New York racing once again moves downstate for the start of the Belmont Park Fall Championship Meet, which runs from Friday, Sept. 8 to October 29. Following Saratoga, there are few race meets on the calendar as important as the Belmont Fall Championship Meet, which contains all of New York’s key prep races for the Breeders’ Cup. Plus, besides just stakes races, Belmont Park also offers top-notch racing day-in and day-out all throughout the early fall season.
Every serious horseplayer plays Belmont during the fall of each year, so it will pay quick and important dividends for any handicapper to keep abreast to the goings-on, tips, trends and winning track profiles at Belmont in order to be able to win.
By the time the racing season rolls into town for the Belmont Fall Championship Meet, Saratoga has come and gone and taken the summer racing season along with it. Horses that were drawn to Saratoga from out of town mostly go back to where they came from at this time of the year, especially to Kentucky. Nevertheless, it is Belmont that is the beacon that ushers in the best of fall racing throughout September and early October, giving Belmont’s fall season its own different flavor than New York racing the rest of the year.
Much to the chagrin of racing fans and handicappers who relish the six-day-a-week, 10- and 11-race cards that are commonly featured at Saratoga, the racing schedule is more condensed at Belmont. However, it is still the best racing to be found at this time each fall. And for the average horseplayer, Belmont is an even better meet than Saratoga, because it is easier to nail down winners at Belmont, thanks to a smaller, more concentrated sample of horses and horsemen that are easier to keep tabs on.
In reality, with the exception of large crowds in attendance for live racing, the Belmont Fall Championship Meet really isn’t much of a letdown at all in terms of quality from the season up at Saratoga. Belmont features a similar program of stakes races and turf races and, in many ways, the Belmont Fall Meet shares even more similarities with the Saratoga meet than it does with the Belmont Spring/Summer Meet. This is because the 2-year-old program is such a big part of racing during the fall at Belmont Park, but virtually non-existent at Belmont in the spring. Not only is there juvenile racing at Belmont in the fall, the track’s 2-year-old racing program happens to be the best juvenile racing in the country at this time of year.
Trainer, Jockey and Post Trends from Saratoga to use at Belmont
The discussion of handicapping the Belmont fall meet must begin with a look at the trends from the Saratoga meet directly preceding it.
Many jockeys and trainers enjoyed success — or at least hot streaks — during the course of the Saratoga meet. Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher battled all season long atop of The Spa trainers’ standings until Pletcher came out on top with 40 winners; and Irad Ortiz and Jose Ortiz continued their reign atop the jockeys’ standings for yet another New York meet. Jose was the winner with 58 victories. Both Brown and Pletcher and the Ortiz brothers can be counted on to continue their current dominance throughout the Belmont Fall Meet.
The full human story of the Belmont Fall Meet does not just begin and end with Pletcher and Brown and the Ortiz brothers, however. Many others will make their mark and likely determine whether a bettor will make money at the meet. It is important to note that Brown started 73 favorites at Saratoga and Pletcher 61. To put that in perspective, all of the other top trainers at Saratoga started between 7-14 favored horses apiece.
In terms of trainers, at various times of the Saratoga meet, several horsemen enjoyed blazing hot streaks at one time or another, including guys like Kiaran McLaughlin, Danny Gargan and Jason Servis. In the latter stages of the Saratoga meet, Linda Rice seems to be the hottest of all heading into the Belmont fall meet. She upped her win total to 16 and, for bettors, the take-away on Rice is that 15 of her 16 Saratoga wins came on the turf (she was only 1-for-24 on the dirt). At Belmont, expect Rice to keep winning turf races throughout the fall, particularly turf sprints.
The previously-mentioned Jason Servis should be followed at Belmont based on his 31-percent Saratoga win rate and 60-percent in-the-money (ITM) percentage. Servis is also deadly in turf sprints and can reliably be counted on to win at a high percentage with payoffs much better than Brown and Pletcher. Another reliably high-percentage winner is Charlton Baker, who won 28 percent and was 56 percent ITM at The Spa with an average win mutual of $11.70.
Remember that while Pletcher and Chad Brown will win the most races at Belmont, their average win prices will be in the $6 area, so handicappers will need to find opportunities beyond that pair in order to make any real money.
