A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
With all the spring buzz in Thoroughbred racing focused on the Triple Crown, it can be easy to overlook that the new season at Belmont Park is here. The 2023 Belmont Park Spring/Summer meet opens on May 4 and will continue through closing day on Sunday, July 9. On the Belmont calendar are 54 stakes races worth over $15.5 million, making it the season’s most important race meet, and the action will reach a peak on June 10 when the 155th Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets anchors a racecard featuring eight other graded stakes. After months and months of racing at Aqueduct, the New York circuit finally returns to Belmont Park and handicappers are more than ready for the change of scenery.
For handicappers, the Belmont spring/summer meet – now whittled down to just 40 race days – is always amongst racing’s best of the entire year. The meet attracts the country’s best jockeys, trainers, and horses, and features the best day-in, day-out racing product atop most simulcast players’ wagering menus. Plus, because Belmont Park didn’t host racing last fall and won’t host a fall meet this year either, due to continuing renovations, it’s safe to say horseplayers miss betting on Belmont Park. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
Belmont Park Jockeys
Nationally prominent riders will be returning to New York full time for the Belmont meet. For handicappers, that means perennial favorites Irad Ortiz Jr. and Jose Ortiz are likely to lead the way in the standings over a star-studded group that will include Luis Saez, Javier Castellano, and Joel Rosario. Also, Flavien Prat was successful riding full time at Belmont for the first time in 2022. They will join local standouts Manny Franco, Dylan Davis, and Kendrick Carmouche to comprise the top 10 in the spring/summer jockey standings. Hall of Famer John Velazquez will also be riding selectively, as well.
At last year’s Belmont meet, Irad Ortiz Jr. narrowly edged Dylan Davis for the riding title, 48 wins to 47, with Franco in third at 40 wins. Prat was fourth with 33 victories. Ortiz led all regular riders by a wide margin in terms of win percentage at 28%. Ortiz was the winningest turf jockey at the meet with 27 grass wins (31%). Davis led all jockeys on the main track with 29 wins with the help of 154 mounts (19%).
At New York’s April spring meet at Aqueduct, by far the hottest New York-based jockey has been Franco, who leads Davis in the standings, 30 wins to 11, and is winning at an impressive 29% clip through April 26. Jose Ortiz showed up late but got 11 winners from his first 48 Aqueduct mounts (23%).
Belmont Park Trainers
The top national barns will return to New York as well. Looking ahead to Belmont’s trainer’s race, Chad Brown holds the advantage based on his 2022 trainer’s title when he won 47 times from 153 starters for 31%. Todd Pletcher can keep pace with Brown at Belmont in terms of winning percentage, even if he doesn’t start enough horses in comparison to Brown to win the training title. Pletcher is likely to be Belmont’s second or third-leading trainer along with Christophe Clement, who scores the vast majority of his winners on the turf. Clement was second at the 2022 Belmont meet with 33 wins, and 27 of those came on the grass.
Horseplayers should bet Brown and Clement on the turf and bet Pletcher in 2-year-old races. Linda Rice, Rob Atras, Mike Maker, Bill Mott, and Rudy Rodriguez also should be expected to land in the top 10 winningest trainers at the Belmont meet.
Belmont Park Main Track Trends
The prevailing bias at Belmont Park tends toward early speed, which is a handy commodity on the main track. Other tracks such as Monmouth Park and Pimlico have more of a reputation as being speed-biased tracks, but Belmont Park can be right up there with the others in that department.
Belmont runs almost no two-turn dirt races due to the main track’s 1 ½-mile circumference. This nearly negates any inside favoritism the track might have in route races, which are all one-turn affairs up to 1 1/8 miles. The track layout and wide sweeping turns minimize the possible advantages to being inside and saving ground on the dirt. Plus, with few two-turn races, it is one-turn specialists who rule at Belmont. Scan each horse’s past performances to find runners who have won one-turn miles, or have won Belmont routes in the past, and give them preference over horses whose only wins are in traditional two-turn routes at places like Gulfstream Park, Keeneland, and Monmouth.
In addition to running styles, you should also pay attention to the best post positions and running paths on the Belmont main track. The inside part of the track was sometimes not the best place to be at several meets the past few years, but the opposite of that was true at Belmont Park in spring/summer 2022 (the only recent meet to be run at Belmont since the fall of 2021). At last year’s only Belmont meet, the inside was the best place to be on the dirt, especially in routes (including one mile) where horses from the inside four post positions dramatically outperformed all other posts. Post 1 won 22%, Post 2 won at 15%, Post 3 at 15%, and Post 4 won at 22%. No other post position won better than 11% and horses drawn 8 and outward went 1-for-21 in routes on the main track.
Main track sprints played more fairly in terms of post positions with 1-8 all doing well. Only outside posts 9 and wider did poorly at Belmont in 2022 with horses from those gates winning a combined 2-for-22. In Belmont sprints, running style is more important than post position, and speed or tactical speed is the key.
Belmont Park Turf Racing
On the Belmont turf, both the inner turf and the outer turf courses are wide, fair courses with long stretch runs. Horses with varying running styles ranging from pacesetters to deep closers all have a chance. As a general rule, give speed horses a better chance on the inner turf course. Stalkers and closers generally do better on the Widener (outer) turf course.
Outside posts are a concern on the turf, mainly in one-mile races and 1 1/16-mile races. At one mile on the Widener turf course, posts 8-12 should win about 5% apiece. At 1 1/16 miles, posts 9-12 should win only about 6% each based on comparable recent meets. On the inner turf course at 1 1/16-miles, horses from posts 8-12 can be expected to win only about 5% each. At 1 1/8 miles, posts 8-12 may win only about 7%. When in doubt, give the advantage in turf routes to horses breaking from posts 1-6 on both courses.
Belmont runs tons of turf sprints races at both six and seven furlongs. Trainers Linda Rice and Christophe Clement have long ruled as the queen and king of these races with the best winning percentages and the highest amounts of wins.
Horses with all running styles excel in Belmont’s turf sprints, and closers who came up short elsewhere at 5 furlongs or 5 ½ furlongs, particularly at Gulfstream Park, often enjoy positive turnarounds in form at Belmont. Instead of running styles, horses’ chances in Belmont turf sprints often depend more on post positions. Middle and outside posts are the best posts in Belmont turf sprints, and inside posts are the worst on both the inner and Widener courses. The anti-inside bias has been particularly prevalent on the Widener course, where the rail post customarily won at only a 4-5% clip based on long-term win percentages. The anti-inside trend is stronger in big fields larger than 8 horses. At the 2022 spring/summer Belmont meet, it was on the inner turf course where Post 1 was the most dreadful, posting a 0-for-36 record.
Enjoy the annual renaissance of New York racing with the return to beautiful Belmont Park. Best of luck, and have a great meet!