tend to pay good prices.

On the negative side, the other Ortiz brother, Jose Ortiz, has been uncharacteristically cold at this season’s Belmont meet. Usually one of the leading riders in New York, Jose Ortiz is only seventh in the standings with a low 12% win percentage. He’s truly having a terrible meet.

Finally, the one jockey you really need to be aware of at the current Belmont meet is not one you would immediately think of - it’s Junior Alvarado! Junior Alvarado is not one of the leading riders in terms of winners - he has 15 so far - but he is the undisputed king of return on investment among all jockeys at the Belmont meet. Alvarado’s average winner is paying an eye-popping $26.50 so far. Alvarado has been a particularly good bet on the turf, where he has 11 winners so far for 18% wins.

Wrap-Up

Good luck the rest of the way at the Belmont spring/summer meet. I think that by following some of the simple advice listed in this article, you can position yourself for success when betting Belmont from late-June to early-July. I wish you tons of luck and plenty of winners at Belmont Park!

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