Vinery LTD presents the Paulick Belmont Index: Hearts, Minds (and Bets)
For fans of racing who are also bettors, the Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line is a trap race.
Most followers of the sport would love to see a Triple Crown champion for the first time in 34 years, but does it make sense to put your money where your heart is?
From a rooting interest standpoint, perhaps. But from purely a strategic betting standpoint, it makes no sense at all.
In the previous 11 Belmont Stakes featuring a Triple Crown hopeful, all but three of those runners went at off at even money or below, with the highest being Charismatic at 8-5 in 1999. The average odds for those 11 runners was 4-5. Not only did all 11 lose the Belmont, the average odds on the winners of those races was a juicy 19-1.
Compare that with the 22 Belmont Stakes with no Triple Crown on the line since 1979. The average favorite went off at about 2-1. The average odds of the winners were 9-1. So, in those races, the post-time favorite’s odds were quite a bit higher and the winning odds quite a bit lower than in the Triple Crown near-misses.
Plus, only six of those 22 favorites won, so Belmont favorites overall are batting 18% since 1979 (6 for 33). Not very good.
Also note that four of the last five Triple Crown upsetters paid off at $60 or higher – Da’Tara (38-1), Birdstone (36-1), Sarava (70-1) and Lemon Drop Kid (30-1).
The point is this: All the money poured in on those losing Triple Crown hopefuls presented even more financial opportunity than usual elsewhere in the field.
If this were any other major stakes race on a Saturday at Belmont, seasoned handicappers would insist on playing against I’ll Have Another at his expected odds. Never bet a favorite trying something for the first time, Harvey Pack used to say. I’ll Have Another is: Trying Belmont Park for the first time, 1 1/2 miles for the first time; his jockey is inexperienced over the track, and the horse, after posting his top speed figure last race (his second race in two weeks) is coming back in three weeks to face refreshed runners.
Having said all that, I’ll Have Another is at the top of my rankings. He has earned it, and he is the best horse in the race, based on past performances. Against this particular field, in this particular year, perhaps he will defy the probabilities. Saturday, I’ll take in the thrill of watching him try to make history. I’ll enjoy the electric atmosphere at Belmont Park and what should be a memorable stretch run. I’ll even throw a few bucks on the favorite for my scrapbook.
But in terms of betting strategy, I’ll have another.
Let’s find out how some of our other contributors see the race.
Chris Kotulak, Remington Park: This may sound strange, but I’m indifferent if we have a Triple Crown winner this year. Sure, it might be nice, but I’ve always felt the hype between the Preakness and The Belmont Stakes is the real racing nugget. This three-week span is perhaps the best annual opportunity we (the racing industry) has to build excitement and momentum for our struggling sport. Everything pales in comparison to Queen Z and Big Red (Zenyatta and Secretariat), so until that next genuine superstar comes around, The Kentucky Derby, and what spins off of it (good or bad) is all we typically have to hang our hats on. I know racing has tons to be proud of, unfortunately the scope of the national media isn’t as hefty. Truthfully, we might be disappointed in what the media churns if we actually do have another Triple Crown winner come June 9th (compared to the aforementioned equine giants). I’d like to hope otherwise. What I do hope for is that the best horse gets the best trip – and wins. Will that win equate to a Triple Crown winner? We’ll just have to watch the hype and watch the race, just like everyone else. Pace yourself, horse racing doesn’t cater to the impatient.
John Scheinman, freelance writer: 1. I’ll Have Another – Bred well enough to do this, seasoned, still in form and certainly fast enough. A powerful combination if Gutierrez can avoid tactics by others that could cost him the race. It’s the horse’s race to win, the jockey’s to lose.
Long shot: Optimizer – Yes, he has been throttled by more than a combined 27 lengths by I’ll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but he appears to be the best bred horse in the field to excel at 1 1/2 miles on the dirt. Except for the favorite, there is enough vulnerability in each of the contenders to at least visualize him mounting a threat to become a part of the exactas. At 15-1 or higher he appears to be the most viable long shot alternative, but demand that value. Graded stakes placing helps the argument.
