Handicapping and wagering can make watching a horse race exponentially more fun. Analyzing the field, identifying your favorite, and winning some cash is most fans' favorite part of the sport. If you're aiming to take your Triple Crown experience to the next level come Saturday, here are some tips for picking the ponies at Belmont Stakes, 2012.
EDIT: This post was originally written before I'll Have Another was scratched. Please read my more recent piece Updated Predictions for the I'll Have Another-Less Belmont Stakes Field for my most current wagering advice.
Dullahan: In the Money
There only seems to be one consensus in the Triple Crown chatter: Dullahan is a legitimate threat. Union Rags seems to be an uncertain and risky upset pick, but Dale Romans and his horse are a common pick to play spoiler. We all know that Dullahan ran third in the Derby, he's fresh from skipping the Preakness, and he's got the stamina to make a big move to the wire.
Dullahan's best Beyer figure is 98 (which he's posted in his past two races consecutively), compared to Union Rags' 95, and I'll Have Another's 109. Interestingly, 98 is the third highest top-Beyer in the field after I'll Have Another's 109 and Paynter's 106.
Dullahan has only been out of the money once in his six-race career, a fourth-place finish at the BC Juvenile in 2011.
The late-charging colt is a popular pick to beat the Triple Crown hopeful, I'll Have Another; but he's a lock to finish at least third.
If you put big money on Dullahan to show or place, you could pay out modestly. Bet him to win though, and you could reap a good profit. He is the second betting choice at 5-1 behind the obvious betting favorite I'll Have Another.
If you only want to put your money on a sure bet, put it on Dullahan to be in the money.
1-I'll Have Another 2-Dullahan (Exacta Box)
Exacta payouts can be lucrative, but it won't be in this case. An exacta bet forces the bettor to pick the first two finishers in order. A strategy called "boxing" can be used to hedge the bet by allowing the bettor to pick two finishers to win on either scenario. A "straight exacta" bet, on horses 1 and 3, only wins if horse 1 finishes first and horse 3 finishes second. An "exacta box" bet, on horses 1 and 3, wins if horse 1 finishes first or second and horse 3 finishes first or second. Make sense?
My predicted exacta bet for the Belmont is a box on I'll Have Another and Dullahan. I think I'll Have Another has a great shot at beating the field and finishing first. I also think Dullahan is a lock to finish second. That said, Dullahan is the one horse that could beat the favorite so don't count him out to win.
I have a good feeling both of these colts will cross the finishing line one after the other. If you're interested in getting exotic with your wagering, but don't want too much risk, make this sure exacta bet.
1- I'll Have Another 2- Street Life (Straight Exacta)
Street Life is my long shot pick at the Belmont. He's getting decent money, usually being the fifth pick after I'll Have Another, Dullahan, Union Rags, and Paynter. I'm always a sucker for these under-the-radar, middle-of-the-pack horses.
At the usual Preakness surrogate race, the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes, Street Life finished an impressive third. He's not as out-and-out speedy as some of his Belmont Stakes opponents (i.e. Paynter, Dullahan) but he has a big advantage: he's a New Yorker.
Trainer Chad Brown has worked Street Life seven times this year, all on the Belmont track. He has entered the colt in three races this year, one at Belmont and two at Aqueduct. It is this familiarity that could push Street Life into the money.
He'll need some luck to place, though. Paynter will need to set a ferocious pace and tire. Union Rags will need to encounter heavy traffic and falter. Dullahan will need to tire enough that he can't make a huge kick at the head of the stretch. In other words, Street Life needs to run his race and outclass the top competition. If he does he could make risky bettors very happy.
1-I'll Have Another 2- Dullahan 3- Street Life (Straight Trifecta)
A trifecta is another exotic bet that incorporates the same process as an exacta but adds a horse. To win, the bettor must pick the top three finishers in order. Like an exacta, a trifecta can be boxed to hedge the bet.
As my previous picks have shown, I have a pretty solid idea of who will finish 1, 2, and 3. Street Life is a long shot and Paynter and Union Rags could challenge him to show. Still, I must stand by my picks and include the Chad-Brown-trained colt in my trifecta.
If it wins, this trifecta could have a nice little payout due to Street Life's long odds. A box could help, but it's not worth the expense (boxing a trifecta is six-times more expensive because there are six different outcomes the bettor is forced to wager on).
