Win Big at Belmont: Insider Tips on Leveraging Running Style and Pedigree

Due to renovations at Belmont Park, this year’s Belmont Stakes, the “Test of the Champion,” moves to the legendary Saratoga racetrack, where it will test its champion at a shorter distance—1 ¼ miles. So who will pass that test and win the final jewel of the Triple Crown?

There is a field of 10 talented 3-year-olds, including both winners of the two previous Triple Crown races: Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan and Preakness Stakes champion Seize the Grey. Mystik Dan’s budding rival—Sierra Leone—is back in the mix after losing the Derby by a nostril in the closest finish in race history.

And yes, there is the requisite buzz surrounding Saturday’s final jewel to the Triple Crown—the 156th Belmont Stakes—that always surrounds a race called the “Test of the Champion.”

But this is not your typical Belmont Stakes. This year’s “Test of the Champion” is not the usual 1 ½-mile marathon. Instead, it’s the American Classic distance of 1 ¼ miles. Nor is this year’s test at Belmont Park, which is undergoing extensive renovations that won’t be finished until the fall of 2025.


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Short Test

So say “hello” to the Belmont at Saratoga. The picturesque village in upstate New York gets the Belmont this year and next. And because Saratoga’s 1 1/8-mile track isn’t configured to run a 1 ½-mile race, this “Test of a Champion” is a furlong shorter than the usual exam.

This does affect your handicapping, because Saratoga features several 10-furlong races on its summer card every year.  While there are several trends that hold steady when handicapping the Belmont, namely pedigree, graded-stakes success and running style, a few others enter the mix at this new distance.

So how do we build our Belmont tickets? Largely the same way we always have—relying on running style, pedigree and, to some extent, the resume.

First, we can glean some clues from the 1 ¼-mile races held at Saratoga every summer. The Spa hosts 10-furlong, Grade 1 races such as the Alabama Stakes, the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the meet’s marquee event: the Travers Stakes, where you’ll likely see many of our contestants in August.

The horses, colts and fillies who have thrived in those events usually come from one of two genus running styles: pace-pressers and stalkers. Runners with tactical speed that can keep them within 4 ½ lengths of the lead have a distinct advantage, because 12 of the last 15 Belmont winners held that position in the opening half-mile. Six of the 15 winners were in one of the top three spots at that call.

Deep Closers

Both front-runners and deep closers are at a disadvantage; the former because going gate-to-wire in a lengthy race is difficult for American horses not bred to run 10 or 12 furlongs. As for deep closers, the last closer to win the Belmont was Creator in 2016. In the 24 1 ¼-mile races run at Saratoga since 2020, only two closers have come from more than four lengths off the lead. Compare that to pressers/stalkers who have been no further than four lengths off the lead at the first call. They’ve found the winner’s circle 54 percent of the time (13-for-24).

According to veteran handicapper Ed DeRosa, since 2015, half the winners of the 36 1 ¼-mile races at Saratoga were on the lead at the quarter-pole. Two-thirds of them were first or second at the half-mile pole.

Although the shortened distance may take some of the starch out of this, it does put horses like 9-5 morning-line favorite Sierra Leone—a true deep closer—at a disadvantage. Conversely, it puts pressers like Mindframe (7-2) and The Wine Steward (15-1) and stalkers like Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan (5-1) and strong longshot Antiquarian (12-1) into prime position.

Then, there’s pedigree. We’ve said it before: no race puts more of a premium on bloodlines than the Belmont, where 15 of the last 17 winners are progeny of a sire who won a Grade 1 race of 1 1/8 miles or farther. This covers nine of the 10 horses in the Belmont 156 field: every one but Resilience. And his sire is Into Mischief, one of the top stallions this century across the board. Again, the distance cutback may factor here. But all else being equal, who’s your daddy matters.


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Favorite Facts

Two other factors are worth your attention. The first is favorites aren’t. Yes, favorites won five of the last nine Belmonts, including three straight from 2020-2022. But according to Xpressbet, the average winning odds in the last 20 Belmont Stakes is 10.38-1. When you take out Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify, you discover 15 of the last 19 favorites failed to run to their odds. Five times in the last decade, the winning horse came in at 10-1 or greater odds. A sixth (Tonalist) was 9-1.

The second is Todd Pletcher is your go-to trainer. The Hall of Fame conditioner has won the Belmont four times since 2007: Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013), Tapwrit (2017) and Mo Donegal (2022), who gave Pletcher a 1-2 finish when filly Nest finished second. Last year, Pletcher finished 2-3 with Forte and Tapit Trice. Pletcher is a Belmont Stakes beast; since 2006 his horses have hit the board 29 percent of the time.

This year, that means paying attention to Mindframe, Antiquarian and Protective. We’re including Mindframe and Antiquarian on most of our tickets.

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