Joel Cunningham, Triple Crown Insider: The rare distance of 1 1/2-miles is THE key. Distorted Humor & Arch, grandsires from both sides of I’ll Have Another’s pedigree, are as good of stamina influences as you’ll find around today, especially on dirt. So expect I’ll Have Another to handle the marathon trip as well as any Saturday, which makes his chance at history more realistic than many that have come before him. But at 3-5 he’ll be a lousy Win bet option. Street Life also qualifies well to handle the trip with a 3.00 dosage index, and he’s the longshot to fear late in a race where longshots have fared well in recent history.
Art Wilson, Los Angeles Newspapers: The way I’ll Have Another won the Derby and Preakness leads me to believe he’ll have little trouble with the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, which won’t be the case with many of the runners. Barring a ridiculously slow pace, we should see a Triple Crown winner Saturday.
Gary West, ESPN: I’ll Have Another has proven his superiority. Of course, the same could have been said of several horses, 11 since 1978 to be exact, going into the Belmont, but I’ll Have Another won’t have to take on Touch Gold, or Victory Gallop or Easy Goer; in other words, this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner seems to be lengths better, based on demonstrated, not just implied, talent. In retrospect, the Derby was probably an easy race for him; in the Preakness, he revealed his potential greatness. And he seems to have maintained his high energy level in New York. Dullahan ran well in Kentucky and turned in a head-turning move at Belmont. And Paynter is intriguing, even though his Belmont work might not have been as encouraging as one might have hoped. When he won at Pimlico, he basically strung together 24-second quarters to display what could be the perfect style for a front-running effort in the Belmont.
Martha Claussen, SureBet Racing News: Sentimentally, of course I will be rooting wildly for I’ll Have Another to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. He ran a phenomenal race in the Preakness, but so did Big Brown till he bombed in the Belmont. Looks like Paynter and Unstoppable U will vie for the lead, which bodes well for a closer. Of all the “fresh” horses, I like Street Life and Atigun, but would not be surprised if the rising star Rosie Napravnik sneaks by at the wire with Five Sixteen. Her Kentucky Oaks finish proved she is as good as any of the boys. Good luck to all!
Michael Chamberlain, Turf Paradise: I believe that I’ll Have Another is well-positioned to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in Thoroughbred racing history on Saturday. The main contenders from this year’s Derby (Dullahan and Union Rags) left in the Belmont just don’t excite me. Dullahan is a deep closer and, more often than not, deep closers don’t get it done in the Belmont (ex. Ice Box). Union Rags hasn’t really progressed during his three-year-old season yet the way he should have, and while the rider change to John Velazquez cannot be ignored, I am still not sold. Paynter might be a scary horse for those that are thinking upset. He is trained by Bob Baffert, always a plus, and his tendency is to be more forwardly-placed, which should also help. It should be a rousing 144th running of the Belmont Stakes, for sure.
Brad Cummings, Paulick Report: I predict I’ll Have Another will be powered by my rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner towards victory — only if NYRA has the foresight to give me a last second call and make my 11-day-old dream come true. Otherwise, a well-rested Dullahan will beat the tiring Derby and Preakness winner by a couple lengths.
Jennifer Jade, In the Money blog: If the track is fast, it appears to be I’ll Have Another’s race to lose. Five Sixteen doesn’t boast the class, but if there is a mile and a half specialist in this race, he’s it – and Rosie aboard moves him up. Street Life is talented, but could be compromised by an altered pace scenario if Unstoppable U scratches. Dale Romans’ training regimen has prepared Dullahan well.
