The 2017 Belmont Stakes lacks the drama of a Triple Crown bid and does not have the star power of either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness winner as a headline attraction, but what the race does have is a world of great betting opportunities afforded by a large wide-open field of contenders.
Sure, horseracing fans and handicappers would have loved to see another headline match-up in the Belmont, but this year’s tremendous betting race is not too bad for a consolation prize. What the “Test of the Champion” lacks in terms of drama it will be able to make up for in terms of offering an interesting handicapping puzzle that could generously reward the horseplayers who cash exactas, trifectas, and the other exotics tickets on the race.
Both Kentucky Derby winner ALWAYS DREAMING and Preakness winner CLOUD COMPUTING are being pointed for races other than the Belmont Stakes. What we will be left with for the 2017 running of the third jewel of horseracing’s Triple Crown is a line-up of also-rans from the Derby and the Preakness looking to rise to the occasion in a big way on racing’s biggest stage — similar to what Cloud Computing did in the Preakness. There are plenty of accomplished horses pointing to the race, but none among the list of probable starters has yet to distinguish himself above and beyond any of the others.
Two obvious horses at the top of many handicappers’ lists in the 2017 Belmont Stakes will be Preakness runner-up CLASSIC EMPIRE and Kentucky Derby runner-up LOOKIN AT LEE. Both of these horses ran in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, however, and that has proven to be a distinct disadvantage in the Belmont Stakes, according to recent history.
The questions to ask on Belmont Stakes Day, therefore, will be:
- What will Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee have left in them after running in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness?
- Who amongst the list of other contenders should we focus on?
- If Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee are both bet-againsts for savvy horseplayers, then who are the best amongst other options?
More so than any other recent year, trainers certainly seem to understand that there are no super horses in the probable field for the Belmont Stakes. This will lead to a long list of trainers “taking a shot” in the Belmont and, therefore, a full gate of 14 horses.
Challengers pointing for the Belmont Stakes, in no particular order, include the Peter Pan Stakes runner up MEANTIME, Fedirico Tesio winner TWISTED TOM, and longshot TRUE TIMBER, who was fourth in the Wood Memorial and third in the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard. The other new face will be highly-touted Japanese-based EPICHARIS, second in the UAE Derby, who has been pointed to the Belmont all along.
Some of the Kentucky Derby also-rans also will be back to take another crack in the Belmont. This dangerous group includes Santa Anita Derby winner GORMLEY, Blue Grass Stakes winner IRAP, Wood Memorial winner IRISH WAR CRY, and Gotham Stakes winner J BOYS ECHO. This list also includes a pair of Todd Pletcher representatives, Kentucky Derby 6th-place finisher TAPWRIT and Derby 14th-place finisher PATCH.
There are also a trio of Preakness also-rans likely to take another shot in the Belmont including third-place finisher SENIOR INVESTMENT, sixth-place finisher MULTIPLIER, and seventh-place finisher CONQUEST MO MONEY.
The winning trainers of the Kentucky Derby (Todd Pletcher) and the Preakness (Chad Brown) will have a total of three horses in the race, but none of them will be Always Dreaming or Cloud Computing.
Irish War Cry is an interesting contender. He was the buzz horse for many heading into the Kentucky Derby, but he got a bad start and was wide on the Kentucky Derby Day inside-biased track at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Brian Lynch has brought along Meantime very nicely and is set to run in the Belmont after a good second in the Peter Pan — a race that as recently as 2014 sent Tonalist and Commissioner to run 1-2 in the Belmont. While the Peter Pan winner, Timeline, is waiting for the Haskell due to distance concerns about the 1 ½-mile Belmont, runner-up Meantime is considered tailor-made for the Belmont and, therefore, Lynch has decided to take his shot here.
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 Creator, 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.
Not on that list are 2014 Belmont winner Tonalist, and 2010 Belmont winner Drosselmeyer, who 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 Stakes. They won the Belmont off four-week layoffs, which were close to ideal. Lemon Drop Kid also ran in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes, which, for him, was in-between the Derby and Belmont. That local Belmont Park prep race has often served as an effective Belmont Stakes prep and is a good place to look for a longshot winner of the Belmont Stakes.
This year, that live contender would be Meantime.
Belmont Stakes winners of yore usually were war horses that danced every dance in the Triple Crown series, but that’s no longer the trend to look for when handicappers sit down to try to smoke-out the next Belmont Stakes winner. 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.
Therefore, 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.
Based on the trends in the Belmont Stakes against the favorites and against horses exiting the Preakness, we still have several live contenders in the Belmont Stakes to try to narrow down.
It is reasonable to think that the Belmont Stakes will be too tough of an assignment for both Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee. They will be up against recent history trying to run their third Triple Crown race in five weeks. Not to mention the odds on both will be too low.
Preakness horses have done poorly in the Belmont, so that angle would also eliminate Senior Investment, Conquest Mo Money, and Multiplier.
Longshot True Timber simply does not appear to be good enough. That narrows down the 14-horse Belmont Stakes field to 7 “betable” horses.
From this point forward from a handicapping perspective, the best idea for further narrowing down Belmont Stakes contenders seems to have to do with the Kentucky Derby and the apparent fact that the track at Churchill Downs on Derby Day seemed to be strongly inside-biased. That bias probably helped horses with rail trips such as Always Dreaming and Lookin At Lee, while, at the same time, hurting the horses who had outside trips in the Derby
Both of Pletcher’s Belmont horses, PATCH and TAPWRIT, were at a disadvantage in the Kentucky Derby due to outside trips against the inside-biased track. This factor also badly hindered the chances of IRISH WAR CRY in the Kentucky Derby. In my opinion, these are the horses that should be keyed in the Belmont Stakes, along with the two horses in the race specifically pointed to the race — Peter Pan runner-up MEANTIME and UAE Derby runner-up EPICHARIS.
The 2017 Belmont Stakes might lack star power, but that doesn’t mean the race won’t be a prime betting race that will eventually be won by a well-spotted horse ready for an up-and-coming effort in the right place at the right time.
This year’s Belmont will feature a wide-open, full field of horses, but the contenders can be narrowed down to a much more manageable list. Pick the right ones from the short list, and you will be paid handsomely in a wide-open running of the Belmont Stakes that should feature big payoffs in the exotics if and when the favorites go down in flames.