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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Monday, June 6, 2016 at 4:56 PM


After the Kentucky Derby and Preakness are in the books, New York's Belmont Park again becomes the center of the racing universe thanks to the running of the third jewel of racing's Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. The 2016 Belmont Stakes, to be run on Saturday, June 11, headlines what will be one of the year's best weekends of racing from June 9-11 at Belmont Park.  In all, the three-day Belmont Stakes Festival will feature 19 stakes races worth in excess of $10 million. The Belmont Stakes will be one of six Grade 1 events being run, along with the $1.25 million Met Mile, the $1 million Ogden Phipps, the $1 million Manhattan, the $700,000 Just a Game, and the $700,000 Acorn.

But when all is said and done, the weekend is still all about the running of the Belmont Stakes. This year, all eyes in the horseracing world will be on Preakness winner Exaggerator to see if he can win "The Test of the Champion" and capture two-thirds of the 2016 Triple Crown.

Of all the factors that are likely to derail Exaggerator, the biggest hurdle against his success in the Belmont appears to be the grind of running three races in five weeks. Belmont Stakes hopefuls who ran in both the Derby and Preakness always face a field of fresher horses. If you don't believe me, go ahead and ask Calfiornia Chrome's owner, who became the world's most infamous buffoon thanks to his ranting temper tantrum about this issue in 2014.

Facing a field of fresher horses, combined with the Belmont's distance of 1 1/2-miles, undoubtedly gives you the number one factor accounting for the most Belmont Stakes disappointments. Some recent Triple Crown losers, including Charismatic (Lemon Drop Kid), Funny Cide (Empire Maker), Smarty Jones (Birdstone), and California Chrome (Tonalist) all lost to fresher horses.

This year, or course, we don't have a Triple Crown on the line. Not only that, we don't even have the second most high-profile occurrence in the Belmont Stakes of a "rubber match" face-off between the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.  What we do have this year will be a heavy favorite, Exaggerator, and a line-up of legitimate horses with chances to rise to the occasion in a big way on racing's biggest stage.

If Exaggerator is going to lose, it will probably be because he loses for the same reason the favorite almost always loses the Belmont Stakes . . . it's the three long and demanding races in five weeks he must run while going up against horses that are fresher than he is.  As a matter of fact, this year Exaggerator will be one of only two horses in the Belmont Stakes to run in all three races, along with Japanese-based Derby and Preakness also-ran Lani. This factor is a distinct disadvantage for both horses, according to recent history.

Yes, American Pharoah did win the Belmont Stakes - and therefore the Triple Crown - last year, but American Pharoah was a special horse, and we haven't seen another one like him come along in the last 38 years. Look no further than this year's Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist to be reminded of just how difficult the feat really is. Nyquist was an undefeated Derby winner just a few weeks ago, but since then he lost the Preakness as the favorite and now won't even run in the Belmont.

When the Belmont Stakes horses arrive at Belmont Park, a.k.a. "Big Sandy," what awaits them will a dramatically different surface from the racetracks at both Churchill Downs and Pimlico.  In terms of the Belmont Stakes itself, it is difficult to use traditional handicapping axioms to try to handicap the race, because Belmont runs almost no other two-turn races due to its 1 1/2-mile circumference. Therefore, besides the Brooklyn Handicap, and maybe one or two annual 1 ½-mile dirt races, you have almost nothing else at Belmont to compare to the Belmont Stakes, except for the other past runnings of the race itself (see below for Belmont Stakes handicapping trends).

In the Belmont Stakes, in terms of the odds, it goes without saying that favorites have done poorly in the third jewel of the Triple Crown. After all, only American Pharoah has swept the Triple Crown since 1978, with 12 horses during that stretch losing their historic bids in the Belmont Stakes. The 12 horses since 1979 to lose the Belmont in their bid for the Triple Crown were Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004), Big Brown (2008), and California Chrome (2014). Another candidate, I'll Have Another in 2012, was scratched before the race and never even made it into the starting gate at Belmont.

That list of 12 Belmont Stakes losers is an impressive bunch, but perhaps no horse among those 12 (with the possible exception of Spectacular Bid, who lost in large part to jockey error on the part of Ronny Franklin) has come up to the third jewel in racing's Triple Crown looking like as much of a forgone conclusion as Big Brown did in 2008. Other Triple Crown aspirants have come into the Belmont Stakes undefeated before suffering their first loss (Smarty Jones, for example), but none lost with as much flair as did Big Brown, who failed to even finish the race, going down in flames at odds of 30 cents on the dollar.