Other trainers to key on at Belmont also will include David Jacobson, who never has the kind of stock to excel very much at Saratoga (claimers, dirt runners), but still had 5 wins from 37 starters (14 percent) and did a lot of claiming during the second half of the meet, indicating he’ll be ready to roll at Belmont.
Another interesting case from Saratoga is Rudy Rodriquez, who was in a large group of trainers vying for fourth in the Spa trainer rankings. Rudy won 12 races from 99 starters for only 12 percent; however, he was a staggering 0-for-33 on the grass. In dirt races, on the other hand, he was very solid at 12-for-66 (18 percent). Ignore Rodriguez runners on the turf and focus on them on the dirt, especially now that we’re back at Belmont which runs many more races for cheaper horses that he excels in.
One other trainer poised for a big Belmont meet, if you only consider dirt races, is Steve Asmussen, who was ice cold early at Saratoga, but finished the meet with nine victories and a 14-percent strike rate. If you take away his 1-for-18 record on the grass, Asmussen’s Saratoga dirt-only record rose to 8-for-46 and a much better 17-percent win rate.
If you want big-name trainers to bet at Belmont who might offer some value based on below-par meets at Saratoga, there are plenty of top barns worth mentioning. Remember, when trainers win big at Saratoga they’ll have less ammunition at Belmont after their best horses have already won or run through their logical current conditions upstate.
But the opposite is also true.
Trainers who were quiet at Saratoga return to Belmont with barns that are brimming with horses ready to win at their current conditions. And since these trainers are not named Pletcher or Brown, you can still get decent prices on them.
Graham Motion won only 4-of-52 (eight percent), but was in the money 27 times at Saratoga. Mark Casse struggled early in the meet, but heated up at the end. Although he won a total of just six races at Saratoga, with a seven-percent win rate, five of those six wins came during the second half of the Spa meet. Both of these trainers have stables full of horses ready to win.
The same can also be said of Shug McGaughey and Christophe Clement. McGaughey was only 4-for-42 at Saratoga, but always does better in the fall at both Belmont and Keeneland. Clement won four races from 44 Saratoga starters (nine percent), but had 10 place horses that are essentially sitting on wins or high placings at Belmont.
In the Belmont jock’s room, all of the top mounts from the top barns, of course, will continue to go to Jose Ortiz, Irad Ortiz, John Velazquez, and Javier Castellano. Winners ridden by Velazquez and Castellano, believe it or not, still pay less on average than both of the Ortiz brothers, however, and Castellano in particular comes off an uncharacteristically mediocre Saratoga and will need to heat up again at Belmont if he is to become a difference-maker for bettors.
What handicappers really need to know is where to land other than Jose Ortiz, Irad Ortiz, Castellano and Velazquez in terms of the Belmont jockey colony.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Luis Saez is a great bet on the New York circuit, because you get quality rides from him consistently, but without a name that drags down your odds on the tote board. He’ll ride for some top barns, including Kiaran McLaughlin, yet his average winner at Saratoga still paid $12.90.
- Jose Lezcano is experiencing a career resurgence, mostly thanks to Linda Rice, who is keeping him aboard many of her live runners, particularly in turf sprints where he is coming up big in the role formerly occupied by Cornelio Velasquez. It also helps that Lezcano’s name no longer has star power. His average Saratoga winner paid $15.40.
- Finally, you should also get on the Manny Franco bandwagon at Belmont. He had a stellar Saratoga meet, considering that his average winner paid off at a big $17.80.
Post and Running Style Trends
When evaluating horses’ form from Saratoga when they show up back at Belmont Park in the fall, one final set of trends to learn from are the post position and running style trends that affected the recent Saratoga meet. Many horses racing at Belmont will show up with PPs (past performances) that look either better, or worse, than they really are based on their favorable or non-favorable trips from recent starts up at Saratoga.
Saratoga dirt sprint post positions were fair overall, but the track favored front runners and tactical speed and/or inside paths for many of the race days during the month of August.
