Signs of the times: In two respects, Belmont Park embodies two trends emanating from the Triple Crown racing series. What’s happened in the 3-year-old-racing circuit, along with trends in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, forged a seismic shift in both the Belmont Stakes and what surrounds it on Saturday.
One is the unbelievable card assembled throughout the day, which bettors can access via TVG. Two is the pronounced effect on the big race, unfolding at 6:45 p.m. EDT. Bettors will notice both.
We’ll examine these trends and feature our weekly “Bombs Away, Salute to Long Shots” segment in our Saturday “Fecta-cular.”
Belmont bombs — or are they cannons?
Take a look at this unreal card Saturday. Imagine it’s the end of the 1812 overture. In deference to the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, we’ll call it the Tchaikovsky Ten.
Imagine the music leading up to individual cannon blasts:
There is a 13-race card, starting at 11:20 a.m. Purses for the day exceed $6 million.
The big money Acorn is the first big race, at 12:33 p.m. It’s for $500,000.
And then it’s the Just A Game, $500,000, at 1:08 p.m.
Here comes the Brooklyn Stakes, $400,000, at 1:47 p.m.
It’s followed by the Woody Stephens, $400,000, at 2:22 p.m.
The Ogden Phipps is next. It’s for $500,000 at 3:05 p.m.
And then it’s the Jaipur. $400,000. A field of 13 entered. On turf. 3:53 p.m.
The Metropolitan is next. It’s for $1 million. Yes, a seven-figure undercard race on a card that’s not the Breeders Cup. 4:43 p.m.
The Manhattan Stakes is for “only” $750,000. Oh no, are they cheapin’ out? It’s at 5:38 p.m.
It’s the big one: the Belmont. $1.5 million, 6:45 p.m.
Why this is happening
Belmont has wisely stepped in front of the Triple Crown curve. Anticipation was electrifying in past years whenever the possibility of a Triple Crown sweep lurked. That’s been happening less frequently of late.
In the last three years, bettors haven’t even been able to consider the possibility. The COVID-19 realignment in 2020 made the Belmont the first leg in the Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby winner did not run in the Preakness in the last two years. So the Belmont Triple Crown Sweep possibility never had a chance.
Slowly, the track has been creating insurance against becoming anticlimactic.
Officials have made this a stand-alone day, a destination in itself. It was a brilliant move. The Belmont has not only been reinvented, but also, the door is left open for a future Derby and Preakness winner to walk through it.
Bettors are also seeing a seismic shift in the 3-year-old racing circuit.
The Belmont Stakes emphasized this recent trend — parity — by making Kentucky Derby-winning Rich Strike the third morning-line choice for Saturday’s $1.5 million blockbuster. This raised eyebrows even more because Rich Strike beat the second choice, Mo Donegal, by about five lengths in the Derby. Eyebrows were raised even higher because the favorite, We the People, ran seventh in the Arkansas Derby two races ago.
What’s going on in the 3-year-old racing circuit?
It’s King for a Day syndrome. There is no such thing as dominance.
While horses can give game effort each time, none consistently have the talent to tower above the rest. Thus, angles like a particular track weigh more heavily than usual into the odds.
It’s been unusual to watch.
We remember the classic Triple Crown winners like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed in the 1970s. They were dominant.
After a 37-year drought with some near misses, fans were revived by Triple Crown-winning American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018.
But not these days.
The cue for bettors is to wager on who’s hot now, because nobody is good enough to dominate. Owners skipping the Preakness further encourage this trend. Layoff horses are sharp after the rest period. The “who’s hot” circuit has been like this all year.
Consider the progression of horses who looked like they would vault to the head of the class but didn’t.
The process began in the winter with Newgrange, who won the Southwest Stakes and was slammed down to 4-5 by the public when he ran in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park. He ran up the track sixth. That left the door open for Un Ojo, a 75-1 long shot, to shock the racing world. Newgrange’s time in the spotlight was short-lived. He soon flattened out.
