It's Belmont Stakes week, and we're going to take a look at the race's recent history, especially in years where, like this year, a Triple Crown is not on the line. We'll do this partly for historical purposes, but primarily to provide context for this year's race. For while it's well and good to understand why Creator won the race in 2016, or Drosselmeyer in 2010, what really matters is doping out the winner of this year's race.
We'll start with the obvious: prior to the Kentucky Derby, we spent a decent amount of time looking at pace, and how horses have historically won the Derby by coming from well off the pace. Casual racing fans assume that because of the Belmont's longer distance -- a mile and a half, compared to a mile and a quarter in the Derby -- that horses making a late run will be able to use the extra distance profitably.
This is logical, but it is also wrong: because the race is so long, the early pace is nearly always moderate, or even slow, and this compromises the chances of the horses coming from way back. Horses do not need to be on the lead to win the race, but the Belmont is rarely won by a horse making a dramatic late move from the back of the pack. If you hear anyone this week saying that the extra distance will give a late-running horse more time for a horse to catch up, ignore that person, because that is baloney.
The Belmont in recent years has been a race for long shots. Since 2008, there have been winners at 38-1 (Da' Tara), 24-1 (Ruler on Ice), 15-1 (Creator), and a quartet with odds between 10-1 and 15-1 (Summer Bird, Drosselmeyer, Palace Malice, Tonalist). Favorites have fared poorly in the race, with only American Pharoah and Justify taking the prize as the top betting choice.
Taking a look at the race record of the horses mentioned above, one common theme stands out: they all skipped the Preakness. Summer Bird, Creator, and Palice Malice all ran in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness; Drosselmeyer, Da' Tara, Ruler on Ice, and Tonalist skipped both. Unlike the Preakness, where horses who did not run in the Derby are automatic throwouts, fresh horses have done very, very well in the Belmont.
What does that mean for this year's race? Entries for the Belmont were drawn Tuesday, and there is only one entrant -- Preakness winner War of Will -- who ran in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Does this put him at a disadvantage? Or does it mean that he's the most likely winner?
We'll take a closer look at that in the next segment of our Handicapping the Belmont series.
Here is the draw (with post position, jockey, opening odds):
1. Joevia (Jose Lezcano) 30-1
2. Everfast (Luis Saez) 12-1
3. Master Fencer (Julien Leparoux) 8-1
4. Tax Irad (Ortiz Jr.) 15-1
5. Bourbon War (Mike Smith) 12-1
6. Spinoff (Javier Castellano) 15-1
7. Sir Winston (Joel Rosario) 12-1
8. Intrepid Heart (John Velazquez) 10-1
9. War of Will (Tyler Gaffalione) 2-1
10. Tacitus (Jose Ortiz) 9-5