Veteran bettors know that the Belmont Stakes has been very good at producing longshot winners recently. Horses like Birdstone and Da’ Tara were shocking winners at big prices, but neither holds a candle to Sarava – the 2002 winner who shocked the world at record breaking odds of 70/1. Obviously spotting any of these upset winners would be very nice for your pocketbook. Sometimes the wins really don’t make any sense – I firmly believe that there was no way anyone could have logically argued for Da’ Tara before his win. Often times, though, the horses that win at big prices packed some real value in their price. The trick for bettors is to be able to differentiate between the strong horses that aren’t getting enough respect and the no-hopers that warrant their huge price. Here are seven factors for horse race handicappers to consider when trying to separate the longshot contenders from the pretenders:
Trainer – Some trainers are particularly good at getting longshots ready for the Belmont Stakes. Nick Zito, for example, was the trainer of both Birdstone and Da’ Tara. A longshot trained by him probably deserves more respect than one trained by an obscure trainer. Even if a guy hasn’t had longshot success in the Belmont it could be worth looking more closely at him if he tends to have longshots perform at a higher than expected rate at other tracks. When assessing a trainer’s ability with longshots in the Belmont Stakes it’s also important to look beyond just the Belmont wins. If the trainer has seen his big priced horses get a piece of the action more than once then he probably is worth a look in your exotic bets.
Jockey – Unlike the trainer I’m not concerned about how the jockey has done on other longshots in the Belmont. What I am concerned about, though, is how well he knows the track, whether he has experience with marathon races, how well the running style of the horse suits him, and whether he knows the horse and what he is capable of. A longsot thoroughbred with a perfectly suited rider is far more attractive than one with a guy who is on him for the first time and who doesn’t know Belmont well.
Running style – There is no particular running style that is necessarily superior at Belmont. Horses can win from anywhere as long as the race sets up well for them and they have the talent to match their preference. What you need to look at, though, is whether his preferred running style is likely to be available to him. If a horse can run his ideal race then he can be very competitive, but if he is likely to be forced out of his comfort zone then you can’t have any confidence in what will happen. For example, a front runner who is the lone speed in a race could be an attractive longshot because he is likely to be able to do what he wants. If that front runner finds himself tangling with a couple of other speed horses, though, then the early pace has a good chance of being brutal, and the chances of winning are much diminished and he is not nearly as attractive as a longshot.
Who has he beaten? – It doesn’t really matter how many wins a horse has in the past unless those wins have come against other top horses. Similarly, the best way to judge a longshot is by looking back at horses he has beaten. If the thoroughbred finished ahead of some horses that then went on to big results in other major races then that could be a sign that the horse has some talent and could be positioned to surprise.
Is he clearly improving? – Horses at this stage of their careers are young and immature, so with each race they are gaining experience, growing physically and learning to listen to their riders. The good horses should be improving with each race, so an upset Belmont win can often be explained as a horse taking a big step forward in their development. You want to look for signs that a longshot has been improving leading up to the Belmont if you plan to back him. Is he closer stronger? Has he started to show the ability to rate instead of burning himself out early? Is he consistently moving up in class without looking out of place. Is he working more effectively recently?
How strong is the best of the field? – Longshots are obviously more attractive when there isn’t a dominant and impressive favorite that they have to beat, or when there isn’t a group of strong, legitimate contenders. The favorites always ted to be well bet down at the Belmont. The trick, though, is to determine whether you view these horses as legitimate at their price, or whether they seem far more vulnerable than the odds suggest. If they are vulnerable then longshots are obviously much more attractive.
Why are his odds so high? – There are sometimes good reasons for odds on a longshot to be sky high, but smart bettors know that isn’t always the case. If you can explain why the odds on the horse are artificially high for the Belmont Stakes then you can make a very good argument that there is value in the longshot. With all three of the longshot winners that I mentioned at the start, for example, there were good Triple Crown hopefuls in the field. Sarava beat War Emblem, Birdstone shocked Smarty Jones, and Da’ Tara won when Big Brown failed to show up for his race. Whenever there is a Triple Crown hopeful the public pours their cash his way, so the other horses see inflated odds, and the odds for the longshots are going to be particularly inflated. That means that the chances of these three longshot winners crossing the finish line first were nearly as low as the price would suggest.