The Belmont Search

By Art Parker

If you play the races long enough you will come to realize that wagering on favorites is a losing proposition, not that other strategies are necessarily different. The truth is if you wager on the favorite to win in every race you will cash more tickets than most people but you will still lose about 17%-20% of the amount you wager. The payoffs on favorites do not compensate for the 67% of the races you lose.

2012 Belmont StakesWith that little tidbit in mind, it is important to use the strategy that many good players use, which is to find a way to beat the favorite and get a larger payoff on your money, that is if you feel you can. To make that strategy work one must be divorced from racing emotions. Days like Kentucky Derby Day and Belmont Day generate emotions that test your resolve. The Belmont Stakes of 2012, the big race this Saturday will provide such a test. They call the Belmont Stakes the “Test of the Champion.” I like that because it has a great ring to it. Let me suggest that because of horseplayer emotions the Belmont Stakes could also be called the “Test of the Player,” especially when a 3 year old attempts to run into immortality by winning the Triple Crown.

Many people are going to bet on I’ll Have Another just because of the emotions tied to having a Triple Crown winner. They will buy win tickets that they will never cash, either because he doesn’t win or because they want the souvenir if he does. Personally, I think this is insane.

So, what does the smart horseplayer do? The smart player sharpens the pencil, calls upon all of his power and resources and says, “I’m gonna find a way to beat him. And, if he beats me then we have a Triple Crown winner and I will tip my hat to him.”

Somewhere in all of the running lines and the information and the press reports is something, ever how small it is, that can be the clue for upsetting the big favorite. In looking for a Belmont winner, regardless of the Triple Crown factors, one needs to do several things to separate the pretenders from contenders. Analyzing breeding and a general, often brief, investigation into past performances will help you in this process. For at least one good reason or another that I have learned over many years I have thrown out all of the Belmont entries except the favorite, I’ll Have Another, and the following horses: Paynter, Street Life, Union Rags and Dullahan. The four I have mentioned other than the favorite, will probably be the next four favorites. That’s right. I feel that the rest of the field really doesn’t belong in the race at all.

Of the four remaining to challenge the favorite, I must tell you that I question the stamina of Union Rags and I have uneasy feelings about Dullahan. One of the things that bothers me about Dullahan is that I feel he is better being the “Closer from Hell” going a shorter distance. For the sake of brevity let me toss them while I got a chance. Now I’m left with Street Life and Paynter.

I believe both horses have the genes to win at 12 furlongs. And, if it is wet then Paynter becomes even more attractive. This is a good time to point out that the only time I’ll Have Another failed to run first or second was in the slop at Saratoga last year (just a little note for you to make). Paynter has the bloodlines of Breeders’ Cup Classic winners Awesome Again and Tiznow. Street Life’s sire and dam sire both won the Kentucky Derby, being Street Sense and Grindstone respectively. That’s good enough for Saturday’s Belmont.

Both have excellent trainers. Paynter has the old master named Bob Baffert and Street Life is trained by the very talented high percentage trainer Chad Brown.  I suspect both horses will be on the muscle and ready to go for the Belmont Stakes.

So what else tickles my fancy about these two characters in the Belmont cast? It’s their last races. First let’s look at Paynter’s last which was at Pimlico just a couple of hours before I’ll Have Another won the Preakness. Of course he faced lesser in a non-classified allowance race going only 1 1/16th miles. If you dig into the times of the race and figure it out, Paynter covered the last 5/16th of a mile going at 53.79 feet per second. The comment line on Paynter says “hand ride.” So what? I’ll Have Another just a couple of hours later ran the last 3/16th of the Preakness in 53.08 feet per second, and he was all out with a target to chase. That’s a slower rate going an 1/8 mile shorter on the same track the same day. Paynter has good tactical speed and may even grab the lead in the Belmont if he wants to.

Street Life last ran in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont and showed the possibility of being a classic winner. He lost that race to a good horse, Mark Valeski, who was one of the more heavily bet horses in the Derby future pools and then opted out of Louisville to go to New York. The Peter Pan is a 1 1/8th mile race. Street Life was five wide into the big Belmont turn when asked to go after the leaders. The critical time as far as Street Life is concerned is the final 3/8, which he covered in a very hot 53.82 feet per second. That 3/8 mile is 1/16 longer than the hot figure for Paynter and 3 /16 longer than the figure for I’ll Have Another.

Street Life has had a full month to rest and has turned in an impressive breeze in preparation for Saturday. To date he has 5 career starts and Paynter has 4 career starts. To the best of my knowledge I’ll Have Another has not worked since the Preakness and he carries the wear of 3 very tough recent races coming into the Belmont Stakes.

Will this strategy work? I don’t know. But if the price is right on either or both of these guys then I will buy the ticket and hope for the best and even if I’m wrong I had a good time doing it and made a good bet. And those are the most important things.

Good luck Saturday!

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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