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The field is set for the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday afternoon, with eight three-year-olds looking to navigate the demanding mile-and-one-half distance of the third and final leg of the Triple Crown. When handicapping a race like the Belmont, many factors must be considered.
Who has the ability to handle the race's marathon distance?
Who has the tactical speed necessary to be in with a chance as the field turns for home?
How short a price is too short to take on a horse that will be racing at a distance they will likely never try again?
Perhaps the best way to begin the Belmont Stakes handicapping process is by determining what Belmont Stakes winners of the past have looked like leading into the race. Apart from horses like American Pharoah, Justify, and Tonalist, horses have been able to enter the Belmont with less-than-stellar form yet still prevail. Over the past ten years, horses like Sir Winston (2019), Tapwrit (2017), Creator (2016), Palace Malice (2013), Union Rags (2012) and Ruler On Ice (2011) have all entered the Belmont Stakes on the heels of last-out losses and gone on to win the race. Aside from Preakness winner Rombauer, every other horse running in this Saturday’s race will be coming off a last-out loss.
When it comes to speed figures, it hasn’t been a prerequisite that a horse has run fast prior to the Belmont – but it certainly helps their cause. Of the past ten winners, nine of them had earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 92 or better prior to prevailing in the Belmont Stakes, with eight of them having earned a 95 Beyer or better prior to Belmont glory. Based on this logic, horses like France Go de Ina, Bourbonic, and Overtook all look to be up against it in Saturday’s race. Accordingly, it is no surprise they are the three largest prices on the morning line.
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Lastly, Belmont Stakes winners are typically positioned within a length or two of the lead with a half-mile left to go in the race. Many people have a false notion that horses who do their best running at the end of a race will have an advantage in a race like the Belmont, simply because the distance is longer than either of the other Triple Crown events. Over the past ten years, the only horse to be positioned more than two-lengths off the lead with a half-mile left to run and win was Creator in 2016 – and he was just three-lengths off the pace at that point.
Given the longer distance and slower early tempo of the Belmont, horses who can be on or near the lead with a half-mile to run have historically been the types to win the race. Rock Your World, Hot Rod Charlie, and Essential Quality are horses who have shown the ability to pull that sort of trip and succeed, while Rombauer and Known Agenda have displayed the preference to race slightly farther back. This isn’t to say that Rombauer and Known Agenda can’t win on Saturday, but their riders will need to be cognizant of where their mounts are positioned at the half-mile pole if they’re to come out on top.