Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, May 27, 2016 at 1:35 PM
BELMONT STAKES BULLETIN: IF THEY WERE RUNNING LATE IN LOUISVILLE AND BALTIMORE, MORE DISTANCE MUST BE BETTER IN NEW YORK...NOT SO FAST!
There is one thing about the Belmont Stakes that can be absolutely guaranteed. Over the course of the next two plus weeks you will hear it over, and over, and over again from bettors who had their deep closers run out of ground in the Derby and Preakness. "I love my horse in the Belmont, he will love the extra ground of the mile and a half race."
The eye test might convince bettors that this is reality, but evidence presents a much different picture.
First, even before the evidence is presented, consider this. At Churchill Downs and at Pimlico horses run over mile ovals. That means the start is above the far turn and the opening furlongs are contested down the long straight away before approaching the clubhouse turn. Belmont is a one turn mile and a half oval, the distance of the Belmont Stakes. It is the perfect layout for horses to run as best as possible measured fractions accomplished by those that have high cruising speed attributes.
In addition, the turns are wide and sweeping, they are not as taxing, or crowding as they are in the Derby and Preakness. Over the Belmont oval horses are better able to save ground or get other position which compliments their running style. Historically the Belmont has been a very "patterned" race and it is that pattern which makes support for the "further distance better for closers mantra" quite difficult.
SINCE 2000 TACTICAL SPEED AND STALKING STYLE HAVE RULED THE DAY
Building upon what was stated generally above, let us take a more detailed look at the last 16 Belmont Stakes. Below are the winners of the Belmont Stakes. Next to that is data which notes the place in the race the eventual winner was with a full half mile still to go AND next to that position is the number of lengths behind the pace-setter that eventual winner was at that half mile marker.
2015 - American Pharoah...wire-to-wire
2014 - Tonalist...3rd - 1.5 lengths off the pace
2013 - Palace Malice...3rd - .5 lengths off the pace
2012 - Union Rags...3rd - 3.5 lengths off the pace
2011 - Ruler On Ice...2nd - 1 length off the pace
2010 - *Drosselmeyer...5th - 2.5 lengths off pace
2009 - Summer Bird...9th - 6 lengths off the pace
2008 - Da Tara...wire-to-wire
2007 - *Rags To Riches...5th - 1.5 lengths off the pace
2006 - *Jazil...7th - 2.5 lengths off the pace
2005 - Afleet Alex...6th - 4 lengths off the pace
2004 - Birdstone...4th - 5 lengths off the pace
2003 - Empire Maker...2nd - a head off the pace
2002 - Sarava...4th - 1.5 lengths off the pace
2001 - Point Given...struck the lead at the half mile marker and went on
2000 - Commendable...2nd - a head off the pace
*You'll notice that Drosselmeyer, Rags To Riches and Jazil were in 5th, 5th and 7th respectively at the half mile marker. This might contribute to what I consider the "sometimes unreliable eye test" because while they passed horses they were right up on the pace when they did so. They were not deep closers that won the Belmont Stakes because they got extra ground.
16 Belmont Stakes winners since 2000.
13 of the 16 were within 3.5 lengths or less of the pace setter with a half mile left in the race.
12 of the 16 were within 2.5 lengths or less of the pace at that marker.
When it comes to horse racing there is no such thing as an absolute but if you are going to back a slow starting runner that figures to be far back at the half mile marker, you better have more reason than "the extra ground will help."
Remember to revisit these pages regularly. I'll have a number of Belmont historical perspectives as well as follow the progress of this year's runners.