Which Running Style Results in Belmont Stakes Success?

The 2016 Belmont Stakes trophy and winning connections. (Eclipse Sportswire)

If you had a win bet on Destin in last year’s Belmont Stakes, you suffered a bad beat in more ways than you thought.

Yes, it was painful to lose in the final stride by a couple of inches with an 8-1 shot.

Making it worse was that the profile of the typical Belmont winner was totally in your favor.

Despite its exhausting mile-and-a-half distance, the Belmont Stakes is typically won by horses who are relatively close to the early lead.

Creator, who was 10th after the opening half-mile, was just the sixth winner in the last 23 editions to be eighth or worse after the first four furlongs.

Creator trailed the pacesetting 55-1 longshot Gettysburg by eight lengths after that first half-mile, and in the last 23 Belmonts only two winners were 10 lengths or more behind the leader at that point.

Meanwhile, Destin was second, a length behind Gettysburg, after the opening half-mile. Looking back on the last 23 Belmonts, 16 winners were fifth or better after four furlongs and 17 winners were either on the lead or within 4 ½ lengths of it at that point.

Staying close seems to be the optimal move in terms of winning as only three of 23 horses who led after opening half-mile were also ahead at the finish line – and one of them was a Triple Crown champion, the great American Pharoah.

Besides that, one of the other front-runners was Touch Gold, who took a rather odd path to the winner’s circle in the 1997 Belmont Stakes. He led by a length after the opening half-mile, then dropped back to fourth at the mile pole and was third with a furlong to go before he surged to a three-quarters of a length victory, spoiling Silver Charm’s Triple Crown bid.

The other gate-to-wire winner was the rather forgettable Da’ Tara who took the 2008 Belmont at 38-1 odds when 3-10 favorite and Triple Crown candidate Big Brown was eased.

Yet in putting together your exactas and triples, it might be wise to include horses who figure to be on the lead.

In each of the last six Belmonts, one of the top two finishers were horses who were either first or second after the first half-mile. Extend that stat a few years and in the last nine years, eight runners who were either first or second four furlongs into the race finished first or second. The one exception? In 2010, First Dude set the early pace but finished third and Interactif was in second early before fading to finish seventh.

Of course, Creator turned all of these stats on their ear last year and perhaps Lookin At Lee or Senior Investment will do the same on Saturday. Yet if you want the percentages on your side, don’t be intimidated by the mile-and-a-half trip around Belmont Park. Look for horses with some speed, and if you find the right one, you just might sprint to the cashier’s window.

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