By Noel Michaels
The Belmont Stakes is behind us and the talk of the Belmont summer meet so far has been Tiz the Law, who creamed the competition in what was this year’s first leg of the Triple Crown. Now, as Belmont gears up for yet another loaded weekend of stakes racing and the meet enters its “homestretch,” let’s take a look at the human standouts of the season so far.
The Belmont Stakes went to jockey Manny Franco, who interestingly was instructed before the race to limit his celebratory gesticulations in the saddle if it so happened that he’d win the race, and he did keep it to a minimum as he cruised to victory aboard Tiz the Law for what was a career-defining victory, to date, for the young rider. Franco basically rides every race and currently is in a tie for fifth in the Belmont jockey standings with 11 wins from 108 mounts, that’s 10 percent, which isn’t going to win him any awards, but for bettors, his average win payoff at the meet of $13 is better than any of the jockeys ahead of him in the standings, meaning he’s doing well despite not riding many favorites.
The Belmont jockey who’s been most kind to his supporters so far is Junior Alvarado, who has 10 wins from his 73 mounts for 14 percent, with an average win payoff of $15.20, which is highest amongst any of the top jocks at the meet. Alvarado has managed to rack-up his winning percentage despite a poor meet from his main trainer, Bill Mott, who is just 2-for-30 at the meet. Mott has been one of the meet’s most prolific trainers in terms of starters, but just can’t find the winner’s circle. This probably means all those Belmont losers will turn into Saratoga winners, so Alvarado is one to continue to watch and wager moving forward.
The leading riders at the Belmont meet have been, in a surprise to no one, Irad Ortiz, Jr., and Jose Ortiz. Irad leads the meet with 19 wins from only 64 mounts for a huge 30 percent win percentage. Jose Ortiz has managed to keep pace with 17 winners, accomplished with the help of 104 mounts. Irad Ortiz and Jose Ortiz should battle it out to the finish for the Belmont jockey title in terms of wins, but been there’s no comparison between the two in terms of winning percentage with Jose Oritz sitting far behind Irad at 16 percent. For bettors, you have to use Irad Ortiz in your betting when you see him at 30 percent wins and 58 percent in the money [ITM], but note that 10 of his 19 wins have been aboard favorites, so his winners certainly aren’t going to get you rich.
The rest of the top eight in the Belmont jockey standings are made up of more of the country’s top riders, including Joel Rosario (14-for-90, 16 percent), Javier Castellano (13-for-62, 21 percent), Luis Saez, who is 11-for-50 for 22 percent since returning from his suspension, and John Velazquez, who is 9-for-58 for 16 percent.
One final note in the jockey colony at Belmont has been apprentice Romero Maragh, who has managed to win five races from 54 mounts (9 percent), which is impressive because he’s been aboard only two favorites from his 54 mounts, and the average win payoff of his five winners has been a stunning $40.20.
Jockeys like Irad Ortiz and Javier Castellano have been able to run up their big win percentages at the meet, in part, thanks to their association with leading trainer Chad Brown, who has racked-up 14 wins from 60 starters (23 percent). Brown is another human who is tough to bet against, but also is tough to bet sometimes, because of the fact that 11 of his 14 winners at the meet have been favorites. Obviously Brown is great on the grass, but handicappers should be weary of betting Brown at his usual low odds on the main track. Brown’s starters have won 12-of-39 on the turf (30 percent), but only 2-for-21 on the dirt (10 percent).
The other great story in terms of the trainers at the current Belmont meet has been Christophe Clement, who has been red hot this season to the tune of 11 wins from 51 starters, for a very Chad Brown-like 22 percent winning percentage. Clement trails Brown by only three winners, but has actually been a much better bet. Clement’s average win payoff at the meet has been $10.30, as opposed to Brown’s average winner that pays $6.
Brad Cox has also had a great Belmont meet so far. Cox is tied for fourth in the win standings with seven victories, and those have come from only 20 starters for a huge win percentage of 35 percent. Cox has cooled down a bit recently, however, after beginning the meet with three wins from his first four starters. Since the first week, that makes him a more mortal 4-for-16 ever since.
The trainer who has replaced Cox as the current hottest trainer is Todd Pletcher, who sits in a tie for fourth in the win standings with seven wins from 27 starters (26 percent). Pletcher started the meet with one win from eight starters on opening week, which means he’s gone 6-for-19 (32 percent) ever since.
In terms of betting trainers, the Belmont meet so far has been all about betting the above-mentioned trainers – Brown, Clement, Cox, Pletcher – in addition to Rudy Rodriguez, who is third in wins with eight, and Shug McGaughey, who is on fire with five wins from only 14 starters for 36 percent. Aside from those six trainers, there has not yet been one other standout barn at the meet in terms of winners.
In terms of losers, however, there have been plenty of standouts, let be the aforementioned Mott, who has burned a pile of money based on his 2-for-30 start. Other Belmont summer money-burners have included Linda Rice, who still has yet to get going in any way to the tune of a 2-for-26 record. With Rice, at least her ITM percentage of 38 percent gives you hope that some of her Belmont losers will turn into Saratoga winners next month.
Other current dishonorable mentions at Belmont in terms of ice-cold trainers, include Bruce Levine (1-for-22), James Ryerson (1-for-18), David Donk (3-for-30), and Danny Gargan, who has been winning at giant win percentages for the last year and half, except this season, where he is only 1-for-14 in the win column. Even Steve Asmussen, who is 3-for-24 (13 percent), could be added to this list, but he has brought mainly a string of turf horses this meet and clearly not many of his best horses.
There’s still plenty of racing and wagering left to go at the Belmont summer meet. Bet the hot jockeys and trainers and avoid the cold ones, and you will be well on your way to raising your own win percentage. Best of luck.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.