In Saratoga routes, you couldn’t be drawn outside post seven if you hoped to have a chance to win. Hence, when you see a horse at Belmont exiting a Saratoga dirt route from an outside post, go ahead and upgrade that horse.
On the turf, remember that at Saratoga, just like at Belmont, inside posts, particularly the rail, are bad in sprints. The rail did win six of the 59 turf sprints run at Saratoga, but posts 1, 2 and 3 were all very bad in turf sprints with fields with more than eight starters. Therefore, upgrade the chances of any horse that was disadvantaged with an inside turf sprint post at Saratoga when they make their next starts at Belmont, unless those horses once again draw inside.
In turf routes run at Saratoga this year, post positions were remarkably fair except on the Mellon (outer) Course, where anything outside post seven was a disaster. Horses breaking outside post seven on the Mellon turf at Saratoga went a combined 5-for-99 (five percent). Upgrade those horses when you see them at Belmont.
For horses exiting inner turf course races at Saratoga, there will be an even better angle for bettors at the Belmont fall meet. It doesn’t involve post positions, but rather, running style.
The main bias that affected all racing at Saratoga in 2017 had to do with the inner turf course carrying speed under firm conditions basically the entire meet. These horses are going to come back in droves at Belmont and provide the strongest betting angle of all this fall. When you see horses at Belmont (or Churchill or Keeneland, for that matter) that won or ran big with front-running efforts on Saratoga’s inner turf, you can downgrade those horses in their next starts.
Conversely, when you see a horse coming off a loss or sub-par effort(s) at Saratoga with a late-closing running style, you can go ahead and upgrade those horses at Belmont, because they basically had no chance with that kind of running style on the inner turf at Saratoga this year.
This running style angle on the turf is likely be the main money-making angle of the season this fall at Belmont.
Belmont Main Track Winning Profile
Every meet, no matter where it is, when it is, or how high-profile it is, can always be made better and more enjoyable for horseplayers if they are winning and cashing tickets. The Belmont Park Fall Championship meet contains all of New York’s key prep races for the Breeders’ Cup and also offers top-notch racing and wagering on all types of races, day-in-and-day-out throughout the season. For this reason, it pays to know and understand the handicapping trends that will work for you at the Belmont Fall Meet. This knowledge will help you upgrade your winning percentage and earn wagering profits.
Belmont runs almost exclusively one-turn races on dirt at all distances, ranging from five furlongs to nine furlongs. Belmont Park 1 ¼-mile races and 1 ½-mile dirt races are rare (except the Belmont Stakes, of course). Therefore, a horse’s two-turn record is not as important as its one-turn record for the purposes of evaluating Belmont’s main track route races.
On the Belmont main track, speed is an extremely handy commodity. Sure, late runners will have every opportunity to close at Belmont with its wide sweeping turns and long stretch, but the Belmont Park winning track profile always seems to put a premium on early speed and is known for daily track biases that only strengthen the advantage of speed and pace-pressing horses. When those track biases do appear, they can stay in place for up to a week at time when the weather goes through a long stretch without changing.
On the Belmont main track, always assume the prevailing main track bias at Belmont will favor speed horses, and horses able to stay within 2 1/2 lengths of the early pace in sprints, and within 4 lengths of the early pace in routes.
When it comes to post position angles on the Belmont main track, the track does not always play like you would expect. The fact that Belmont runs almost no two-turn races due to its 1 1/2-mile layout nearly negates any inside bias the track might have in route races (all route races up to 1 1/8 miles are around one turn), and there is really little or no advantage to be gained by saving ground at Belmont on the main track.
Six-furlong races and all shorter races are most likely to favor inside posts at Belmont, with a slight preference to inside posts also at 6 1/2 furlongs. However, that advantage disappears at seven furlongs and actually begins to reverse at 1 mile, 1 1/16 miles, 1 1/8 miles and the occasional race run at 7 1/2 furlongs. In these races, the inside few posts offer no advantage at all, with some horses actually at a disadvantage unless they have early speed and can charge out to the front and get off the rail. In general, it is usually a good idea to upgrade outside posts in main track races at a mile or more, especially if the horse in question is an overlay.