I have confidence that I'll Have Another and Dullahan will finish one-two and Street Life will come in after. Street Life coming in second or Dullahan winning is a bit more uncertain, so I don't see a need to box this one.
1- I'll Have Another 2- Dullahan 3- Street Life 4- Paynter
By now you know the process behind any bet ending in "-ecta". In a superfecta, the bettor must pick the top four finishers in order. The same rules of boxing apply to superfectas as they do with exactas and trifectas. A superfecta can really win big money if a long shot or two is in the mix.
I admit, this a really risky superfecta bet. In reality, superfectas are very risky because there are usually a number of candidates for fourth place. Paynter is inexperienced, speedy, and could tire quickly. Union Rags is slightly more seasoned and is a top contender in the field. Kevin McPeek has two colts, in Atigun and Unstoppable U ,who could also surprise.
The surprise to most fans will be my not including Union Rags. I realize he's well-trained and talented, but Rags worries me with his courage and attitude. Should he be bumped or intimidated early, I'm not sure he can recover well enough to take fourth.
I predict Paynter to set a pace and fade late. He could even be leading at the top of the stretch, in my opinion. I don't think, however, that he possesses the stamina to beat out three horses to the wire.
This superfecta could make a minimum wager pay out immensely. If you follow my advice and it wins, I expect a cut (joking of course).
Ken McPeek trained Sarava to the biggest upset in Belmont Stakes history in 2002. His horse went into the gate with approximately 70-1 odds and beat the even-odds favorite, and Triple Crown hopeful, War Emblem. McPeek returns to Belmont Park this year with two long shot colts, Atigun and Unstoppable U. Both horses are 30-1 to win and a small wager on either of them could make a profit.
If you like betting on experience, Optimizer is you horse. D. Wayne Lukas has a ton of Triple Crown success and his prized colt has competed in the first two legs of this years Triple Crown. He is one of only two horses in the Belmont field, the other being I'll Have Another, to race in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. He's got early odds of 20-1, so a good showing at the Belmont could give a hopeful bettor a good payday.
I will caution you, Optimizer should have worse odds. He has severely disappointed this year and I do not recommend betting on him.
There is a reason that two-leg Triple Crown winners are favored in the Belmont: everyone wants a piece of history. Sentimental bets are a big part of the reason I'll Have Another is an early-odds 3-5 favorite. People who don't even think he'll win will place a bet on him to win, just in case he does. This is why he's the best bet of all.
If I'll Have Another wins on Saturday and you hold a winning ticket, don't even cash it. Frame that little piece of paper and hang it on a wall. Then, you can tell your grandchildren that you picked the winner of the 2012 Triple Crown.
Crossbow-Winter Memories-Hierro-Boisterous (in races 7,8,9,and 10 respectivley)
A day of racing, even a Triple Crown day, does not feature only one race. In all, there are 13 races on the Belmont Park card for Saturday. This includes four graded stakes races and one ungraded stakes race. These undercard races are very interesting races for fans to handicap because they feature supreme talent. Here's a preview of the late Pick Four.
In the Grade II True North Handicap will feature a New York homegrown celebrity. Giant Ryan, owned and trained by the Parbhoo family, dazzled spectators last year by winning six consecutive races. He'll be up against the Bernardini-sired Crossbow who looks to make it three straight wins in 2012.
The Grade I Just A Game Stakes is the finale of the 2012 Triple Tiara. On every Triple Crown undercard there's a race for fillies and mares; the Kentucky Oaks and Black Eyed Susan Stakes constituted the first two legs. Dale Romans (trainer of Dullahan) puts his star filly Tapitsfly up against stiff competition in Winter Memories and Hungry Island.
The Grade II Woody Stephens Stakes offers fans a familiar Triple Crown face in Triniberg. Derby Trial winner Hierro and the Smarty Jones son Isn't He Clever look to beat out a Hansen-less field in the ninth race on Saturday.
The Grade I Manhattan Handicap immediately precedes the Belmont Stakes and offers a great look at top horses. Brilliant Speed is the top contender as a turf specialist, and should excel in the 1 1/4 mile turf race. Boisterous is a star who won at Belmont Park on May 5th, that should breathe down Brilliant Speed's neck down the stretch.