Belmont Stakes Run Styles – Grinders Relish the Extended Distance

Profile Picture: James Scully

May 30th, 2015

American Pharoah will become the 13th horse to attempt the Triple Crown sweep since 1978 and like the 12 previous hopefuls, he’ll leave the Belmont Stakes starting gate as the favorite.

The Belmont Stakes has not been kind to chalk recently, with Thunder Gulch (1995), Point Given (2001) and Afleet Alex (2005) producing the only wins by favorites in the last 20 years. All three captured two legs of the Triple Crown, missing in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness.

When it comes to winning run styles at the 1 ½-mile distance, wire-to-wire performances and last-to-first moves have been rare. Horses with a grinding run style tend to perform best.

Also known as stalkers or middle-movers, grinders can race up close or toward midpack before offering a sustained bid, utilizing plenty of ground to outfinish the competition.

Here are the last 15 Belmont winners, with their early positioning in the race:

Year   Horse   1/4m - lengths behind   Half-Mile   One Mile
2014   TONALIST   6TH - 3 lgth   3RD - 1 lgth   3RD - 1 lgth
2013   PALACE MALICE   5TH - 2 ½ lgth   4TH - 2 lgth   3RD - ½ lgth
2012   UNION RAGS   5TH - 4 lgth   5TH - 4 lgth   3RD - 3 ½ lgth
2011   RULER ON ICE   2ND - 2 lgth   2ND - 1 ½ lgth   2ND - 1 lgth
2010   DROSSELMEYER   6TH - 5 lgth   5TH - 4 lgth   5TH - 2 ½ lgth
2009   SUMMER BIRD   5TH - 4 ½ lgth   6TH - 4 ½ lgth   9TH - 6 lgth
2008   DA' TARA   1ST   1ST   1ST
2007   RAGS TO RICHES   6TH - 2 ¾ lgth   5TH - 2 lgth   5TH - 1 ½ lgth
2006   JAZIL   12TH - 11 ¾ lgth   12TH - 11 lgth   12TH - 8 ¼ lgth
2005   AFLEET ALEX   9TH – 4 lgth   8TH - 5 ¾ lgth   8TH - 3 lgth
2004   BIRDSTONE   7TH – 2 lgth   5TH - 3 lgth   4TH - 5 lgth
2003   EMPIRE MAKER   3RD – 2 ½ lgth   2ND - 1 lgth   2ND - hd
2002   SARAVA   5TH – 3 ¾ lgth   5TH - 4 lgth   4TH - 1 ½ lgth
2001   POINT GIVEN   3RD – 2 lgth   3RD - 1 lgth   1ST
2000   COMMENDABLE   2ND – 1 ½ lgth   2ND - ½ lgth   2ND – hd

Since Point Given in 2001, Da’ Tara is the only winner to be first at any point of call through the opening mile of the Belmont Stakes. Jazil is the only deep closer in the last 15 runnings.

The most popular running positions:

Four of the last 15 winners have been fifth after the opening quarter-mile, 3 ¾ lengths behind the pacesetter on average.

At the half-mile point, Belmont winners are situated within striking range, with only two (Afleet Alex and Jazil) being five lengths or more off the pace.

The last three Belmont winners were third after the opening mile. Only three were worse than fifth with a half-mile left to run.


The 38-1 upsetter Da’ Tara represents the only wire-to-wire winner, but tactical speed is still advantageous in the Belmont Stakes. The past two winners, and three of the last four, raced within three lengths of the pace from the outset.

American Pharoah brings plenty of gas to the equation, leading wire to wire in the Preakness, and remains a threat to run the competition into the ground on June 6.

But his Kentucky Derby score was more typical of the grinding performance we often see from a Belmont winner as American Pharoah raced in third through the opening points of a call at Churchill Downs, a length behind after the opening quarter-mile; two lengths down at the half-mile point; and a neck back after a mile.

Jockey Victor Espinoza could look to sit a similar trip if a rival like Carpe Diem or Materiality goes all out for the early lead in the Belmont Stakes, and it will be interesting to see how the early tactics play out for the favorite.