The Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the Triple Crown races, and at 1 1/2 miles on the dirt, is a dinosaur with so few main track events carded at twelve furlongs. With the short five week span for three gruelling races under scale weight of 126 pounds over three very different tracks and three different distances, it takes a very special horse sweep the series. So much so that only eleven horses have completed the task, and the last one, Affirmed, was back in 1978.
This year Smarty Jones, a Pennsylvania-bred who is owned, trained, and ridden by Triple Crown first-timers Roy Chapman, John Servis, and Stewart Elliott, is taking his undefeated record to Belmont Park seeking immortality and the $5 million bonus from Visa USA. As many as nine other horses could enter the Belmont Stakes looking for the upset and of course the winner's share of the $1 million purse.
As we did for the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, we have compiled some of the more profitable angles used to select a Belmont Stakes winner in recent years, and applied them to the possible entrants. The Belmont winner should have raced in one or both of the first two Triple Crown events, had 4 to 6 races at two and 3 to 6 races at three, a stakes win at three, a sharp last race which is defined as an in-the-money finish or failing that, within four lengths of the winner. As well, Belmont winners come off layoffs of no longer than three weeks (Empire Maker bucked that trend last year), have a win at 1 1/8 miles or longer, have run a Beyer of 106 or better, and stalk the pace. Some novice horseplayers mistakenly believe a long race immediately favors closers when in fact the Belmont favors stalkers (the style used by Smarty Jones). Interestingly, none of this year's probable entrants likes the lead, which is the worst style in this event.
Below are the contenders we analyzed in order of preference. Always remember that this profile is for the winning position only and any horse can still finish in the money.
Smarty Jones - No surprise that the Triple Crown hopeful ranks first on our list, not just sentimentally but also by the numbers. He raced in both the Derby and Preakness, has enough races at three with stakes wins, his last race was as sharp as you could come up with, he is coming out of the Preakness which is within the three-week limit. As well, he has definitely won at nine furlongs, has run much faster than the Beyer par of 106 (his Preakness was 118), and he definitely stalks the pace as he so effortlessly did, settling in behind Lion Heart twice and passing him in the stretch. The only knock against him is that he was under-raced at two, having missed most of his juvenile season after injuring himself in a horrific gate-training incident.
Purge - At time of writing it was not decided if he would enter the Belmont, but based on our analysis he belongs in the field. He has enough races at three with a stakes win, had a sharp last start (a 6 3/4 length win in the Peter Pan Stakes), is within the correct layoff period going into the Belmont, and has the crucial 9f win which he ran to a 108 Beyer. On the negative side, he did not race in either the Derby or Preakness, was underraced at two, and likes to contest the pace on the front end, the worst style for this event. We gave Purge a slight edge because the Peter Pan Stakes has proven to be a successful Belmont prep in recent years. The last horse to win the Belmont this way was Lemon Drop Kid who upset Charismatic's Triple Crown bid in 1999.
Eddington - The Preakness third place finisher skipped the Derby off a third place finish in the Wood Memorial. He was underraced at two with just one start, has enough races at three but no stakes wins. His last race qualifies as a sharp race, and he is coming off the optimal layoff. He likes to press the pace, ideal for the Belmont. On the negative side, he has no wins at 9 furlongs and has not run to the Beyer par of 106.
Royal Assault - This Nick Zito trainee won the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard, the race which was used by 2002 Belmont winner Sarava. He has enough races at three with the aforementioned stakes win, which qualifies as a sharp race at just the right layoff, three weeks. However, he skipped both Derby and Preakness, made no starts at two, and has not run to the Beyer par, in fact he has never run faster than a 90. He also likes to rally from well off the pace, not the preferred way to win the Belmont.