What this means is, that no matter how good a favorite looks in the Belmont Stakes, it is still worthwhile - from a handicapping and wagering standpoint - to bet against the favorite.  The opposite of the recent Preakness runnings, the Belmont Stakes is a graveyard for favorites of all shapes and sizes. As a matter of fact, when Union Rags won the Belmont Stakes four years ago as the second-choice, he came about as close to being a winning favorite as there's been in the Belmont in recent memory other than American Pharoah.  Union Rags paid $7.50 to win as the close second-choice behind that year's favorite, Dullahan - yet another loser.

When California Chrome went for the Triple Crown and lost in 2014, he was going against a sub-par field that included Tonalist but not much else. This year, the competition lining-up to try to KO Exaggerator looks promising, including the winners of the Blue Grass Stakes (Brody's Cause), the Arkansas Derby (Creator), the UAE Derby (Lani), the Tampa Bay Derby (Destin), and the Southwest Stakes (Suddenbreakingnews), as well as the runner-up of the Preakness (Cherry Wine), and the second- and third-place finishers from the Peter Pan (Governor Malibu and Wild About Deb).

Yes indeed, this is a deep field with lot of alternatives to the favorite, who will be running his third taxing race in five weeks once he steps onto the track Saturday, June 11 at Belmont Park.

In Exaggerator's favor, he looked very good in his Preakness victory and has compiled a good record that also includes wins in the Santa Anita Derby and Delta Jackpot.  He is certainly a worthy favorite based on his record so far.

The questions on Belmont Stakes Day will be, what will Exaggerator have left in him? Did the demanding Kentucky Derby and Preakness efforts take too much out of him for the Belmont Stakes?  We'll have to wait and see if he can succeed where others have failed. Can he handle the marathon 1 ½-mile distance of the Belmont Stakes after two big efforts back-to-back two weeks apart this last month? Or will the Triple Crown grind of 3 races in 5 weeks, in conjunction with the 1 ½-mile distance, turn out to be his downfall? One thing is for certain, Exaggerator is no American Pharoah, and he will still need to prove himself as a truly exceptional horse in order to win. Will he be up to the challenge? 

The 2016 Belmont Stakes might not be sexy to the layperson, and it won't feature a horse going for the Triple Crown. However, for true horse racing aficionados, it is still going to be a great race.


One way of looking at the Belmont Stakes from a handicapping perspective will be for players to look at certain recent trends and angles to try to lead them down the road to picking the winner, and/or cashing exotics tickets in the race.

Depending on what angles you find to be the most important, there is probably an angle out there that is nearly tailor-made for you, based on the results we've seen in recent years in the Belmont Stakes.

Please see the chart below for a breakdown of the most recent Belmont Stakes winners:

YearBelmont WinnerPostRunning Style'Classic Breeding'Fresh?
2015American Pharoah5FrontpartialNo
2013Palace Malice12StalkYesYes
2012Union Rags3StalkNoYes
2011Ruler On Ice3PresspartialNo
2009Summer Bird4StalkBirdstoneYes
2008Da' Tara5FrontTiznowNo
2007Rags to Riches7PressA. P. IndyYes
2005Afleet Alex9CloserNoNo
2003Empire Maker1PaceUnbridledYes
2002Sarava11PressWild AgainNo
2001Point Given9PaceThunder GulchNo

Let's take a closer look at some of the recent trends and angles in the Belmont Stakes that are alluded to in the above chart, so that we might gain a clearer picture of what is likely to transpire in this year's race, both in terms of who to bet, and how to bet in Saturday's third jewel of racing's Triple Crown.

Box the Outside Posts in Exactas

Most handicappers completely disregard post positions as having any impact whatsoever in the outcome of the Belmont Stakes. After all, the Belmont Stakes is such a long race at a mile and a half, and what happens at the start would logically have very little impact on the running of the race, right? Well, not so fast. As it turns out, very few factors seemingly have had as much to do with winning and losing in recent runnings of the Belmont Stakes as post positions have had.

