Belmont Stakes 2012 Preview – Rooting vs Betting

Edit 12:05 PM EDT 6/8/12: Well, shoot…

Rooting for History and I’ll Have Another

I have to admit I’m nervous about this upcoming Belmont. I have been a racing fan for a few years now (2005) but have  really  embraced the sport (and its issues) in the last two or three years. (Amazing what an ADW account can accomplish on that front.) This year I wanted to take it up another level, deepen my study of handicapping (starting with the role of pedigree in Kentucky Derby winners), and sharing my insights with the community with this site.

I’ll Have Another was my Derby horse the moment he and Creative Cause (in step) passed Blueskiesandrainbows in the Santa Anita Derby. Win or lose, he’d have the money to go to Louisville as (I felt) a great fit for top honors at a price in the Derby. I’ll Have Another was my first Derby winner as a true fan; he’ll always symbolize to me what’s possible in this great sport.

Personally, I also think he is the horse most likely to win the Belmont on Saturday. I think he has the best classic and distance pedigree, he fits on speed and class, the pace set-up won’t be uncommon, and I think Doug O’Neil has done an excellent “old-school” job training him to this point. I will be cheering for him with every ounce of passion I can muster, but I’ll be a ball of nerves that entire day.

Betting for Profit and a Bigger Score

I may only bet the $2 souvenir ticket to win on him, however. Ed DeRosa of Twinspires.com noted on Twitter that Smarty Jones in 2004 would have paid better to place than to win, because of all the souvenir tickets that were placed in the win pool and never cashed. IHA may get the same treatment Saturday; if I make a big straight play on him, I’ll probably bet him to place, which may result in a similar (or better) payout as the win pool. That’s value when you believe in a horse like I do with I’ll Have Another.

I want to bet a different opinion entirely. Union Rags was sent off the 2nd choice in the Derby and finished a troubled sixth. Given his popularity pre-Derby, he will likely be the 2nd or 3rd choice in the Belmont depending on how the public rates him vs Dullahan. I do not believe Union Rags has the pedigree to win the Belmont. I think a lot of excuses (post, jockey, traffic) were made for his performance in the Derby. Personally, I believe Union Rags can be a spectacular miler, which is what his pedigree points to. He may contest the Belmont to the quarter pole, but likely no further.

I think he has a fantastic chance to finish off the board and even out of the superfecta, which should improve the value in exotics pools, as I expect UR to be on many a ticket. As for who I like, I go back to my pre-Derby thinking that this a formful, consistent crop of three-year olds where recent performance and pedigree are meaningful indicators of success. Getting a price will be the most difficult challenge of the weekend, so I’ll be putting most of my money into tris and supers of my top selections.

Based on class and connections and training reports, I expect Dullahan to run a big race.  His Derby 3rd was earned tracking (nut not gaining on) IHA for most of the stretch run. His half brother Mine that Bird ran 3rd in his Belmont, and I think Dullahan is a better runner. Next to IHA, I’ll have Dullahan on the most trifectas and superfectas.

Bob Baffert’s Paynter is the horse I believe has the best chance to upset I’ll Have Another for win honors. He finished 4th behind IHA in the Santa Anita Derby and has run two good efforts since, his last posting the 2nd best speed figure in the Belmont. His sire, Awesome Again, is a BC Classic winner and has sired some of the best runners in the last decade (see: Ghostzapper). His dam is a full sister to Tiznow, the only 2-time BC Classic winner. I think Paynter is just now coming into his own and you know Baffert wants to turn the tables on I’ll Have Another. He’s also likely to be a good price as a 4th choice behind IHA, Dullahan, and Rags.

Street Life was my sleeper horse after I saw him a late-running 3rd in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont. His route to Belmont went through Belmont the same way that Drosselmeyer did two years ago. By Street Sense out of a Grindstone mare (Derby winners top and bottom), he also has the pedigree to run long and could definitely be a spoiler. I’ve reevaluated my initial opinion of him somewhat (having liked him more last week) but mostly because I like Dullahan and Paynter more than I did. I do love his Twitter handle, however (@DeepCloser) – more creative connections than most.

As for the other contenders, I could see either of the Oaklawn runners (Optimizer, Atigun) cracking the deep exotics if the race completely falls apart. I’m not leaving Union Rags out of all my supers because he is a really good horse but don’t see him adding a ton of value overall.

Betting Strategy for the 2012 Belmont

Big bet on I’ll Have Another to PLACE ($2 Souvenir to WIN)

Decent Bet on Paynter to WIN/PLACE at 8-1 or better. (AND SHOW at 10-1 or higher)

Decent EXACTA BOX IHA/Dullahan/Paynter

Small TRIFECTA BOX IHA/Dull/Payn/Street Life

Larger TRI KEY with  IHA over D/P/SL, Smaller with Paynter over IHA/D/SL

Various $0.10 SUPER BOXes and KEYs, leaning on IHA/D/P in top 2 slots and stretching to ALL in 4th

Good luck. Let’s go I’ll Have Another!