Every race meeting, no matter where it is or when it is or how high-profile it is, can always be made better and more enjoyable for horseplayers if they are winning and cashing tickets. The Belmont Park Fall Championship Meet features all of New York’s key prep races for the Breeders’ Cup, but, besides just stakes races, it also offers top-notch racing and wagering on all types of races, day-in-and-day-out throughout the season.
For this reason, it pays to know and understand the handicapping trends that will work for you at the Belmont Fall Meet. This knowledge will help you upgrade your chances of winning.
Belmont runs almost exclusively one-turn races on dirt at all distances, ranging from 5-9 furlongs. Races at 1 ¼ miles or 1 ½ miles on dirt are rare. Therefore, a horse’s two-turn record is not as important as its one-turn record for the purposes of evaluating Belmont’s main-track route races.
On the Belmont main track, speed is an extremely handy commodity. Sure, late runners will have every opportunity to close at Belmont, with its wide sweeping turns and long stretch, but the Belmont Park winning track profile always seems to put a premium on early speed and is known for daily track biases that only strengthen the advantage of speed and pace-pressing horses. And when those track biases appear, they can stay in place for up to a week at time when the weather goes through a long stretch without changing.
On the Belmont main track, always assume the prevailing bias will favor speed horses and horses able to stay within 2 1/2 lengths of the early pace in sprints, and within 4 lengths of the early pace in routes.
When it comes to post position angles on the Belmont main track, six-furlong races and all shorter races are most likely to favor inside posts, with a slight preference to inside posts also at 6 1/2 furlongs and, to a much lesser extent, seven furlongs.
Through the first 11 race days of the 2017 Belmont Fall Meet, the main track has been kind to the rail in sprints overall, with horses from post one winning 8-of-34 races (24 percent). On the other hand, horses breaking from post nine or greater have struggled, with a combined 1-for-20 record (five percent).
In dirt races at a mile, 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles, you really have to have posts 1-5 in order to have a good chance to win. Ten of the first 12 dirt routes have been won from posts 1-5, and posts 6 and outward have won a combined 2-of-24 starts (eight percent). No horse has won a route from outside of post 7 yet.
As far as horses for the course are concerned, certain horses love the Belmont dirt surface and others cannot do their best running on it. Part of this has to do with the track layout, since Belmont’s wide, sweeping turns help some horses and hurt others. The horse-for-course angle is always a big handicapping positive, but it seems even more potent as a betting angle at Belmont Park.
Belmont turf route post positions have been playing fair so far, but usually the outside posts, particularly at one mile, are a very tough proposition. Running styles have also been treated fairly so far this season. Based on past history, you can generally expect horses with early speed to do well in Belmont inner turf routes and come-from-behind horses to do better on the outer turf (Widener) course.
For a running style angle this month, pay attention to horses exiting Saratoga inner turf route races. The inner turf at Saratoga favored speed for most of the 2017 meet and frontrunners that did well on the Saratoga inner will probably regress at Belmont, especially on the Widener turf. Conversely, closers that lost on the Saratoga inner turf will be ready to positively turn around their form at Belmont.
The rail has predictably been bad in Belmont turf sprints — an annual occurrence on both turf courses at Belmont, especially at six furlongs, but also at sven furlongs to a lesser extent. This post position bias against the inside, and particularly the rail, is the main handicapping angle to live by in Belmont turf sprints.
Through the first 11 racing dates at the current Belmont Fall Meet, the rail is 0-for-13 on the Widener and 0-for-9 on the inner, for a combined 0-for-22. On the Widener, post two is also 0-for-13, making posts 1-2 a combined 0-for-26 in Widener turf sprints thus far.
The winners have all come from posts 3-11 and, as a general rule, you can continue to expect the outside posts to do better. In the inner turf sprints, all nine winners so far have come from posts 2-7.
Chad Brown lost the Saratoga trainer’s title to Todd Pletcher by a whisker, but is making up for it in a hurry by getting off to a giant lead in the trainers’ standings so far at Belmont. Pletcher, meanwhile, has been winning a good percentage, but not running a lot of horses, due to the fact that he pretty much emptied out his stalls in order to run every ready horse he had at Saratoga.
At Belmont, Brown leads all trainers with 13 wins — 12 of which have been on the grass. Brown put up similar giant numbers in turf races at Belmont last September and then got even hotter in October. In other words, you need your head examined if you continually bet against Brown on the turf (in routes) at this meet. If you’re going to bet against him at this meet, do it in dirt races. He’s only 1-for-7 so far on the main track.
The trainer you want to bet now on the dirt at Belmont is David Jacobson, who is second in the standings with seven wins — all on the dirt. Overall, he is winning at a big 30 percent (7-for-23) clip, but if you take away his 0-for-8 record on turf, his winning percentage skyrockets to 47 percent.