So why are post positions so important in the Belmont, you ask? Well, for starters, the Belmont Stakes features the shortest run into the first turn of any of the three Triple Crown races. Secondly, the horses breaking from inside posts run much more of a risk of getting squeezed back early than do the outside horses. With a shorter run to the first turn and more of a benefit to horses with tactical speed in the Belmont than in other races, early trouble can cost a horse his best chance in the Belmont much more readily than it can hurt a horse's chances in most other races.

Just ask Big Brown, who had tons of early trouble before the first turn of the 2008 Belmont Stakes and then was never able to recover before being pulled up and taken out of the race.

The recent post position numbers for the Belmont Stakes are telling, and they all favor horses breaking from outside posts.  Eight of the 14 Belmont Stakes winners from 2001 to 2014 broke from posts 7 and outward - not to mention that one of the years that a horse from an outside post didn't win was in 2006 when there were only 6 horses in the race, meaning there were no outside horses! (That means 8 of the last 13 relevant Belmont Stakes have been won by outside horses).

You may not have considered American Pharoah's Post 5 to be an outside draw in 2015, but in an eight-horse field, it still placed him in the favorable outside half of the Belmont Stakes starting gate.

This angle then paid-off in a big way yet again in that race when a four-horse box of the outside horses would have gotten you the trifecta with 5-6-7 horses American Pharoah-Frosted-Keen Ice coming in 1-2-3 and returning a payoff of $109.50.

Counting 2014's Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, who broke from post 11, four of the 15 most recent Belmont winners broke from the widest post in the field, including Rags to Riches in 2007, Sarava at 70-1 odds in 2002, and Point Given in 2001. The 2013 winner, Palace Malice, broke from post 12 in a 14-horse field.

Besides just the winners, the numbers and stats are good in the exacta, too. Out of the last 28 exacta finishers in the Belmont Stakes between 2001 and 2015 (excluding 2003 when there was only six horses), much more than half of those broke from the outside half of the gate.  This includes the aforementioned 2015 running, and the 2014 running, when horses 11 (Tonalist) and 8 (Commissioner) broke from the outside half of the gate and completed a $2 exacta paying $348.

And so, dating back to 2001, there were 13 Belmonts where you could have bet an exacta box of all horses from posts 7 and higher (2003 and 2007 are excluded due to small field size). A $2 exacta box on every combination of horses breaking from post 7 and higher in the applicable recent Belmont Stakes would have paid a combined rate of return of 8X your original investment!

Wagering StrategyBox the outside half of the gate in exactas and trifectas, and expect a bomb to come in and make your ticket worthwhile.


Horses With "Classic" Breeding and Classic Credentials Win the Belmont

For the purposes of this angle, let's consider "classic breeding" to mean any horse that was sired by a winner of any of a Triple Crown race(s) and/or the Breeders' Cup Classic.

At a mile and a half, the Belmont Stakes has long been considered a breeder's race, and the recent results of the Belmont certainly have done nothing to dissuade that notion. Nearly every Belmont Stakes winner in recent years was sired by a winner either of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, or the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Picking the winner of the Belmont Stakes won't always be quite this easy from a breeding perspective, but with only a few exceptions, most recent Belmont winners were sired by stallions proven during their own racing careers to be adept at distances of 1 1/4 miles or longer. Moreover, three fairly recent Belmont winners, Summer Bird in 2009 (Birdstone), Rags to Riches in 2007 (A. P. Indy) and Point Given in 2001 (Thunder Gulch) were sired by past winners of the Belmont Stakes.

American Pharoah technically didn't fit this angle, but his sire, Pioneer of the Nile, did run second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, and his sire, Empire Maker, was the 2003 Belmont Stakes winner. So clearly, American Pharoah had the "classic breeding" we're talking about to win.

The 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malace, was sired by Curlin, who fits this angle as a winner of the Preakness.

Other recent Belmont winners Summer Bird (2009) Da' Tara (2008), Rags to Riches (2007), Birdstone (2004), Empire Maker (2003), Sarava (2002), and Point Given (2001) were all sired by classic winners of either the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Breeders' Cup Classic, or the Belmont Stakes itself.  Look for horses in this year's field fitting this angle to narrow down your choices to win.  If you can't find horses like this, at least look for horses fitting this angle with a classic-winning sire's sire or dam sire, such as American Pharoah in 2015 and 2014 Belmont winner, Tonalist, who was out of a mare sired by Pleasant Colony, the winner of the 1981 Derby and Preakness.

With only a few exceptions, nearly all recent winners of the Belmont Stakes were sired by stallions that were well adept at 1-1/4 mile or 1-1/2 miles during their racing careers.