Brad Telias, CBS News/Sporting News: Eddie Arcaro told a radio audience in the late 80′s that they’d never be another Triple Crown winner. Eleven failed attempts later, he appears prescient. After Saturday, it’ll be 12. I’ll Have Another’s running style doesn’t fit the Belmont and, after two hard races, along with a relatively inexperienced rider (although give him credit, he preps very hard) it might be too much to ask of a horse (and jockey) of his (their) caliber. Besides, there are two who passed up the second leg to prepare for the third. Both Dullahan and Union Rags have been freshened and appear razor sharp — and they both have experienced riders. The edge might be with Union Rags as his running style and tactical speed are ideally suited ideally to the 1 1/2-mile. He showed in the Champagne he enjoys Big Sandy and he’s got Johnny V aboard. Sounds like it might be just the right combo.
Valerie Grash, Foolish Pleasure: I’ve been on the Dullahan bandwagon all year-why stop now? I think his running style suits the Belmont track, and the jockey change to Javier Castellano is a huge plus. I’ll Have Another is certainly bred to be a Triple Crown winner, but I also think new shooters Paynter and Street Life have the required breeding. My longshot flyer: Five Sixteen. Like his workouts, love Rosie aboard!
Vic Zast, Freelance writer: I’m picking I’ll Have Another because I want a Triple Crown winner. My doubts are that it’s been so long since the last one that it seems destined that some other horse will upset him. In addition, will Mario Guttierez deliver one more perfect ride on Belmont’s tricky 1 1/2 mile circuit?
Union Rags reminds me of Empire Maker. Give him the benefit of the doubt that bad luck in the Derby and Preakness stopped him. The rider change makes sense under the circumstances. On the other hand, he may not have progressed as a three-year-old to the same extent of the others.
Dullahan is the wise guy’s choice. What’s not to like about a horse with his distance pedigree and closing style?
Christina Olivares, TVG: I’m hoping we see history on Saturday with I’ll Have Another rolling home in the Belmont. He’s an incredible horse in that he seems to thrive on the competition. With a light campaign prior to the Derby, he still seems fresh enough to get one more race. His stride seems to lengthen as he closes, lowering his body with each extension. UNO MAS MARIO!
Brendan O’Meara, Horse Race Insider: My Pick: It’s got to be I’ll Have Another. I know he’s had some grueling stretch runs over the last five weeks, but so did Affirmed 34 years ago. His jockey will stay cool and patient and give I’ll Have Another the best chance in the final eighth.
Longshot: Atigun, Why? Street Life’s Twitter feed said this: “The horse that worries me most in @BelmontStakes. Atigun.” When horses hit up Twitter, I listen.
Jon White, Santa Anita/HRTV: After having picked I’ll Have Another to win the Kentucky Derby, I predicted after that he would go on to win the Preakness and Belmont to sweep the Triple Crown. While the distance of the Belmont has proved to be too far for many a Triple Crown aspirant, I’ll Have Another’s pedigree suggests he will relish 1 1/2 miles.
Nicole Russo, Thoroughbred Times: I’ll Have Another’s tactical speed, seemingly unflappable personality, and ability to adapt to almost any racing surface make him a huge threat to take down the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. His chief rivals, Union Rags and Dullahan, signaled their readiness with bullet works this week; Union Rags is particularly dangerous because he has already displayed an affinity for the Belmont track. Another entrant with proven local form is Street Life, who could give the top contenders everything they can handle late.
Ray Paulick, Paulick Report: Winning the Triple Crown is a tough enough task when you’re going up against the same rival in all three legs of the series as Affirmed did successfully versus Alydar in 1978 and Real Quiet did unsuccessfully against Victory Gallop 20 years later. That task becomes so much tougher when a top-class horse runs well in the Kentucky Derby and then skips the Preakness to point for the Belmont as Empire Maker did in 2003, when he ended Funny Cide’s Triple Crown quest. I see a similar scenario in 2012 with Dullahan rushing past a game and talented I’ll Have Another in the stretch of the Belmont. The third-place Kentucky Derby finisher is fresh and has worked very well for Dale Romans in the five weeks since the first Saturday in May. I’ll Have Another has just one bad race in his career and I doubt we’ll see a bad performance on Saturday, though I predict he’ll be second best. Street Life seems to be on the improve for Chad Brown and poses a late threat.