Betting the Belmont Stakes

Of all the Triple Crown races, the Belmont Stakes is probably the most “normal” from a betting standpoint. In Louisville, of course, the emphasis is on improvement — a quest horses that are ready to deliver a top effort on the first Saturday in May. In Maryland, the best horse usually triumphs, as evidenced by the phenomenal rate of winning favorites at Old Hilltop.

But in the Big Apple, it’s all about value handicapping — finding the best horse at the best price. Consider some of the recent Belmont winners. Yeah, Point Given, Afleet Alex and American Pharoah were great, but Sarava and Da’ Tara? The two of them never won another race. In fact, over the past 17 years, in the four editions of the Belmont that didn’t feature a Kentucky Derby or Preakness winner among the entrants (like this year), three were captured by horses that failed to return to the winner’s circle for the rest of their careers.

Test of the Champion? More like a final exam.

But what about this year’s field? Will it be Da’ Tara/Sarava, Part Deux? Well, let’s take a look at some historical norms and (hopefully) find out.

Belmont Stakes (Grade I)
Purse: $1,000,000
Where: Belmont Park (Elmont, New York).
Race Distance: 1-1/2 miles (12 furlongs).
Surface: Dirt.

Tantalizing Tidbits:

  • Although it’s called “The Test of the Champion”, recent winners of the Belmont Stakes haven’t exactly reminded racing fans of Nashua or Damascus. Since 1990, Belmont victors have won just 25.6 percent of their subsequent starts (41-160) — after having won 42.7 percent of their races beforehand (91-213).
  • A few recent bombs notwithstanding, the Belmont Stakes has actually been relatively formful, as the post time favorite has won 56 of 134 editions of the race in which the odds were recorded (41.8 percent).
  • 15 of the last 17 Belmont winners recorded at least two workouts since their last race, producing profits across the board.
  • Proving that slow and steady wins the race, horses with 0-2 Quirin speed points are 4-for-60 (-34 percent ROI) in the Test of the Champion since 2000, while those with more than six points are just 1-for-25 (-93 percent ROI).
  • Since 2000, the entrant with the sole best last-race Brisnet speed figure has won the Belmont four times, returning profits across the board.
  • Since 1999, only three horses that competed in the Preakness — American Pharoah (2015), Afleet Alex (2005) and Point Given (2001) —were able to win in New York.

Speed Figures

The Belmont Stakes Brisnet speed figure par is a 107 — a number that none of this year’s entrants can match. Surprisingly, however, this doesn’t seem to mean much. Contrary to popular opinion, a field of horses not meeting par doesn’t necessarily lead to higher prices. Using my database of over 6,400 thoroughbred races run from 2003 to present, I found that the average payoff in races featuring one or more horses that met or exceeded the race par in their last start was $12.30. When that was not the case, the average win mutuel was $12.00.

Disadvantage: None.

Early Speed Rations (ESRs)

The Belmont ESR par is a moderate -4 and, since 2000, only Jazil and Creator proved best in NY with a median ESR of +1 or greater.

Disadvantage:

  • Tapwrit (+1)
  • J Boys Echo (+1)
  • Hollywood Handsome (+4)
  • Lookin At Lee (+2)
  • Senior Investment (+2)
  • Multiplier (+2)

Late Speed Rations (LSRs)

As one might expect, proven late ability is a precious commodity in the Big Apple, where 18 of the last 26 Belmont champs had a median LSR of -10 or greater.

Disadvantage:

  • Tapwrit (-17)
  • Gormley (-18)
  • J Boys Echo (-12)
  • Hollywood Handsome (-12)
  • Irish War Cry (-23)
  • Senior Investment (-15)
  • Meantime (-11)

Perceived Ability Rating (PAR)

Since 2000, the entrant with the top PAR has captured the Belmont seven times — a 41.2-percent win rate — and produced an ROI of 175.3 percent to win.

Advantage:

  • Irish War Cry (0.22)
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