Please see the chart illustrating this point below:

Breeding Credentials of Belmont Stakes winners (2001-2015)

YearBelmont winnerSireSire Derby/Belmont/Preakness/Classic win?
2015American PharoahPioneerof the NileSire's sire won Belmont Stakes
2014TonalistTapitDam's sire won Derby/Preakness
2013Palace MalaceCurlinPreakness
2012Union RagsDixie Unionnone
2011Ruler On IceRoman RulerSire's sire Fusaichi Pegasus, Derby
2010DrosselmeyerDistorted Humornone
2009Summer BirdBirdstoneBelmont Stakes
2008Da' TaraTiznowBreeders' Cup Classic (twice)
2007Rags to RichesA. P. IndyBelmont / Breeders' Cup Classic
2004BirdstoneGrindstoneKentucky Derby
2003Empire MakerUnbridledDerby / Breeders' Cup Classic
2002SaravaWild AgainBreeders' Cup Classic
2001Point GivenThunder GulchDerby / Belmont


Wagering StrategyFavor Belmont contenders with classic breeding (i.e. from a sire who won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, or Breeders' Cup Classic), preferably with a classic win from the sire, or at least the sire's sire or the dam's sire.

In terms of 2016's Belmont Stakes contenders, the horse, unfortunately, that best fits this angle, the best is favored Exaggerator (sire Curlin won Preakness).  Horses who partially fit the angle include Governor Malibu (sire's sire A. P. Indy won Belmont), Forever d'Oro (damsire Lemon Drop Kid won Belmont), Lani (damsire Sunday Silence won Derby/Preakness), Suddenbreakingnews (sire's sire A.P. Indy and damsire Afleet Alex both won Belmont), and Trojan Nation (damsire Summer Squall won Preakness).


Fresh horses have an edge

It has become increasingly more difficult for a horse to win the Belmont Stakes who has already competed in both of the first two legs of the Triple Crown.  As a matter of fact, it has even become a disadvantage in the Belmont for a contender to have run in almost any race in-between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont.  In 2009, for example, Mine That Bird was not a fresh horse, but the Belmont Stakes winner, Summer Bird, was.

Dating back to Commendable in 2000, nine of the last 16 Belmont Stakes winners had not run a race in the five weeks in-between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont. Recent Belmont winners including Palace Malace, Union Rags, Summer Bird, Jazil, Birdstone, Empire Maker, and Commendable had all run in the Kentucky Derby but skipped the Preakness in favor of other methods of readying for the Belmont Stakes. Filly Rags to Riches had no race between the Kentucky Oaks and the Belmont. The 2014 Belmont winner Tonalist, and 2010 Belmont winner Drosselmeyer, hadn't run in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, but did have a race in-between, in Belmont Park's own local prep the Peter Pan. They won the Belmont off four-week layoffs, which were close to ideal.

Belmont Stakes winners of yore usually were war horses that danced every dance in the Triple Crown series, but that's no longer is the trend to look for when handicappers sit down to try to smoke-out the next Belmont Stakes winner.  Dating back to Lemon Drop Kid in 1999, only two Belmont winners, between then and 2008, were horses who had competed in all three races of the Triple Crown series - Afleet Alex in 2005 and Point Given in 2001. The other eight Belmont winners during that span had skipped either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, or were Triple Crown newcomers, altogether.

Skipping the Preakness seems to be an especially effective way to bring a horse up to the Belmont Stakes in order to optimize its chances of winning.

Lemon Drop Kid, like Tonalist and Drosselmeyer, ran in the G3-Peter Pan Stakes in-between the Derby and Belmont. That local Belmont Park prep race has often served as an effective Belmont Stakes prep in recent history and is a good place to look for a longshot winner of the Belmont Stakes.

A quintet of recent winners of the Belmont Stakes were making their Triple Crown debuts in the Belmont Stakes, including Tonalist in 2014, Drosselmeyer in 2010, Da' Tara in 2008, Rags to Riches in 2007 and Sarava in 2002.

Some kind of race in-between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes does not seem to hurt a horse's Belmont Stakes chances, unless that race happens to be the Preakness. The aforementioned Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont has proven to be a good prep race.  There seems to be something about the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes, however, three weeks before the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, that really takes its toll on a horse's stamina. Perhaps that's why it was 37 years between Triple Crown winners until American Pharoah came along.

