How to bet the Belmont Stakes Festival weekend
by DICK POWELL
Three days of racing, 18 total stakes races. Six Grade 1s, four Grade 2s, five Grade 3s -- from 5 1/2 furlongs all the way to the 150th running of "Test of the Champion;" the Belmont Stakes (G1), at 1 1/2 miles.
If you are going to navigate your way through this vast and tasty menu of racing, it might help to have a plan going in. It sure would be nice to have some bankroll left for the Belmont Stakes early Saturday evening.
On Thursday, the Astoria has been reduced in purse value by $50,000 and despite a series of races leading up to it, I like to bet shippers in here against the New York horses. The Intercontinental (G3) is run around one turn of the Widener Turf course at seven furlongs for older fillies and mares. The temporary rail should be down and the inside paths should have added value since it won't be chewed up. Finally, the Wonder Again (G3) will be run for three-year-old fillies going nine furlongs on the inner turf course. With a short run into the first of two turns, inside speed usually hangs on for a long time.
I would tread lightly on Thursday unless you see something that needs to be exploited. In a perfect world, you might bet 20% of your bankroll on Thursday, 30% on Friday and 50% on Saturday. Handicapping and betting is an imperfect world but you don't want to flame out early.
Friday's menu grows to five stakes races. The Tremont is the male equivalent of the Astoria for two-year-olds, and once again I favor shippers over the locals. The Belmont Cup (G2) goes two miles on the turf and this becomes a rider's race since tactics are essential to anyone getting the distance. Mike Maker has been a savant with long-distance turf runners and he has two of the 14 nominated. The New York (G2) is worth $600,000 and Chad Brown has three nominated in the 1 1/4-mile inner turf stakes race for older fillies and mares.
The dirt stakes races for older horses should be corkers. The Bed o' Roses (G3) is for older fillies and mares going seven furlongs. Simon Callaghan ships in AMERICAN GAL, who has two Grade 1 victories going this distance. The True North (G2) is for older horses going 6 1/2 furlongs. The Woody Stephens (G2) has 20 nominations and are a blend of need-to-lead types and closers that should be all over the track in the last 100 yards.
I am a sucker for foreign-bred horses going long on the turf so the New York and Belmont Cup intrigue me the most. Horses that fit that profile will get extra attention.
Friday is where you have to get creative with rolling Double and Pick 3s. The racing competition is deep and talented and field size might dictate a spread-it-out strategy.
Saturday starts bright and early and lasts all day. Six Grade 1s define the day and marquee races like the Met Mile (G1), Acorn (G1), and Ogden Phipps (G1) are relegated to the undercard on a day like this.
The undercard dirt races tend to start out favoring closers early in the day and it can switch to front runners as more water is added to the track. Pay attention to any dirt race and not only see what profiles are successful but watch the riders and see if they are avoiding the inside of the main track. Belmont Park is historically known as favoring wide closers and last year it certainly did.
The Jaipur (G2) saw a world record for six furlongs on the turf two years ago and don't be surprised to see this year's renewal go in 1:06 and change if the turf stays firm. Christophe Clement has a stable of turf sprinters and he sends out last year's winner DISCO PARTNER and horse-for-the-course WHITE FLAG.
The Manhattan (G1) is usually the race before the Belmont Stakes and is run at 1 1/4 miles on the inner turf course. It attracts a big field and offers excellent value in the double with the Belmont. The distance of the Manhattan enables middle distance horses to stretch out and route runners to turn back. Five of the 19 nominated runners are foreign-bred. Who will ever forget Flintshire's final quarter-mile in 2016 when Trakus had him running 21 and change?
The Belmont Stakes finishes up the weekend's stakes races and let's hope there are still some bullets left to fire. JUSTIFY is the binary choice for you; either for him or against him. He will be bet heavily in the Win pool but will serve as an anchor for various horizontal bets. If you use him, you will try to get a price horse to win in one of the preceding sequences. If you go against him, you want to make sure that you are alive to the Belmont. It would be a shame to have him lose and you can't take advantage of it pari-mutuelly.
Sometimes on a day like the Belmont, you can get lost with all the races and their equine stars. I like to be flexible and react accordingly but it is a good idea to come into the day with a game plan. You have to handicap horses but you also have to handicap horse races. Go over the card and decide which races might be formful and which will not. You can adjust your bets accordingly and map out a strategy to utilize your bankroll for its best outcome.