Four Factors of the Belmont Stakes - by Laurie Ross
Four of the most important factors in figuring out the Belmont stakes are pedigree, current form, running style and jockey choice. A horse with the right combination of these attributes can be lethal. Let's take a closer look at some of the threats that could ruin American Pharoah's Triple Crown venture.
Every year race fans debate the running styles of the Belmont Stakes contestants. Which manner - front runner, pace presser, mid-pack runner or come from behind stalker - is the most favorable for winning the grueling 1 ½ mile Test of Champions?
After reviewing the last fifteen editions of the Belmont Stakes, the conclusion was that half of the last fifteen Belmont Stakes winners raced mid-pack, (around fifth place) early on, either between horses or in the clear on the outside. Only three took the rail trip. They started gearing up right around the 3/8 pole and were in full running mode by the time they hit 1 ¼ miles.
Pedigree plays a large part in determining a Belmont Stakes winner. A horse must be capable of making a strong, sustaining move after traveling a mile. Although every colt entered in the Belmont Stakes has the potential to upset the applecart, some have a better chance than others.
Besides pedigree and current form, a Belmont Stakes contender's jockey choice is crucial. Belmont Park is the only 1 ½ mile oval in the United States and experience over the oval can be a winning factor. Jockey's seldom have the opportunity to ride the 1 ½ mile distance. Given the huge track configuration of Belmont Park, it can be easy to misjudge when to make a winning move and the best part of the track to do so.
Jockeys of other high profile Belmont runners have been a deciding factor in their mount's winning chances. In the last twenty years, all except two winning jockeys, Jeremy Rose and the top Irish jockey Mick Kinane had previously ridden at Belmont Park.
Good examples of inexperience that cost the race are the rides given to Smarty Jones in 2004, whose jockey sent him to the front at the mile pole and Mine That Bird who charged to the front after passing the mile pole but couldn't sustain his bid. Neither Stewart Elliot, the jockey of Smarty Jones, nor Calvin Borel, Mine That Bird's pilot, rode regularly at Belmont Park; however eleven of the last eleven Belmont Stakes champs all had ridden on the New York circuit or had previous Belmont Stakes experience.
This year, American Pharoah appears to have almost everything going for him. The major drawback is his pedigree. American Pharoah carries the large heart gene, which enables him to outrun his middle-distance pedigree. He's undeniably talented and is one race away from being undefeated, but how far that will take him is the million dollar question. American Pharoah has been on or near the lead in almost every start, yet the colt's laid-back temperament indicates that he could be effective from practically anywhere in the pack.
It's hard not to draw a comparison to last year's almost Triple Crown hero, California Chrome. He too carries the large heart gene, has a pedigree better suited to middle distances and was undefeated going into the Belmont Stakes. The grueling demands of previous races, a large heart and competitive spirit will take a horse only so far. In California Chrome's case, it was not far enough and could also be American Pharoah's undoing.
American Pharoah is expected to face nine other competitors, one less than California Chrome did last year. A few of those nine entrants have a strong chance to deny a Triple Crown winner for yet another year. Who has the pedigree, running style, jockey, current form and favorable morning works to conquer American Pharoah? Find out more in the Belmont Stakes E-Book.