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Blog - RACING

Ruler On Ice won the 2011 Belmont after sitting in second for most of the race. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)

There may not be another Grade 1 race that is as misunderstood as the Belmont Stakes.

At first glance, it has the appearance of a race tailor-made for long-winded, plodders because of its marathon, 1 ½-mile distance.

The longer the race, the worse for horses with speed, right?

Try again.

Despite its imposing distance, the Belmont usually rewards horses that can stay close to the inherently slow fractions. Meanwhile, deep closers often lose their punch trying to make up ground on horses that are merely galloping along instead of laboring while reeling off withering fractions.

The proof is quite clearly contained in an analysis of past editions of the “Test of the Champion”.

In its last 20 editions, the Belmont has been won by a horse who was fifth or better after the opening half-mile on 14 occasions. Horses either on the lead or within 4 ½ lengths of it at that point have won 15 times.

UNION RAGS (inside) WAS NEVER WORSE THAN FIFTH DURING ANY CALL OF THE RACE

Running Styles Inside

In contrast, horses who have been eighth or worse after the opening half-mile have won only four times and those who trailed by 10 lengths or more were victorious only twice.

It’s hard to dispute those numbers.

Of course, being on the front end isn’t a fast lane to the winner’s circle, either. Only twice in that period (Da’ Tara in 2008 and Touch Gold in 1997) has the leader after the first half-mile managed to find the winner’s circle.

It’s stalkers who thrive in the Belmont, and that’s surely good news for fans of California Chrome, who was perfectly positioned in third in the early stages of his victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

The concern would be how California Chrome reacts to being held off a typically slow Belmont Stakes pace, like possibly six furlongs in 1:14 and change. Might it frustrate him or coax him into becoming rank and bidding for the lead too soon?

Pace will indeed make the race, and in a Belmont Stakes that appears to have more closers than speedsters, there should be an interesting chess match among the jockeys in the early stages to see who grabs the lead and who takes back a bit and stalks.

As for the closers, they could have their work cut out for them trying to make up ground in the face of lethargic fractions.

They’ll certain have plenty of time to mount a late charge, but just because there’s a mile and a half to cover, it doesn’t mean they’ll have an advantage.

Remember we’re talking here about the Belmont Stakes, where appearances can be highly deceiving.

$1.5-million Belmont Stakes

Saturday, Belmont Park, Race 11, 6:52 p.m. ET

1 1/2 miles, dirt, 3-year-olds

Television: NBC coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. ET

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

Odds

1

Medal Count

Robby Albarado

Dale Romans

20-1

2

California Chrome

Victor Espinoza

Art Sherman

3-5

3

Matterhorn

Joe Bravo

Todd Pletcher

30-1

4

Commanding Curve

Shaun Bridgmohan

Dallas Stewart

15-1

5

Ride On Curlin

John Velazquez

Billy Gowan

12-1

6

Matuszak

Mike Smith

Bill Mott

30-1

7

Samraat

Jose Ortiz

Richard Violette Jr.

20-1

8

Commissioner

Javier Castellano

Todd Pletcher

20-1

9

Wicked Strong

Rajiv Maragh

Jimmy Jerkens

6-1

10

General a Rod

Rosie Napravnik

Mike Maker

20-1

11

Tonalist

Joel Rosario

Christophe Clement

8-1

Image Description

Bob Ehalt

Bob Ehalt has been an avid fan of Thoroughbred racing since that day in June of 1971 when he and his father walked from their Queens Village, N.Y., home to Belmont Park to see Canonero II fall short in his bid for the Triple Crown. A veteran sports writer and correspondent for Thoroughbred Times magazine, Bob has covered horse racing for more than 20 years and has won three awards in the Associated Press Sports Editors national writing contest for his coverage of the sport.

Now working at the New Haven Register in Connecticut, Bob has also owned Thoroughbreds since 1995 and was a member of the syndicate that raced Tale of the Cat. He also writes a racing blog for ESPNNewYork.com and is the co-founder of the New York Hot List handicapping service, which is offered at InterBets.com.

His NTRA.com blog received first-place honors in the 2008-09 Breeders' Cup Media Awards, winning in the initial year of competition in the Social Media category.  You can follow him on Twitter at @BobEhalt

 

Image Description

Bob Ehalt

Bob Ehalt has been an avid fan of Thoroughbred racing since that day in June of 1971 when he and his father walked from their Queens Village, N.Y., home to Belmont Park to see Canonero II fall short in his bid for the Triple Crown. A veteran sports writer and correspondent for Thoroughbred Times magazine, Bob has covered horse racing for more than 20 years and has won three awards in the Associated Press Sports Editors national writing contest for his coverage of the sport.

Now working at the New Haven Register in Connecticut, Bob has also owned Thoroughbreds since 1995 and was a member of the syndicate that raced Tale of the Cat. He also writes a racing blog for ESPNNewYork.com and is the co-founder of the New York Hot List handicapping service, which is offered at InterBets.com.

His NTRA.com blog received first-place honors in the 2008-09 Breeders' Cup Media Awards, winning in the initial year of competition in the Social Media category.  You can follow him on Twitter at @BobEhalt

 

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