2021 Belmont Stakes: Trends to help you find the winner of Saturday's big race

Tis The Law wins the 2020 Belmont Stakes
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Tom Collins

Horse Racing· 3 months ago

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Journalist and UK/US horse racing handicapper.

The 2021 Belmont Stakes looks set to provide plenty of excitement despite the lack of a standout three-year-old and the absence of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit. We won’t be seeing the 14th Triple Crown winner this year but the 153rd running of the Belmont on Saturday is still shaping up to be the race of the summer.

Normality equals comfort and is crucial for horseplayers, so with the Belmont reverting to its usual distance of 12 furlongs after being reduced to just a mile and an eighth for the reorganized 2020 schedule, comes the return of tradition and reassurance.

The Test of the Champion will feature a selection of talented colts looking to bounce back from Derby defeats, runaway Preakness winner Rombauer, and international interest from England and Japan. Comparing formlines may prove harder than usual, so what do recent trends indicate you should look out for?

Stamina vital as Belmont Stakes returns to 12-furlong distance

Stamina is of utmost importance. In 1997, Triple Crown electee Silver Charm got run down in the final sixteenth by Touch Gold for a heartbreaking defeat. A year later Real Quiet turned for home with a five-length advantage in his search for a Triple Crown, but he got leg-weary and the wire never came to him. The fast-finishing Victory Gallop got up by a nose.

Smarty Jones is arguably the most famous example of failing to stay the distance. He was not bred for a Triple Crown campaign, but he hushed doubters with decisive strikes in both the Derby and Preakness. The 12 furlongs around the championship track was just a step too far – quite literally. Smarty Jones was pipped at the post by Birdstone in front of a shocked crowd.

Preakness winner Rombauer (sired by Twirling Candy) and champion two-year-old colt Essential Quality (Tapit) have the past performances and running styles that indicate this step up in trip will be within their reach, though neither is bred for the trip. With a new challenge comes uncertainty.

Kentucky Derby favorite Essential Quality gallops before dawn on the track at Churchill Downs. April 21, 2021

CREDIT – Brad McDonogh (USA Today)

Lessons from the Kentucky Derby and Preakness

Kentucky Derby and Preakness form warrants extra analysis given the Triple Crown importance. Runners that competed in the Derby have won 12 of the last 20 editions of the Belmont. But it seems that skipping the second leg of the Triple Crown has been wise as the Preakness has proved one of the worst recent trials for the Belmont since the turn of the century.

Only three of the last 20 winners — excluding last year given the amended schedule — of the Belmont have competed in the Preakness, compared to 18 of 29 between 1970 and 1998. The sharp reversal of success can be put down to the quicker turnaround, contrasting size dimensions of the dirt tracks at Pimlico and Belmont Park and added distance. Rombauer and Japanese challenger France Go De Ina bid to put an end to the drought.

With just two weeks separating the Derby and Preakness, and a further three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont, a three-year-old’s constitution is put to the test if they take in each race. The heavy schedule has largely been overlooked by trainers and owners in recent seasons, unless you have a Triple Crown hopeful, of course.

Track conditions at Belmont Park could play a key role

Handling the track is one thing, but handling conditions is another. Inclement weather has been a common worry leading up to the Belmont given the unpredictable East coast climate — though the last non-fast track was in 2011 — and many believe that to be the cause of Funny Cide’s defeat in 2003. New York has been hit with heavy downpours over the last few days and with further rainfall expected over the course of the week, the ability to handle a wet track may come into play.

A sloppy track would create a more notable front-runners bias, which has been the case in this race in recent years. Since 2010, only two horses — Sir Winston (2019) and Creator (2016) — have closed from the second half of the field. While 13 of the last 15 Belmont winners have raced within five lengths of the leader after the opening half-mile.

Santa Anita Derby winner, Rock Your World, will seek a clean start after being hampered early at Churchill Downs and may make the pace. Don’t expect Hot Rod Charlie or Essential Quality to be far away. Known Agenda, who will look to provide trainer Todd Pletcher with his fourth Belmont winner since 2007, Rombauer and UAE Derby winner Rebel’s Romance will be further back in the pack and may have to weave through traffic.

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