The Kentucky Derby is a very difficult race to bet on successfully, but the Belmont Stakes are only slightly easier. In fact, these two legs of the Triple Crown are quite possibly the two hardest three year old races of the year to handicap successfully. If you want to make money betting on the Belmont over the long term you need to make the best bets you possibly can. That means avoiding the most common mistakes people make when placing their pari-mutuel bets on this race. Here are four of those mistakes:
Loving a horse not suited to the challenge – It doesn’t matter if a horse is faster, stronger and way more impressive than everyone else in the field. It all comes down to just one thing in the Belmont when it comes to betting and winning- whether the horse is able to survive running a mile and a half. This distance is the longest any of these horses is likely to run in their lives, and it is further than most horses are effectively capable of running. Horses in the United States are bred primarily for speed and not stamina, so this is a very tough test. Before you decide to bet on any horse in this race, then, you need to be as sure as you can that the horse will have the capability to still be moving forward at the finish line. There are a couple of ways you can judge this. First, is he bred to handle the distance? Second, how has he handled the longest races he has previously run in. If a thoroughbred has gained ground in the final furlong or two, or if the times for those final furlongs were as good as or better than earlier furlongs, the horse stands a good chance of having enough gas to get to the finish line effectively in the Belmont. If there are significant questions about distance capabilities then bettors need to have a very good reason beyond that to bet on a horse. Frankly, if I am not confident a horse can get the distance then I wouldn’t bet on him regardless of what else he offers.
Falling too hard for a favorite – The Belmont is a very tough race for favorites to win. For starters, if there is a horse with a shot at a Triple Crown he will be very heavily bet down, but the 11 such horses that all followed Affirmed’s success in 1978 all failed. Several other solid favorites have not managed to get the job done in this race. I’m not suggesting that a favorite can’t win, or that you should never bet on one – just that you need to be especially cautious in betting on favorites because they can really run into troubles in this race.
Assuming there will be a Triple Crown winner – Like I said, the last 11 horses that have had a chance to win the Triple Crown by winning the Belmont have all failed. There have been some spectacularly good horses in that group as well – Big Brown, Smarty Jones, Real Quiet, and Silver Charm, for example. It is very easy to get carried away by the excitement and the possibility of history being made. In several of the 11 cases, though, there have been clear signs if you put emotion aside that the horses were facing a very big challenge in the race. Because the odds on a potential Triple Crown runner are so heavily bet down value is non-existent, so you need to be particularly rational in your decision making to make sure you are not throwing your money away.
Trusting a rookie jockey – Triple Crown handicappers know that Belmont is a very unique track. It’s the only mile and a half track in the country. That means that the corners are wider and longer than any other track, and the stretch is much longer than most typical one mile tracks. If a jockey does not have some experience on the track – preferably in the pressure of a big race – then they can easily make costly mistakes. Foremost among those mistakes is starting their final charge too early. If jockeys aren’t used to the length of the final corner and the stretch then they can easily start their rush in the same place they would on a normal track and wind up running out of gas well before the wire. Calvin Borel provided a good example of the dangers of not knowing the track in 2009 aboard Mine That Bird. He had a chance to win a personal Triple Crown – he had won the Derby on Mine That Bird, and the Preakness on Rachel Alexandra. He didn’t know the track, and he made the terrible decision not to try to get some rides on the track before the Belmont. He rode a truly terrible race because he tried to ride the track like it was Churchill or another, and he cost his horse the race by moving for the lead far too early and then getting outrun down the stretch. Bettors need to have confidence that the rider can handle the track if they are going to bet on a horse – especially if that horse goes off at low odds.