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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 1:46 PM

A Perspective On The Race

Six days after the Preakness Stakes I published on these pages an Article titled "If They Were Running Late In Louisville And Baltimore, More Distance Must Be Better In New York...Not So Fast!"

The following is from the article.

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.

In summary:

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."

Look back to those 13 of 16 winners that were within 3½ lengths of the pace setter at the half mile pole and fast forward to Saturday's Belmont Stakes and all the talk (once again) about how the "Deep Closers" were going to have added advantages in the Belmont Stakes.

First process the betting patterns of the public. Ironically, while they did support the closers among the second through sixth favorites (Suddenbreakingnews 2nd), Cherry Wine (4th), Lani (5th) it was Creator who was a longer price than those three.
Obviously after he was checked badly early in the Kentucky Derby that effort was a throw out. This meant bettors had to go back to Creator's winning effort in the Arkansas Derby and third place finish in the Rebel Stakes (both at Oaklawn Park.)

For the eye-ball handicapper it is easy to understand that Creator would be considered a deep closer. This is, however, to a degree careless handicapping.

Going back to the running styles of horses and the manner by which they can sustain their fractions, more than  the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the Belmont Stakes is a "Pace" race. Not only does a horse have to be able to get close enough early enough but must be able to run on from there.

That being said, at the half mile pole Destin was in second (a length behind Gettysburg) and Creator and Lani were a head apart in 6th and 7th respectively AND...each was exactly 3½ lengths behind the pace setter.

I can hear the response. "Sure, easy to say after the race, but what indicators were there that Creator would be that close at the half mile pole?" Indicators is of course too strong a word and in full disclosure I did not us Creator in my releases, I had Lani on top (he finished third) Exaggerator (off the board), Destin third (he finished second) and Stradivari (he finished fifth.)

Getting back to Creator and the historical scenario and race shape of the Belmont. You remember that I said people for years have carried the "myth" (let's call it what it is) that deep closers will have an edge in the Belmont and the misjudgment of that reality. I have already pointed out that Creator and the second and third place finishers were each in the preferred position at the half mile marker in the Belmont. For your part you want to know, how might a horse player conclude that Creator might be in that position?

The answer is to consider the possibility that he indeed "might be" and that gets back to pace projection. You have to weigh the "eye-ball" deep closer projection against the actual past performance of the runner...not just Creator but all runners under any circumstance.

Go back to Creator's two Oaklawn Park Derby Preps prior to Louisville. Plus keep in mind the comments about pace and extension of the pace when it comes to a mile and a half. In the mile and a sixteenth Rebel Stakes, despite being at the back of the pack Creator ran his first 6 furlongs in 1:12 4/5 and the last 2 1/2 furlongs in :32 1/5.

In the Arkansas Derby which followed, Creator ran the first 6 of 9 furlongs in 1:12 3/5 and his final 3 furlongs in :37 2/5. Those are measured, cruising speed fractions and whether or not an "eye-ball" test tells you that he is a deep closer, if a horse extends those fractions against the slower pace of the Belmont it is workable. As you can see, there is much more to handicapping the possibilities of which horses will "fit" the Belmont Stakes scenario.

Next year bettors who wagered on closers that fell short in the 2017 Derby and/or Preakness will once again back their "better advantage" in the Belmont Stakes and even point to Creator as the example. You will know better.

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