Jacobson did a lot of claiming late in the Saratoga meet and those horses are all coming back to win now.
On the flip side, conspicuous by his coldness so far at Belmont has been Rudy Rodriguez. Rudy is a shocking 0-for-29. His six seconds and six thirds bring his in-the-money percentage up to respectability, but it’s tough to overlook zero winners from that many attempts. Bettors may start shying away from Rodriguez and, if so, that’s the time to start betting him — when his horses are overlays. Otherwise, when you see Rudy’s horses at low odds, stay away from them until he starts to win some races.
Missing in action so far amongst trainers has been Jason Servis, who won at 30-percent rate at Saratoga, but is just 1-for-4 so far at Belmont. He’ll start running his horses soon enough and you’ll want to be betting them, especially when they show up in turf sprints.
Another trainer whose horses you want to bet on the turf is Brad Cox, who quietly has been very strong all throughout 2017 in New York turf races. He’s done well with limited starters so far at Belmont this fall, winning 2-of-5 and finishing in the exacta four times so far.
In the jock’s room, this has been an excellent bounce-back meet so far for Javier Castellano, who was extremely disappointing at Saratoga with only 13 percent winners. He’s leading all riders with 16 wins so far and has done it from only 58 mounts for a 28-percent win rate.
The current New York jockey dominators—brothers Jose and Irad Ortiz — have both been money-losing propositions for bettors so far. Jose has missed a bunch of days and is only 3-for-22 in the win-column; Irad is tied for second in wins with 12, but he has needed 89 mounts to do it and owns only a 13-percent win rate so far. Six of Irad’s 12 winners have been favorites and two of Jose’s three wins have come aboard the post-time choice, meaning that both have racked-up disastrously low ROIs at Belmont so far.
Also on the down side is Nik Juarez, who has been a disappointment since moving his tack to New York with a record of only 4-for-47 (11 percent).
And you might want to cancel your bets on Eric Cancel. He has been ice cold, with only one win from 47 mounts so far.
This is one of those times of the year in New York racing where the difference between one-turn and two-turn races is of utmost importance to horseplayers. Pay attention to this one important difference and you will have a distinct edge over the majority of the betting public.
It’s not that the average handicapper doesn’t realize this quirk at Belmont — we all know that Belmont’s routes are almost all run around one turn. The problem for many horseplayers is that they don’t assign enough importance to this key difference between Belmont and all other racetracks. If you overlook this key factor in your day-to-day handicapping at Belmont, it will be difficult for you to win with any consistency.
At Belmont Park, a lot of route favorites go down in flames because their odds are all wrong due to players putting too much importance on results in different kinds of route races run at last month’s Saratoga meet.
Two-turn route races have always been a big element of handicapping at Saratoga, but they are non-factors at New York’s bookend race meets at Belmont Park. When horses run at Belmont this time of year, most of them have recent past performances from Saratoga.
Oftentimes, the New York horses that arrive back at Belmont in the fall with the best form up at Saratoga are horses that were excelling, in part, because of their preference for two-turn dirt route races. However, this factor flip-flops at Belmont, away from the two-turn specialists who excelled at Saratoga and towards the one-turn horses that like the routes at Belmont — and that like distances of 1-mile and 1 1/16 miles better than the 1 1/8-mile routes run at Saratoga (there are no 1-mile and 1 1/16-mile dirt races run at Saratoga).
This adds an interesting handicapping wrinkle when the meets in New York switch to and from Belmont Park.
In order to figure out if a horse prefers one turn or two turns, scan down its past performances and see where past route wins and/or highest route speed figures have come from. If you see a horse that has demonstrated its best route form at Belmont going a mile, 1 1/16 miles, or 1 1/8 miles, then that horse can probably be termed a “one-turn router” and could be a key horse to bet at Belmont. However, if you see a horse whose best route races came on more traditional layouts such as Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Monmouth, the mid-Atlantic region, or especially Saratoga, then you have a potential bet-against horse at Belmont that prefers two-turn routes.
Remember also that at Saratoga the vast majority of all main track Saratoga routes are run at 1 1/8 miles. This creates lots of problems for horses whose best distances are 1-mile and/or 1 1/16 miles. At Saratoga, those horses must either stretch out to 1 1/8 miles (perhaps too long), or cut back to seven furlongs around one turn (perhaps too short). When those horses now return to Belmont in the fall, they often come in off a bad recent race or two and they are ready for a positive turnaround, often at a good price, back at their preferred distances at Belmont.
Therefore, during the Belmont Fall Meet, bet on horses that were stuck at the wrong distances at Saratoga, especially if they hail from the smaller and/or New York-only stables. They can surprise a lot of people when they come back to Belmont Park for the fall meet.
I hope these tips and trends give you an edge at the betting windows for a successful and enjoyable 2017 Belmont Fall Championship meet.
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.