Of course, nothing beats a good old horse-for-the-course when handicapping Belmont dirt races. Belmont Park’s main track, nicknamed “Big Sandy”, is a dramatically different surface from the dirt track at Saratoga or Aqueduct’s main track — and especially the Aqueduct inner track.
Certain horses love the Belmont dirt surface and others cannot do their best running there. Part of this preference for the local oval has to do with the track layout as well, with Belmont’s wide sweeping turns helping some horses and hurting others. The horse for the course angle is always a big handicapping positive, but it seems even more potent as a betting angle at Belmont Park.
Take Advantage of Belmont’s One-Turn Dirt Route Races
With the move from Saratoga to Belmont, handicappers deal with one of those times of the year in New York racing where the difference between one-turn and two-turn races is of utmost importance to horseplayers. Pay attention to this one important difference and you will have a distinct edge over the majority of the betting public.
It’s not that the average handicapper doesn’t realize this quirk at Belmont — most all of us know that Belmont’s routes are almost all run around one turn. The problem for many horseplayers is that they don’t assign enough importance to this key difference between Belmont and all other racetracks. If you overlook this key factor in your day-to-day handicapping at Belmont, it will be difficult for you to win with any consistency.
One of Saratoga’s long-standing nicknames is “The Graveyard of Favorites” and the Spa has that reputation for a number of reasons. Much of it has to do with the fact that bettors get the odds all wrong in route races by misinterpreting horses’ one-turn route form from Belmont — either better than it really is, or worse — when handicapping races on Saratoga’s totally different two-turn layout.
Well, the same is true in reverse at Belmont Park, where a lot of route favorites go down in flames because their odds are all wrong due to players putting too much importance on results in different kinds of route races run at Saratoga. Two-turn route races have always been a big element of handicapping at Saratoga, but they are non-factors at New York’s bookend race meets at Belmont Park.
Oftentimes the New York horses that arrive back at Belmont in the fall with the best form up at Saratoga are horses that were excelling, at least in part, due to their preference for two-turn dirt route races at Saratoga. However, this factor flip-flops at Belmont, away from the two-turn specialists who excelled at Saratoga and towards the one-turn horses who like the routes at Belmont, and who like the distances of 1 mile and 1 1/16 miles better than the 1 1/8-mile routes run at Saratoga (there are no 1-mile and 1 1/16-mile dirt races run at Saratoga).
This adds an interesting handicapping wrinkle when the meets in New York switch to and from Belmont Park. This move in New York from racing at Saratoga to racing at Belmont is one of those pertinent times of year.
In order to figure out if a horse prefers one turn or two turns, scan down a horse’s past performances and see where its past route wins and/or highest route speed figures have come from. If you see a horse that has demonstrated its best route form at Belmont going one mile, 1 1/16 miles, or 1 1/8 miles, then that horse can probably be termed a “one-turn router” and could be a key horse to bet at Belmont. However, if you see a horse whose best route races came on more traditional layouts such as Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Monmouth, the mid-Atlantic region, or especially in races at Saratoga, then you have a potential bet-against horse at Belmont that prefers two-turn routes.
Remember also that, at Saratoga, because of the track layout, there are no one-mile races and no 1 1/16-mile races. The vast majority of all main track Saratoga routes are run at 1 1/8 miles. This creates lots of problems for horses whose best distances are one mile and/or 1 1/16 miles. At Saratoga, those horses must either stretch out to 1 1/8 miles (perhaps too long), or cut back to seven furlongs around one turn (too short).
When those horses return to Belmont in the fall, they often come in off a bad recent race or two and they are ready for a positive turnaround, often at a good price, back at their preferred distances at Belmont.
Therefore, during the Belmont Fall Meet, bet horses that were stuck at the wrong distances at Saratoga, especially if they hail from smaller and/or New York-only stables. Also bet on the horses from the barns like Pletcher, Servis, Levine, Dutrow, Asmussen and others who shipped out of town to tracks like Monmouth or Parx or Delaware, to enter races at one mile and 1 1/16 miles over the summer. They can surprise a lot of people when they come back to Belmont Park for the fall meet.
I hope these tips and trends give you an edge at the betting windows for a successful and enjoyable 2017 Belmont Fall Championship meet.
Best of luck!