Wagering StrategyBet horses who skipped the Preakness.

In terms of this year's Belmont Stakes, this angle eliminates Exaggerator, Lani, Cherry Wine, and Stradivari from the win position.


Speed Horses and Middle Movers Do Better Than Deep Closers

It may be hard to erase the memory of Victory Gallop's late rally to deny Real Quiet a Triple Crown in the 1998 Belmont Stakes, and who could ever forget Birdstone's late run that denied Smarty Jones a Triple Crown in 2004? Nevertheless, besides these and a few other notable exceptions, it has been tough sledding through the years for deep closers in the Belmont Stakes, contrary to what most people think.

When handicappers consider the Belmont Stakes' 1 1/2-mile distance, most assume that deep-closing horses that had come up short at lesser distances in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness would be at an advantage in the Belmont Stakes thanks to the race's extra furlong worth of real estate. However, his way of thinking has been a misconception in recent years.

In truth, pace horses, stalkers, and late runners who can middle move themselves into striking distance by the quarter pole have a big edge over the one-run deep closers that must come from far back in the field to make up the necessary ground in the stretch.

People often consider horses like Jazil, Sarava, Lemon Drop Kid, and Editor's Note to be horses that won the Belmont Stakes thanks to deep closing late runs through the stretch. A closer look at all of those winners, however, reveals something different. All four of those Belmont winners had already made up the majority of their ground before the stretch-run, and were already within 1 1/2-lengths of the lead at the quarter pole on their way to victory. Afleet Alex was still four lengths behind the leader en route to his Belmont win in 2005, but in his case he was already a known commodity that had already won a Triple Crown race in late-running fashion.

When evaluating Belmont Stakes contenders based on their running styles, keep in mind that there have been many more on-or-near-the-pace winners of the Belmont than far-from-behind winners of the Belmont down through the years, and that axiom remains true today in spite of a few high-profile exceptions in recent years.

The recent trend strongly favors horses that are able to stay close to the pace in the Belmont Stakes, or at least run in the front half of the field. American Pharoah went wire-to-wire. Da' Tara won the 2008 Belmont going wire-to-wire. The 2011 Belmont winner, Ruler On Ice, pressed Shackleford in second all the way before taking charge in the stretch.  In 2010, Drosselmeyer came from mid-pack. Four years ago, Union Rags raced in the front-half of the field throughout, laying no more than four lengths off the pace at any point in the race. Three years ago, Palace Malice laid close to the pace early, running fifth at the first call and fourth at the second call en route to victory. Tonalist had a similar running style in 2014, laying sixth but only three lengths back in the early stages of the race, and then pressing from third, just a length behind, the rest of the way before getting up by a head in the late stages.

If you do decide to put your money on a closer in the Belmont, try to make sure of two things, 1) the horse should have already won either the Kentucky Derby and/or Preakness with a late rally; or 2) the late runner should be able launch his rally on the backstretch and make his way up close to the lead by the time the field reaches the quarter pole.

Wagering StrategyBet a horse with tactical speed that can stay within the front half of the field throughout the running of the Belmont Stakes.

In terms of this year's Belmont Stakes, this particular angle downgrades most of the 2016 field that is made-up mainly of closers who will have little pace to chase.  Horse in this year's Belmont Stakes who are OK based on this angle are Destin, Seeking the Soul, Governor Malibu, Stradivari, and Exaggerator (closed to win Preakness).



Use each of these angles and betting strategies when handicapping and betting on the Belmont Stakes, and you will increase your chances of winning. Using these angles to handicap the 2016 Belmont Stakes field, the horse best fitting the most criteria is Governor Malibu, and the best exacta play looks like Governor Malibu over Exaggerator.  This is an especially strong play if both horses draw into the outside half of the field.  For trifectas, all in any horses that draw into the outside half of the field.

One final note based on track condition/weather. A sloppy track helped Cherry Wine to his second-place finish in the Preakness. He's not a strong exotics candidate on a fast track, but obviously must be upgraded drastically if the Belmont Stakes is run on a wet surface.

Enjoy the third jewel of the Triple Crown, and best of luck on Belmont Stakes Day!

You can start winning with me on Thursday and get the Belmont Stakes FREE, or come in for my Belmont Stakes Full Card on Saturday. Either way, you'll be cashing plenty of tickets this weekend.

By Noel Michaels

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