Next was Taiba, the wonder horse who won the Santa Anita Derby in his second race. Taiba had a 103 Beyer Speed figure at six furlongs and a 102 at 1 1/8 miles. Unfortunately, that’s where he hit the wall. Taiba went to the Kentucky Derby, ran well for a mile, and faded to a distant 12th.
The same lackluster Derby performance plagued Messier, who had been considered a superstar in waiting before. He’s still waiting.
Secret Oath stepped up next. Here she came, dominating earlier races and summoning images of Winning Colors, the last filly to win the Kentucky Derby, in 1988. Secret Oath hit the wall in the Arkansas Derby, even as the favorite. She won the Kentucky Oaks but then ran a dull fourth in the Preakness.
There were others. Classic Causeway ruled the Tampa Bay circuit, went to the Florida Derby, and did nothing. Then White Abarrio won the Florida Derby. Could he convert that into a strong Kentucky Derby run? Nope.
Finally, it was Epicenter. The best horse of the spring. Won the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby. He got a nice Kentucky Derby trip when Joel Rosario settled him down behind a wicked speed duel. And it was all going to be his until Rich Strike — the horse who entered the Derby three minutes before the deadline one day earlier — came up and stole it. Epicenter has four wins and three seconds in his last seven efforts. He’s been the most consistent horse this year. Yet, he has no Triple Crown victories.
Rich Strike had finished third in a low-points prep race. He hadn’t been among the top 20 horses in the country before slipping into the race. He had been consistently beaten, even by horses who could not qualify for the Derby, but he was on the top 20 bubble. He was the last horse in and the first across the line. It’s apparent now that he likes the longer distances. If he wins the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, that will be even more pronounced. If not, he’ll become the latest King-for-a-Day casualty.
That saga followed in the Preakness. Mo Donegal had beaten Early Voting in the Wood Memorial. But Early Voting won the Preakness.
And so it goes. No horse can string victories together.
That’s the story of the Triple Crown saga this year: What has a horse done lately? Bettors are watching the recent performance angle. And some can get a good same-day look. They are the “looks” players, the minority who can spot nuances in a horse’s gait and energy in the post parade. They know that when a horse is in the mood, say goodbye to the metrics.
Belmont Bombs Away, Salute to Long Shots
Last Saturday, the seventh race at Belmont Park sounded off cannons of its own.
Secret Time won the turf race at 12-1. Nazuna was second at 3-1, completing a decent $132 exacta. Dancingwthdaffodls was third at 30-1, enabling a $1 trifecta that paid a sweet $2,788. Abuse of Power rounded out the superfecta at 12-1. The $2 super paid $60,427, the $1 version was $30,214, and the 10-center was $3,021.
Breeding grounds for the payday: a big field and a large Saturday handle.
How did anybody get part of this? They may have taken a stab at the Irad Ortiz jockey angle. He is the track’s leading percentage winner (31%) and top 3 finisher (63%).
Many bettors align their interests with top jockeys and trainers, figuring those people already know best.
Another angle could have been the 3-1 shot keyed with the right long shots. Granted, these payouts are large for a reason. Few people hit them.
It’s always fun to look back and find an angle that may help a future race.
Belmont ripple effect
It’s nice when bettors gain advance notice of a mandatory payout of the 20-cent Rainbow Pick 6 at Gulfstream Park.
This is that notice.
Payout day is Sunday. The track will piggyback off the expected handle the Belmont card will generate.
The 20-cent Rainbow 6 gross jackpot pool was guaranteed at $700,000 for Thursday’s program. The popular multirace wager had gone unsolved for 21 consecutive racing days since a lucky bettor hit for a $182,098 payoff on April 28.
A payout before the mandatory date is extremely rare.
The Rainbow 6 carryover jackpot is usually paid out only when a single unique ticket with all six winners hits. When there is no unique ticket, 70% of that day’s pool usually goes back to the pool. However, on mandatory-payout days, the entire pool is paid out to the bettor or bettors with the most winners in the six-race sequence.
Sunday triggers a mandatory payout of the Rainbow 6 jackpot pool, currently expected to approach $3 million. Thursday’s Rainbow 6 sequence will span Races 3-8, featuring the $60,000 Cooper City in Race 7.