Jason Beem's Thursday Column June 9, 2022

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June 9th, 2022

A good Thursday to you all and hope everyone is getting excited for the Belmont Stakes weekend coming up. There has been plenty of talk this Triple Crown season about whether or not the series should be changed, whether it’s a changing of dates or changing of distances.

To me, the excitement of the Belmont Stakes is, of course, the prestige and the fact that it’s the third and final leg of the series, but the distance to me is what truly makes it special. It’s a specialized distance that most of these horses will never run at again. Which to me makes it so fun to handicap.

The more I looked through the race, the more I felt that Mo Donegal is the most likely winner. But the most likely winner is really only interesting if he’s not bet as though he’s the most likely winner. We the People being made the morning line favorite was quite interesting because I think you can make a case that We the People, Mo Donegal, or even Rich Strike could be sent off as favorite. Winning the Kentucky Derby and being the current media darling is going to have a lot of people putting money on Rich Strike. Will it be enough to secure favoritism? I don’t think so, but he is going to take significant money.

If Mo Donegal somehow is let off as third choice and floats up to 3-1 or 7-2, he becomes super interesting to me in this race. The way he came and nabbed Early Voting in the Wood Memorial, coupled with his run in the Kentucky Derby, makes me think he’s going to be running at the end.

Time, of course, will tell if he’s able to reel in We the People, who seems to be the consensus pacesetter, which is interesting because he’s only been on the lead once early on in his four-race career. But he was so impressive going gate to wire at Belmont last time in the Peter Pan, that it makes sense they’ll want him to go to the front.

But I think horses like Skippylongstocking, Golden Glider, Nest, and even Barber Road have shown speed, or at least tactical speed, before in their careers. Who's to say that one of them won’t be aggressive early here given the fact that the race is such a longer distance and the early fractions should be slower?

Much has been made of some of the small fields on this card, and rightly so. I’m very interested to see how horizontal horseplayers deal with both the Just a Game and the Ogden Phipps.

The Just a Game is part of the Early Pick 4 and Pick 5, and the Phipps kicks off the Pick 5 that ends in the Belmont Stakes. Both have small fields, but both have multiple horses that are going to take money and can have cases made for them.

Chad Brown has a three-headed monster in the Just a Game, and I think that many early Pick 4 and 5 tickets are going to be centered around Speak of the Devil and Regal Glory. Lots of players will include both and hope to just get through the leg, but going two deep in that leg seems less than ideal as you won’t gain any real equity in that leg, and you’ve doubled your ticket cost compared to if you singled and just picked one. Making a stand there in that race frees you up to use other horses in the more wide-open legs earlier on or in the Brooklyn in Race 5.

The Ogden Phipps has Letruska taking on four rivals, and I really think you can make a legit case for all five horses in the race. Letruska is 6-5 and will certainly be a single for a lot of people, and with Flightline also in that Late Pick 5, there’s two pretty logical anchor points for the general public to lean on.

I’m always very against using the "all" button, and I’m sure there are going to be some players who will see a contentious five pack of runners in the Phipps and just say, “I’ll take all five and hope to get lucky.”

But multiplying your ticket cost five times in a race that either Letruska or Malathaat will likely win a majority of the time seems very suboptimal. Honestly, I think you’d need Bonny South or maybe Search Results to get out of that leg with an equity gain if you go "all." I think you either single Letruska or Malathaat if you like them or take a shot with the other runners instead and toss the top two. Of course, with ticket construction it depends on what you’re doing in the other races. But if you’re going the Letruska-Malathaat route and then singling Flightline, you’re going to have to do much better than just spreading in the other races and praying for a price.

Regardless of how everyone decides to play, I hope it’s a fun Belmont Stakes day for all of you. Hit some winners!